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.
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.