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Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins

Vocab Tunes

September 6, 2013

There are things parents can do to give their children a jump start on learning and being prepared for the hyper-competitive, disruptive, transformational global knowledge economy they will inherit. Knowing the root of a word provides the foundation to grasping vocabulary and opens the world of reading to us all.

A recent U.S. Department of Education report showed a continuous erosion in vocabulary skills across the nation. Now, our children are ranked twelfth among the western democracies in vocabulary skills. This report shows a steady decline for last fifty years in spite of so much money being poured into vocabulary education.

Manisha Shelley Kaura, a final year pre-med student at Xavier University and her dad, S. R . Kaura MD, a practicing family physician in Southgate, created a four level K-12 vocabulary program:

Level 1. Vocab Tunes: The first multiplication tables of the English language
Level 2. Rockin Root Words: Book 1 for upper elementary
Level 3. Rockin Root Words: Book 2 for middle school
Level 4. ACT/SAT Manual: A text book on root words for high school

Vocabulary knowledge not only contributes to reading comprehension, but also is linked to academic success. However, vocabulary growth is addressed inadequately in current educational curricula, especially between preschool and the end of second grade -when it is most important. By the time a child reaches the end of second grade, he or she has learned 4,000 to 8,000 words, adding 1,000 words per year in the years following. These numbers are staggering when one considers a gap of 2,000 words equals approximately two grade levels. An educator’s chances of successfully addressing vocabulary differences in school are greatest in preschool and early primary years. But the good news is that we can remedy these deficits by introducing innovative programs like Vocab Tunes.

There are five legs of vocabulary. The first one is phonics, the sound spelling combination. The second one is the morphological awareness of the root words or patterns. The third one is syntax. The fourth one is semantics. And the last one is pragmatics. Out of all the legs, this article pertains to the second one, the root words. It is the most important but most under emphasized part of curriculum.

The Vocab Tunes curriculum uses music and dance as an additional means of learning. Students are more interested in learning when teachers use music and song rather than simply spoken language. Vocab Tunes uses singing and dancing to get children interested in and excited about learning root words. Moreover singing and dancing is a whole mind-body experience that provides a double reinforcement as it unites the body, voice and brain, resulting in optimal processing and learning.

Studies on learning ability show that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” in terms of today’s curriculum for vocabulary. The children who read well and are skilled in figuring out root words/ meanings, improve their vocabulary quickly as they go. Other children often fall further and further behind.

There are many educational programs to help provide a strong foundation for learning. What impressed me about Vocab Tunes is its Michigan roots, a father daughter project based on solid research and a passion for learning.

So, as the lazy days of summer come to an end and your kids return to school, you can get them moving, learning and ready for a new school year by taping the knowledge of a Michigan doctor and his daughter and their method of preparing children for their future and not our past.

The program is available as a book/DVD or as app on iPhone or iPad and can be ordered from

Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as State Superintendent of Schools from 2001-2005 and Deputy Director and Director of Mental Health from 1983-1990. He can be reached at or follow Watkins on twitter @tdwatkins88

September 5, 2013 · Filed under Tom Watkins

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jon Madian // Sep 5, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    What a remarkably insightful and beautifully expressed piece. So good to know that folks are so creatively engaged, and that you are able to find them and explain their work so well. Thank you.

  • 2 Leroy Stephens // Sep 5, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Music is universally loved aspect of our life. Little babies dance when they hear it and they learn lyrics before they can create a sentence. Why not use it as a learning tool. Brillant idea. Tom continue to bring fresh ideas to helping our youth to become educated and competitive in this global world.

  • 3 roger milkey // Sep 6, 2013 at 6:23 am

    This out to be must reading for all parents, teachers.Would make such a huge difference to you children if everyone heeded

  • 4 Jim Dehem // Sep 6, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Thanks Tom for this enciteful information. My grandchildren love music and dance. I’m going to follow up on this I phone app for them.

  • 5 Craig Douglas // Sep 6, 2013 at 8:18 am

    “See the world today in a new _________!”

    If you are over 50, you know the answer……..and the reason is the music behind the message. Anyone in marketing knows, music helps us learn and retain information.

    Good article, Tom!

  • 6 Ken Beedle // Sep 6, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Awesome, inspiring and needed

  • 7 Jon // Sep 6, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Good article Tom, learning musical instruments is also helpful to children in learning science and math. The doctors program is something that could be done at home or school and children can learn while having fun.

  • 8 Bill Richardson // Sep 13, 2013 at 7:20 am

    You are SO right, Tom…….Vocab development IS critical across the curriculum. I have used music often in my training of Chinese English teachers. They, in turn, report positive feedback in using the music in classrooms…………

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    Keep working ,remarkable job!

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