Grow a Reader: Singing
By Jody Lewandowski
“Bouncing, bouncing, panda on my knee; bouncing, bouncing, 1-2-3!”* I peeked around the doorframe to see my 3-year-old daughter with her stuffed panda, singing it a song I had sung to her and her brother over and over and gently bouncing it on her knee. I was delighted! Not only was she singing, she was playing with the lyrics, making them her own.
Fast forward two years, and I overhear my son singing while he’s playing with LEGOs, “Rain, rain, go away, Mia and Eli want to play…” We are definitely a singing household. I grew up learning folk songs as Dad accompanied us on guitar. My mom sings Christmas carols year-round while she does chores. The kids and I sing songs anytime we are driving in the car. They often request that I play songs by title.
So, I’m doing at least one thing right! Singing is one of the five early literacy practices through which our children gain the skills they need to learn to read.
Songs are a natural way to learn about language. Songs present children with new words, building their vocabulary. When we sing, our children develop listening skills and begin hearing the rhythm of language. Rhyming words are prominent, and often each syllable of a word has a different note, enabling children to hear the individual sounds that make up language. Singing also slows down language, which makes it easier to hear these sounds.
The ability to hear these smaller sounds (phonemes) and then play with them (rhyming) is called "phonological awareness," a very important skill. Researcher Connie Juel found the children in her study who entered first grade with lower levels of phonological awareness struggled with reading and continued to do so through third grade.** I’m so glad singing supports this skill! And, it’s easy to incorporate into your everyday lives:
- Just sing! Even if you don’t think you sound great, your child is an adoring audience.
- Your favorite pop tunes have all the right characteristics. No need to find special children’s music, though we’re always happy to make recommendations.
- Have a dance party: tune in to your favorite radio station, and cut the rug while singing along.
- Sing your baby a nursery rhyme, lullaby, or even your favorite love song. It’s been shown to calm infants twice as long as talking.
- Change up traditional songs. For example, “Old McDonald Had a Zoo”
- Make it personal. Using familiar tunes, insert your child’s name or sing about whatever you’re doing.