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Using Enrichment Subjects to Practice Core Curriculum
By: Angelica J. Menefee

One of a teacher’s greatest challenges is creating innovative lesson plans that address the school’s specific grade-level learning objectives while inspiring a love of learning in each child. A good teacher provides plenty of opportunities for skill mastery, but a great teacher provides a learning environment where even the youngest students begin to understand and appreciate the global application of these skills. 

Offering enrichment programs as part as the daily schedule is often viewed by teachers as more work or “one more thing” that needs to be added to the lesson plan. Effective use of enrichment programs, however, provides invaluable opportunities for core curriculum skill reinforcement. As educators, we must journey toward a more profound learning experience for our students by implementing as many of our resources as possible to create innovative cross-curricular lessons. When a teacher incorporates subjects like art, music, foreign language, sports, or even etiquette into her math, science, and language arts lessons, the result is a deeper, more meaningful learning experience in which students see how these essential skills fit into the world around them.

Begin with a Single Theme
A single theme can spiral throughout a day’s, week’s or month’s worth of activities.  Imagine embarking on the study of Italy, for example. With a cross-curricular approach, students might practice fractions, multiplication, and measuring while cooking an authentic Italian dish. Children may learn a sampling of Italian language, while learning about the similarities and differences of Italian etiquette and culture. They may later practice vocabulary and writing skills as they create their own menus and simulate a real-life business and marketing experience in their own Italian restaurant. They might study math concepts as they convert dollars to Italian lira or the Euro. They can study concepts of geometry and symmetry while learning the story of Italian Renaissance artist, Giotto, who was commissioned to paint for the Pope after he saw that Giotto “painted the perfect circle.” 

Students can explore Italian religion, history, and culture while reading and discussing age-appropriate stories written by authors like Tomie dePaola, Jerry Spinelli, and Dante.  Students can examine the art and architecture of the Italian Renaissance through study of the construction of the Colosseum or da Vinci’s Last Supper while exploring the history and religion of the country. They can experience the music of composers like Antonio Vivaldi and Guiseppe Verdi and, later, make their own music on hand-crafted instruments.

Students can research, read, and write about the lives and accomplishments of famous Italian athletes like Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Roberto Baggio. Teachers can further extend their lessons to include physical activity and large motor development, as both the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the American Academy of Pediatrics advocate for programs that encourage structured physical activity on a daily basis. Students might learn how to play Bocce Ball or practice a few new soccer skills, Italy’s national sport, while honing all-important skills of sportsmanship. 

What the Studies Show Us
Interdisciplinary lessons that combine core and enrichment subjects give students the occasion to apply knowledge effectively in a variety of contexts, therefore engaging in higher-level reasoning skills. Studies of the benefits of different types of enrichment programs show their direct effects on the enhancement of cognitive, socio-emotional, and motor skills. For example, students who study subjects like foreign language and art have greater academic achievement in reading, math, and social studies, as skills of communication, creative inquiry, problem solving, conceptualizing, reasoning, and critical thinking are enhanced.  Additionally, exposure to music at an early age results in an overall enhancement in brain functioning and proficiency in spatial-temporal reasoning. 

The New York State Syllabus: Modern Languages for Communication concluded that introducing children to world languages and cultures through hands-on, personal experiences offers the following benefits:

* Fosters a sense of humanity and friendship
* Increases students’ adaptability to different environments and modes of acting and thinking
* Furnishes the key to thinking patterns, cultures, and social institutions of other peoples
* Provides insights into the human mind and language itself
* Prepares students for a world in which nations and peoples are increasingly interdependent
* Develops the skills and habits essential to the learning process, creative inquiry, and critical thinking
* Helps students to increase their sensitivity to and understanding of the language, values, customs, and traditions of others.

When an educator looks at every lesson as a multi-faceted opportunity to bring the world into her classroom, the possibilities are infinite.

Creating Curious Learners
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren said, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” This may be a daunting task when a teacher considers the range of interests and abilities within a single classroom. It is these differences in learning styles that make the necessity for creative, multi-sensory lesson planning even more critical.  Auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners will all thrive in an interdisciplinary environment. With a bounty of opportunities to see it, hear it, say it, and do it, every student will be able to grasp new concepts and transfer them to other areas.

Envision the benefits of a curriculum that provides a complete menu of subjects woven together to create a truly meaningful learning environment for each child. As we bring a spectrum of different experiences to our students, we provide opportunities to pique each child’s interest and spark each child’s curiosity. We inevitably provide the essential skills for a lifetime of success as we help each child become more motivated to seek out that which interests him and to understand how he can contribute to his world.

Angelica J. Menefee is the president of Trampoline, www.trampolinelearning.com.

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