Learn To Sing – Sing To Learn

As an educator I have always had two loves: music and literacy.  I majored in music, but could never bring myself to become a music specialist because I knew it would mean giving up the opportunity to help children fall in love with language!  As a mother, it naturally follows that there is much music in my kids’ world.  We sing as we work, we sing as we play, we sing during bath time and while we’re driving in the car.  We sing with others at church and sometimes even use a microphone.  We sing serious songs, silly songs, story telling songs and our own made up songs.  And I have found it  fascinating to watch my children’s language development through song.

My son is 17 months old, and currently says these words (probably only a mother would even call them “words”):

dadad = Dad

gagga = cracker

nana = banana

ga = car or grapes

gigga = digger

mumum = Mum (this is pretty rare to be honest)

I realise that this selection of words makes my son seem like a stereotypical boy (food and cars)!  My point is that his speech is still at a very early stage.  However, the vocabulary he has through song far exceeds his spoken words.  He can’t quite say grapes (ga), but as we passed the huge melons in the supermarket the other day he started swaying from side to side tunefully babbling something that sounded incredibly like, “I love, you love, watermelon!” (a Justine Clarke song we often sing at home).  He does the same thing when we read Saturday’s page in The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  As soon as he sees the picture of the slice of watermelon he sways from side to side and tunefully babbles, “I love, you love…” all over again.

There is so much going on that little brain!  Not only is he is learning new vocab but he is making connections between objects and experiences, remembering words in sequence, understanding that words are made up of sounds, having a red-hot-go at forming those sounds with his own mouth, communicating his thoughts with others, and enjoying the whole process!  I didn’t sit him down with a watermelon flash card.  I just sang with him.

My daughter is almost 4.  She recently started kindy, but was home with me full time before then and has heard a lot of songs.  At this stage she can read (and write) her own name, and recognise personally significant letters and their associated sounds – but that’s about it.  She certainly isn’t “reading” yet.  However, her ability to recall lyrics is amazing.  This means that before she can even read she has developed her skills in recall and sequencing.  It also means she has an excellent vocabulary for her age, and she transfers words from songs into everyday conversation.

Like many preschoolers she loves to make up her own songs, and has done for some time.  Her songs are quite varied and interesting both musically and lyrically.  Sometimes she sings her own made up story.  Sometimes she sings about feelings.  Sometimes she sings about what she can see.  Often her songs demonstrate her understanding of story structure, rhythm, phrasing, and even rhyme (much to my amusement she sometimes makes up a word so that her lines rhyme as she sings).  Before she starts formal schooling she already has such a good foundation under her – through song.

There are many ways music and literacy complement each other, and several studies have proven these connections.  Learn to sing, and sing to learn I say!  If you’re interested in further information on this topic, try the work of Robert A. Cutietta, author of Raising Musical Kids: a guide for parents (2001). Cutietta claims the patterns of words, rhymes, and tonal qualities inherent in songs are incorporated easily and naturally by children as they learn to speak and eventually to read.  Based on what I see in my own children – I completely agree.

Singing with your kids is bound to boost their language development.  How well you sing is unimportant.  How often you sing is. So to quote The Carpenters (which I can’t believe I’m doing)… “Don’t worry that it’s not good enough, for anyone else to hear.  Just sing, sing a song… la la la la la…”

This post is part of Share A Story – Shape A Future 2010

and is featured over at The Book Chook today.

15 thoughts on “Learn To Sing – Sing To Learn

  1. I totally agree with this post. My son was also singing before he could talk. He used to sing “Bob the Builder” (“Ba,be,ba,ba” to the tune of Bob the Builder) when his vocab was very, very limited. I used to sing with my children lots and lots. I also read to them lots and lots and still do at times. Both of my kids are now fantastic readers in upper primary school.

  2. we love to sing in this house too! My late talker has been a late singer but lately all he does is sing… and make up songs and sing and sing…. oh and talk a lot!
    Singing is such a great way to play with language and such a valuable tool! Also works great to get a defiant toddler’s attention! ;)
    .-= katef´s last blog ..Sunday, Bizarre Sunday. =-.

  3. My two have learnt a lot of songs too. I play Colin Buchanan a lot and my 4 yr old knows nearly all the lyrics including chapter and verse addresses. My 19 month old walks around the house saying ‘aye aye captain’ and ‘God does’ so its amazing just how much they can take in. My 4 yr old wrote her name for the first time by herself with no aids last week and I was so excited!!
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Weekly What List =-.

  4. I’m always amazed by how much my 22 month old tries to follow the tune. Even when she doesn’t know the words, she just repeats the words she does know, but almost always fills in the correct number of syllables! She is learning a lot of vocabulary from songs too. Almost all our meals end up as a sing-a-long here.
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..Crayons for little hands =-.

  5. So, so true Cath. Music and literacy, couldn’t live without either of them!

    We are always singing in our household – the silly made up songs are usually the favourites, but probably due to the constant immersion, my kids do pretty well with any from Ben Lee and can hold their own with a quite a few Jazz standards!
    .-= Claudette´s last blog ..HAVE A GIRL LOOK! =-.

  6. Ah yes, singing and music is a wonderful joyful tool. I often use a sing-song voice when I talk to my young children.

    “Sing, sing a song, make it simple, to last your whole life long. Don’t worry if it’s not good enough, for anyone else to year. Just sing, sing a song.”

  7. You’ve brought back so many memories of sharing music with my children when they were younger. When they were toddlers, they used to run and dance around the room to favorite songs!

    Music will always be something that brings us together. Whether it’s playing musical instruments, singing, dancing, or just plain old listening together, it’s something that truly connects us all. Like the air we breathe, and the books we read, it’s an important element in every household.

    Thank you for putting a smile on my face today!

  8. This is a great post … my daughter, now 8 STILL likes to add her own words to well-worn songs. It is so fun to listen to her in the shower start, stop and restart her lyrics when she gets stuck looking for a rhyme. Thanks for this wonderful post!

  9. I love, love, love this post! I grew up surrounded by music because my Grandfather was a music teacher. I believe that music really provides a lot of keys to pieces of literacy and works hand-in-hand with many of the concepts, a large one being listening. And, if you think about it, when kids make up songs, they really are telling stories!!! Thank you for such a great post!!! :)

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