Thursday, March 12, 2015

Education Topics: Subjects To Enhance Students' Lives

For a brief period, I had a blog titled Engaging Kids, Enriching Lives. I was teaching enrichment classes at a charter school at the time and contributing education articles to Helium. I started the blog to address some of the issues I saw in and out of the classroom and with the education system in general.

After a while I decided to delete the blog. Too many blogs, too little time; also, I had the platform for publishing at Helium (little did I know how soon that would end...), and I was no longer in the classroom. Some of the same topics are still relevant for me, though I don't get to spend as much time on those subjects anymore.

Engagement is still important, and I hope I am still enriching young lives in my role as a docent at the Ogden Museum, where I've been leading tours for school children since 2007. The arts are a great way to engage children and get them interested and involved in learning. The article below addresses some of the ways in which to do so.

Originally published on as "What subjects should be taught to children as enhancements to their lives," in April 2009.

Enhancing Children through Education

Holding the attention of today's children long and well enough to keep them not only interested in a particular subject but excited about learning is a tremendous challenge. Traditional education is basically a low-tech endeavor that hardly competes with the modern multi-media excitement of Wii, X-boxes, Playstations and the like.

It is indisputable that every child needs to learn to read and write and to be able to perform basic arithmetic in order to effectively communicate with others and to function in the adult world, as well as be able to hold a job when they grow up. This is only part of the picture however; it is also important for schools to incorporate enrichment and character education.

A Kinder Classroom

When teachers spend the majority of their time managing behavior there is very little learning taking place. Students have to be able to sit for extended periods, pay attention and be good neighbors to their classmates. They need to learn the concepts of teamwork and sportsmanship and to develop speaking and social skills and they need these concepts continually reinforced beyond the limits of what little of these is provided through their scant physical education classes.

Children need to be taught about responsibility and respect and forgiveness. While many may feel this is the job of parents, the reality of the situation is that today's kids spend the major part of their waking hours at school under the influence of teachers, administrators and most of all, their peers. The use of non-competitive games and cooperatives such as the ones found in Bernie Badegruber's "101 Life Skills Games for Children" can be incorporated into classroom routines to help to encourage emotional maturity and further develop skills of observation and concentration, while reducing aggression and encouraging social awareness.

Looking at Education Another Way

While subjects like Social Studies provide a broad concept of history and social systems they do little toward teaching children to honor diversity and appreciate the differences between themselves and other members of their community. Schools that provide Spanish or French language instruction at the elementary level also include culturally relevant lesson plans that address aspects of the cultures that those languages come from but these programs usually reflect the cultural makeup of the cities in which they are used and are not necessarily wide spread.

Schools, teachers and even parents are aware of the deficits within their educational programs but are not always in a position to address them. Fortunately, there are a number of resources on the web to assist teachers in supplementing their out of date textbooks with creative approaches to augment the classroom experience. One of those resources is Edutopia.

The George Lucas Foundation established Edutopia ( to address the challenges of learning and educating in today's world of continual technological advances, where in many instances, students who are barely literate have to hurry and catch up with the digital age in order to be able to be competitive when they enter the workplace. They have provided a forum for educators to share and distribute information with each other via an assortment of media. The core concepts of Edutopia are Project Learning, Social and Emotional Learning, Technology Integration, Teacher Development, Comprehensive Assessment and Integrated Studies. Teachers all across the United States are posting information and learning how to use hands on projects and other methods to enhance their classroom lessons.

In order for students to be well rounded and develop into creative, critical thinkers they need to be exposed to a variety of interesting and stimulating activities that cause them to ask "what are we doing next?" Project based and experiential learning lesson plans provide the approach while specific programs to provide enrichment classes to students provide the means.

The Arts

Just as Liberal Arts contribute to the well-rounded adult student, supplementing the basic subjects in elementary education with electives and extended day enrichment classes offers a vital opportunity to shape young minds early on and foster interest in learning and scholarly habits. These classes allow for the introduction of important concepts that the traditional lesson plans don't leave room for.
It is extremely important for students to participate in and develop an appreciation for what the arts disciplines have to offer. Even if they never become dancers, painters or musicians there is much they can learn that will later come in handy in the adult world that will be applicable to social settings as well as the work world. Developing this appreciation also helps insure the future of the arts for other generations.

The documentary film "Mad Hot Ballroom" is a great example of how partnered social dance has been used in schools to improve self-esteem, manners, communication and consideration for others resulting in fewer discipline problems. Children love music and they absolutely love to dance and once they get past the issue of having to touch a boy/girl and potentially looking silly they completely embrace Salsa, Merengue, Tango and Swing. The also enjoy teaching it to other students, and performing and showing what they have learned to their parents.

Extended day enrichment classes not only provide a better alternative to aftercare and late pickup the use of nontraditional approaches like Hip Hop classes that foster the appreciation for poetry and ethnic dance classes for African and Brazlian forms add an additional cultural element while allowing students to get up an move, which is a plus after they have spent the better part of their day confined to a desk. Classes like yoga promote calmness and good posture while encouraging students toward healthy lifestyles. Schools with garden programs have found that children love to watch things grow as well as prepare their own foods and have connected this interest to science and math curriculums.
Education is a challenging enterprise that can also be deeply gratifying. No matter what changes take place in the world around us some things are constant: children learn best when they are fully engaged in what is happening.