Monday, January 23, 2012

Music matters

Why every child should learn to read music and play an instrument
As children across the Far North prepare to return to school next week, I thought that instead of writing a cliched column about the first day of school, I would write about something close to my heart that is often overlooked by many parents in regards to their child’s education – and that is, music education.
There are multiple reasons why I believe music should be a part of every child’s education, and this involves learning an instrument, not just singing the national anthem at school assembly. 
Children who learn music have high self-esteem, high cognitive competence, and generally outperform non-music students in reading and maths. These differences become greater the longer the students participate in music.
This then has a flow on affect as high performing students contribute positively to the school environment.
Music is also a wonderful and meaningful way to integrate different cultural attributes into a curriculum.
Music instills positive attitudes, a positive self-image, a desire to achieve excellence, an ability to set goals, co-operation, teamwork and self-discipline.
In other words, children who learn music achieve greater success at school, and this will carry on into their adult life so that they have more chance at success in society and their chosen career.
Many studies have shown that music study actively contributes to brain development, so music does make kids smarter.
Children raised in cultures rich with music tend to develop learning and communication skills more quickly than other children.
Unfortunately, not every child has the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, and therefore learn to read music, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have music education.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A is for App

Is it really necessary for kids to have the latest gadget instead of an old-fashioned toy?
Every week I see a new one advertised and I wonder if my kids are missing out.
I wonder if I’m missing out. 
Google them and there are Top 10 lists of the must-have ones and they target everyone from toddlers to doctors.
That’s right, I’m talking about apps. 
The App Store is full of programs from recipes, music, news, games, educational resources and much more.
There are even apps that can monitor your child’s use of the internet and block them from accessing adult and other inappropriate sites.
I must have missed the memo that said smart (and affluent) parents were now giving children expensive technology as gifts instead of dolls, cars, bikes and board games.
I believe it’s a luxury to have the latest gadget, especially when I don’t see a need for it.
For instance, I have an ancient mobile phone that has no bells or whistles, because I don’t see a need for all the other stuff that comes with an expensive iPhone.
But there’s the catch: I don’t really know what I’m missing out on, and I feel like I’m being left behind because everyone else has one.
I have seen three-year-olds flipping through photos, watching YouTube and playing games on their parents iPhones and it amazes me that this is a generation that will never know a world without ubiquitous handheld and networked technology.
In the same way Sesame Street helped to teach me letters and numbers, apps are teaching a new generation but there’s one big difference.
Instead of sitting down passively watching the box, children using an app have to use fine motor skills to move things around, figure out puzzles, and hopefully learn something new.
And it must be helping as schools around the world are embracing the technology.
I’m using flash cards with my kids, but will they be more keen to learn if the flashcard is on a shiny gadget?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Fancy feet

If you’ve got a toddler with pigeon toes, flat feet or some other foot condition, it may go away on its own, but sometimes treatment is needed
My youngest daughter is almost 19 months old, but for the past few months I’ve noticed that the way she walks is different to her older sister.
She started walking at around 13 months of age, but it’s clear now that she walks pigeon-toed, also called intoeing.
So I’ve spent many hours reading about feet and I’ll try to condense it here for you as a quick guide to common foot problems in children.
The foot is quite a complex structure of 26 bones and 35 joints, and a baby’s foot is padded with fat and is highly flexible.
Foot conditions that your child may exhibit in their first years of life are flat feet, clubfoot, walking on their toes, feet turning outwards or inwards, bowlegs and knock-knees.
Clubfoot is a birth defect that is often hereditary. 
The ankle of the foot is turned to the side and is usually smaller or shorter than the normal foot, although it can also occur in both feet.
Left untreated it can lead to disability, pain and trouble walking, so it must be treated with methods such as stretching, casting, special shoes, braces or if these don’t work, surgery may be required.
Bowleggedness is an exaggerated bending outward of the legs from the knees down that can be inherited.
It is commonly seen in babies and most often corrects itself as the child grows.
If it has not improved after the child turns two, it may be a sign of a larger problem such as rickets or Blount’s disease.
Rickets is a bone growth problem usually caused by a lack of vitamin D or calcium, and is much less common today than in the past.
Blount’s disease causes an abnormal growth at the top of the tibia bone by the knee joint. It can appear suddenly and it’s cause is unknown, but to correct the problem the child may need bracing or surgery.
If bowleggedness occurs on only one side, or gets progressively worse, you should take your child to the doctor to rule out any serious problems.
Between the ages of three and six, many children show a moderate tendency toward knock-knees as the body goes through natural alignment shift.
Treatment is not usually required as legs tend to straighten on their own, but if one side is more pronounced than another, then see your doctor for advice.
Most toddlers are flat-footed when they first start to walk, or they tend to turn their feet inwards because of poor muscle tone or weak ligaments. 
Often this is simply a result of being cramped up in the uterus for so long.