SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Does Learning an Instrument Help Learning?

by Kathryn Lagden

A couple of weeks ago we shared this fun fact on Facebook:

20% of kids learn to play music. 70% of adults wish they had.

It obviously resonated with folks as it generated a lot of “shares” and discussion, myself included. As a mom to a creative 6-year-old who loves to dance and sing, I’ve been thinking about music lessons and if/when we should introduce them. My own experience includes 10 years of violin lessons starting when I was 8. There were definitely times I’d have happily quit, but I’m so thankful I was forced encouraged to persevere. My musical ability is mediocre at best, but it opened the door to many opportunities over the years. And how awesome is it that now, as a parent, I can plunk out the tune to “Twinkle, Twinkle” on whatever plastic and tinny instrument is at hand.


But does learning an instrument help learning? I was curious, so I did some googling and found these articles interesting. 


6 Benefits of Music Lessons 

Music Lessons Help Children’s Learning 

Musical Training ‘Can Improve Language and Reading’ 

This Is How Music Can Change Your Brain (I really like this one as it talks about the importance of kids being actively interested and engaged)


This video (just under 5 minutes) from Anita Collins is well worth a watch, as it shows exactly what’s happening in the brain as you listen to music and how that changes when you play music.


I am going to encourage my oldest to think about playing an instrument but won’t push it too hard just yet. At the very least I’m hoping he doesn’t choose the violin as even now, 30 years later, I can recall the months of screeching that must be endured to learn the basics.


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Creative Minds Need Time To Think

Creative minds need time to think. It is during “down time” that our brains can come up with novel ideas or search for answers to “what if….?” or “how can we solve….?” kinds of questions. If we fill our children’s lives with too much to do and allow them to fill the rest of it with electronics, their creativity and ability to come up with novel solutions to problems can suffer.

When I interview new students, one of the questions I ask them is, “If you had genuinely free time, what would you do with it?” Interestingly enough, I often have to explain what I mean by “genuinely free time.” They interpret a study hall, sports practice, or time outside of school as being free. In my opinion, the students who answer that they like to read are the ones who seem to do best in school. I also like to hear, “I go outside to ride my bike (play basketball, go running),” too, because these kids are getting the exercise they need to keep themselves healthy. The ones who say they like to play a lot of video games concern me a bit, because they might need help from me to succeed in school. Kids who spend a lot of time with their electronics might not have time for creativity because they are absorbed in something that takes up all their thinking time.

What can you do as a parent to ensure that your children have time for creative thinking?

  • Talk to your children. Involve your child when you are trying to solve a problem, especially if it relates to him. For example, if he is creating a family problem by sleeping too late in the morning, sit down as a family to talk it over and to come up with a solution that works for everyone.
  • Limit time spent with electronics. I am not advocating taking video games away from your child; just limit the amount of time he can play them the best you can.
  • Allow your child to select one or two extracurricular activities at a time, rather than booking every minute of her spare time with things to do. If she has to go to sports practice every day after school and then work until midnight to get her homework done, there is little time left for creative thought.

The question to ask yourself as a parent is whether or not your children have down time every day. Do they have time to come up with ideas for what to do? If you fill up their time for them or allow them to get too absorbed in the digital world, they do not experience completely free, creative thoughts and games. Imagination is important in our children’s lives.

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Combine Easy Crafts With Math and Fine Motor Skills

Very often, the best learning takes place when young students are just having fun. Here are some easy activities to do with your kindergarten or 1st grade child that will reinforce essential math and fine motor skills. You will need some household items:

  • yarn or string
  • tape
  • different colored or shaped macaroni, cereal with holes (such as Cheerios, Froot Loops, etc.,) beads or buttons
  • cardboard
  • glue, pencil, or marker

Start simply:

  • Tie a thick knot at the end of some string or yarn.
  • Tightly wrap some tape around the other end to form a “needle” for threading.
  • Thread patterns using the pasta, cereal, or beads (for example, yellow, green, red, then yellow, green, red). When the yarn is full, tie off the taped end and have your child review the pattern.
  • Or on a rectangular piece of cardboard, have your child glue buttons in a pattern from left to right, such as two small, one large or three white, two red, etc.

When your child gets proficient at the simple steps, increase the difficulty:

  • On the yarn or sting use the same color pasta or cereal in sets of five, then put a different shape or color to separate the sets. For example, five Cheerios, then one pasta, five more, then one pasta. When completed, have him use the sets to practice counting by fives. The same can be done for sets of ten.
  • On the top of a cardboard rectangle, glue 10 buttons from left to right. Have her or help her write the numbers underneath the buttons, counting and writing one to 10.
  • Use the buttons, pasta, or cereal to make addition sentences. On a rectangle strip of cardboard have him glue three Cheerios on the left. With a pencil or marker make a plus sign (+) after the group. To the right of the plus sign, he should glue a group of five Cheerios. After that group, make an equals sign (=), and have him glue eight Cheerios. Underneath, let him or help him write: 3 + 5 = 8.

Combining fine motor activities with math gives your child the opportunity to build a successful “product” while subtly reinforcing important educational concepts.

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Explain Everything: A Low-Cost App for Creative Presentations

Last week, I was invited to the middle school where I work to hear student presentations. Their assignment was to create a project using Explain Everything that had several slides. The purpose of the presentation was to introduce themselves to one another and their guests (their new principal and me). I enjoyed their presentations a lot. The students did a wonderful job and were proud of what they created. I was also intrigued by the app they used to create their presentations.

Explain Everything is available for iPad and Android for $2.99. You can watch a video about it on their website. What I liked about it the most is that it is simple to learn to use, yet a very powerful tool for creative minds. Students can write text, annotate, illustrate by drawing, import videos or photos, create movies, and much more. Their work is automatically saved as they work. It can be played back in presentation mode, or exported into a variety of formats to share with others.

There are so many free or inexpensive apps available that it is hard to wade through them all to find really good ones. I would be interested to hear from you if you have found educational apps that your child likes to use. Please comment! You might be interested in these other blogs about apps that I use with students:

Creative Ways To Make and Use Flash Cards
Voice-to-Text Software = Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing
Technology Solutions for Reading and Writing Difficulties

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Balancing Creativity and Academics

I believe in the Common Core State Standards. Schools need a framework to help their students achieve college and career ready goals. This framework should be clear, rigorous, and equitable for each grade level. This is especially important when families must relocate to a different state or U.S. territory.

With a jam-packed Common Core curriculum, how does creativity survive and truly thrive?

Creativity is defined as the skill and imagination to create new things—and it's just as important as the Common Core standards.  Teachers struggle to tap into student creativity, while maintaining the fast pace of Common Core academics.

Parents should be challenged with this, too. Parents can be an important catalyst in fostering their young child’s creativity.

Here are four activities that cost little or nothing to nurture your child’s imagination, curiosity, and originality:

  • Play his or her favorite music and dance together! Move, jump, and sing along until you see her big smile, or hear his loud giggle.
  • Get small pots, pans, or lids. Use big wooden or plastic spoons to create music together. If you already have an instrument at home, such as a piano, guitar, violin, or flute, incorporate their sounds when possible.
  • Use paints in a different way. Put a small amount of liquid paint on the edge of white copy or construction paper. Then let her use a straw to create a picture by “blowing” the paint onto the paper. Add different colors to other areas of the paper to let her see what happens when colors are blown over each other. When it’s dry, talk about what designs she was able to make by using a straw instead of brush.
  • Act out a favorite story. For example, read The Little Red Hen, Goodnight Moon, or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by acting out the characters with different voices and using available props.

> Do you nurture creativity?

> Fun book-related crafts projects for young children


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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016