LEARNING IN DISGUISE Animation helps young students grasp knowledge and have fun

Published 11:58 am Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy kindergarten teachers made for happy concert-goers last week when a nationally known consultant, author and songwriter performed at Sherman Avenue Elementary.

“I wouldn’t be here if Sherman Avenue didn’t have such wonderful kindergarten teachers,” said Dr. Jean Feldman, who is known professionally as Dr. Jean.

She met those Sherman teachers at a workshop, Camp Kindergarten, that she led for hundreds of teachers last summer. “They were the happiest group of kindergarten teachers in the whole room,” she said.

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On Tuesday at the Sherman gym, Dr. Jean roused the entire audience, from the youngest child to principal Ray Hume, into clapping, cheering, singing and dancing.

A veteran of more than 40 years in early childhood education, Feldman is a proponent of whole language instruction with a particular emphasis on the skills developed through oral language.

“I’m trying to keep some of the things alive that I had as a child,” Feldman said. “We are so busy giving kids what we didn’t have, we are failing to give them what we did have.”

From “rise and shine, welcome to school today” to a musical tale about an alligator chasing monkeys to a peanut butter song sung to the tune of “Alouette,” Dr. Jean engaged the kids as active participants, with lots of standing, jumping, repetition and echoing, clapping and hand movements.

The fun disguises the fact that the children are sharpening their listening skills, their ability to anticipate what’s coming next, visualize story action, remember story elements in sequence and think in complete sentences.

“We have got to get back to oral language instruction,” she said after the concert. “If they never hear complete sentences, how are they going to write them?”

Feldman was in Mississippi to give a professional development seminar, “Rock, Rhyme, Write and Read,” in Jackson Wednesday.

Feldman’s workshops and seminars include more than just teaching fun songs. They address state learning standards, applications from brain research, classroom management, improving school-home communication and many other topics.

The fun does have a purpose, though. Research reveals much more activity in the brains of children involved in the kinds of active learning and listening Dr. Jean’s songs promote, versus such activities as playing video games, she said.

“She said she loved doing free concerts for schools, so when we heard she was going to be in Jackson we e-mailed her,” said Morgan Abraham, a kindergarten teacher in her third year at Sherman Avenue.

“She makes learning fun,” said Claire Peck, a veteran of many years in the Vicksburg Warren School District. “She helps us make learning fun.”

Abraham said the kindergartners sing Dr. Jean’s songs every day in class, or, as one of her students, Hannah Marie Broom, 5, put it, “She sings with us.”

Most of Sherman Avenue’s second- and third-graders knew all the words and motions to the songs, too.

Hume sang along. “It’s so rare when someone who is so world-renowned is still so in touch with schools,” he said.

Feldman has been a classroom teacher as well as consultant and seminar instructor. Her books include “A Survival Guide for Preschool Teachers,” “Wonderful Rooms Where Children Can Bloom” and “Ready, Set, Read!” She has also recorded song collections such as “Dr. Jean Sings Silly Songs,” “Nursery Rhymes and Good Ol’ Times” and “Kiss Your Brain!”