by Carol Grise
Soon after a baby is born, parents begin to realize music’s influence upon a child. Whether the music the baby hears is his parent singing or comes from a CD, music captures a child’s attention. As a child grows, music can help prepare a child for reading.
Exposure to music helps develop thinking and memory skills. Repeating familiar songs develops a child’s ability to remember sounds and words in a sequence for a period of time long enough to understanding meaning. Memory skills are needed when a child sounds out words as he begins to read on his own.
Listening skills are strengthened through music. The ability to listen to and understand songs is comparable to the ability to listen to and understand spoken language. One key to successful reading is the ability to listen closely to spoken words.
Children learn new words by participating in song activities, which expand a child’s vocabulary and helps a young child link up new words with their meaning.
Singing songs allows a child to hear the smaller sounds in words. The rhythm of music breaks down the words in a song, making it easier to hear letter sounds and rhyming words. Most children who have difficulty reading have trouble hearing the small sounds in words.
Here are some tips for using singing to develop early reading skills:
- Make singing a fun, relaxed experience. Adults should not be self-conscious about their singing voice. A young child is not concerned about the quality of the singing. He cares about having fun singing with family members. The learning that accompanies singing is part of the fun.
- Start with simple songs, like “I’m a Little Teapot”. Sing a song several times with your child, encouraging him to sing along. If he doesn’t participate immediately, just keep encouraging him to join in. Avoid making singing a discipline issue. Repeating favorite songs develops memory and confidence in using oral language. Both skills are needed when a child learns to read on his own.
- Write down the song words and point to them as you sing. This will help link the words you are singing to written words, showing the child the importance of written words. Occasionally leave out a word in a familiar song, asking the child to say the missing word.
- Comment on words that rhyme or start with the same letter sound. Invite your child to repeat the rhymes and letter sounds with you.
- Change the words of a familiar song. Make different rhymes with the new words. Create silly versions of songs by changing the first letter of each word. Make up your own songs.
- Create a family song book. Write down the words of favorite songs. Leave a space on the page for a personalized drawing. Use your special book for a sing-a-long.
- Act out songs with hand and body movements. Sing songs that invite movement and encourage participation, such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Wheels on the Bus”. Use pans or spoons to tap out words as you sing. Parade around the house while singing “If You're Happy and You Know It”. Story songs, like “The Farmer in the Dell” or songs with simple patterns, like “Old McDonald Had a Farm” are enjoyed by older preschoolers.
- Sing together anywhere. Sing in the car. Share a song at bedtime. Add music to everyday chores, such as making the bed.
Ask your local librarian to assist you in locating age-appropriate children’s music so that you can start family sing-a-long sessions. The library also has a variety of picture books based on popular children’s songs, such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by Iza Trapani or “Itsy Bitsy Spider” by Rosemary Wells.
Music is vital to the development of listening and language skills. Regular exposure to music will help your child be ready to read. As your child grows, the ability to read as well as the ability to remember and understand what was read is the key to learning any subject in school. Time spent enjoying music together will tune your child in to the wonder of language, helping to prepare him for a lifetime of learning.