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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 5, 2008

This is your child's brain on music

By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kaila Lopez points to the words for the "Alligator Greater Than/Less Than" song as classmates sing along in Jennifer Fixman's first-grade class at Waialua Elementary School. Fixman, who's taught at Waialua since 2003, created Edutunes, a program that teaches young children everything from phonics to science through music.

Photos by GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Musical lessons parents can do at home with their youngsters to teach them phonics, suggested by Jennifer Fixman, founder of www.Edutunes.com Inc.:

  • Using actual objects or an ABC chart (a free chart is available at www.edutunes.com), do a little chant saying the letter, sounding it out and showing an example "so children associate the letters with the basic sounds and with a picture," Fixman said.

  • Instead of just reading books, sing them to a tune. This works well with rhyming books. "Just make up a tune," Fixman said. "It would be that much more fun and get them that much more excited about reading the words."

  • When "singing" a book, always point to the accompanying words. "That's pretty key to getting that connection between spoken words and words on a page," Fixman said.

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    Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

    Fixman's first-graders dance along to an Edutunes song. Fixman uses the songs every day in her class and says that musical intelligence is the first kind developed in young minds.

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    Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

    Jennifer Fixman, founder of Edutunes, asks for a volunteer in her first-grade class at Waialua Elementary while singing Edutunes songs. She developed the series nearly 10 years ago while teaching in San Diego.

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    How do you encourage your keiki to learn? Share tips with other parents online on our Web site for local moms.


    Learn more: Edutunes, www.edutunes.com

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    Whenever Dino Granito and his 4-year-old daughter go for a drive, there's a particular CD the little one always requests to listen to on the car stereo.

    It isn't the kiddie-crazed "Hannah Montana" or "High School Musical" soundtracks. It's "Phonics Time," a CD with catchy jingles about things like rhymes, building words, and short and long vowel sounds.

    "My daughter loves it," said Granito, 38, of Kailua. "Every time we get in the car, she wants me to play it."

    A similar musical theme runs through the Waialua Elementary School classroom run by Jennifer Fixman, who created a series of musical lessons for young children called Edutunes.

    Granito's preschooler and Fixman's students are among thousands of children nationwide singing along with Edutunes programs, which use music to teach subjects such as math, science and phonics.

    When children learn from music, they're using every major part of the brain, said Fixman, 34, of Kailua, who is the founder and president.

    "Brain research indicates also that musical intelligence is the first kind of intelligence to develop in young minds," Fixman said.

    Before children are ready to read, do math or comprehend advanced scientific concepts, they can learn through music, said Fixman, who uses the songs every day with her own students.


    Fixman, who has been teaching at Waialua since 2003, developed the musical programs nearly 10 years ago while teaching in San Diego. Fixman became inspired after attending a workshop where she learned about the teaching power of music.

    "As a poor teacher who couldn't afford to go buy anything, I thought, well, I'll make songs about everything I want to teach," Fixman said and laughed.

    So Fixman wrote songs to teach the required standards of the education system in California. Then with the urging of her principal at the time, Fixman professionally produced her songs and ended up with her first two CDs, "Science Songs" and "Phonics Time." When she got good feedback from her fellow educators, she kept on creating.

    Fixman comes from a musical background, having played the violin since the third grade and with the University Philharmonic at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

    Over the years, the musical programs from Edutunes were tested and refined through research, pilot studies and feedback from customers, Fixman said.

    Mia Molinaro, a kindergarten teacher at Kainalu Elementary School, has been using the program in her classroom for nine years with about 200 of her students from kindergarten through third grade, in various subject areas including math, science, character education and health.

    "It's very effective and it helps the kids," Molinaro said. "I found that the kids really react well to the music they like to dance to the music because of the upbeat rhythm and it helps them to learn and retain new things."


    Fixman works with professional musicians, graphic artists and writers to produce the materials, which are geared toward children between 3 and 8 years old.

    Edutunes offers eight CD/activity book sets (which cost $19.99 apiece), all created by Fixman, and sold at edutunes.com and Bookends in Kailua. Titles include "Early Phonics," "We Love Math" and "Health and the Human Body." Other products available include math posters, phonics charts and a pizza-eating alligator puppet used to teach math.

    The programs have been used within the lower school at Le Jardin Academy, said Granito, the school's technology director, who has seen the songs work at both work and home.

    Granito credits the music lessons from Edutunes, in combination with other learning tools, with helping his preschooler learn her alphabets by age 2.

    "I think Jenny's songs and books stimulated my daughter's interest and curiosity in words and books," Granito said. "Now when we go to the library, every letter she sees, she has to sound it out."

    How do you encourage your keiki to learn? Share tips with other parents online on our Web site for local moms.

    Reach Zenaida Serrano at zserrano@honoluluadvertiser.com.