Did you know that many children are “musical learners?” Research has shown that children are more likely to pick up complex ideas and improve reading fluency when learning is set to music. Four teachers at Heather Elementary put this research into practice with a Charlie Brown-themed unit that combined language arts lessons with the performing arts. Thanks to collaborative funding from the SCEF Educator Innovation Fund and the Heather PTA, the teachers were able to hire a professional choreographer and a musical director through the Artist in Residence Program who brought the language arts lessons to life via song and dance. The unit culminated in a live performance that included public speaking, singing and dancing in front of an audience.
Teachers of the kindergarten, first and second grade multiage classrooms kicked off the 8-week Charlie Brown unit by introducing students to the Peanuts characters. They read the beloved Charles Shultz books and then wrote narratives about what happiness meant to them and opinion pieces on which Peanuts character they liked best. Classroom learning was enhanced with dance and music lessons once a week set to the music of Charlie Brown. The musical director taught students how to read music, how to carry their voices, and correct breathing techniques. Kindergarteners discussed new sight words and rhyming words found in the songs. Older students learned how to use a microphone to deliver messages to an audience. The choreographer then taught each class a dance that accompanied the songs. Under his direction the students transformed from singers into performers.
Students in each class flourished; they learned self-confidence, a sense of community and effective collaboration skills. Memorizing songs and dances also helped students appreciate the hard work of live performance. The unit was added proof that music is indeed a helping hand for students. For the teachers at Heather it is clear that the strongest educational benefits are found when academics and the arts are joined together.