Reading is one of the most important and studied skills in education. Dr. Dee Joy Coulter, a nationally recognized Neuroscience educator points out that many of the key activities that researchers site for helping children prepare to read successfully look a lot like the skills learned in an early childhood music class, such as hearing and identifying differences in pitches, patterns, rhythms and rhymes. Early childhood music teachers and parents can use these methods and activities to help children prepare to read:
How music can offer pre-reading skills to infants and toddlers:
- Research has shown that a baby can hear clearly for months before birth, and can also discriminate sounds. Babies across all cultures are particularly attentive to “shhhhh” and clicking sounds. It’s no surprise then, that infants are also drawn to the power of live singing and can mimic or “echo” sounds long before they can talk.
- Parents for ages have played the game of making simple sounds (and facial expressions) that their babies can imitate. Infants will start with vowel sounds such as “ooooo” and “ahhhh” first, and then move onto consonants.
- An early childhood music teacher will sing Ba, Ba to a baby and soon a response will come back Ba. Over time the response will be more precise with Ba, Ba. The echoing and imitation will progress further, leading to an early attention to language, to form and to the call and response pattern, all excellent pre-reading exercises.
- Finally, singing simple songs not only soothes infants and toddlers, but also helps them to recognize patterns and words as they are repeated. Lyrics from old folk songs seem to be especially easy for children to recognize, as if their long history has made them more memorable.
Preparing preschoolers to read songs and music
- The mimicking or “echoing” that works with infants and toddlers can be turned into call and response activities and songs for preschool children. Music works especially well with this exercise and has been used by pre-school teachers to teach children speech, reading, in addition to simply gaining their attention.
- As you sing to and play call and response with preschoolers, throw in some more complex and monosyllabic words. They enjoy trying to repeat these “new” words with the funny combinations. Playing open ended rhyming games also help children with phonological awareness, or the ability to hear smaller parts in words, sounds, and syllables.
- Songs are very often stories, and help preschool children to follow and understand a timeline, setting, and characters. In addition to reading them stories to begin to teach how sentences and stories are formed, singing familiar and open-ended songs help them to understand how to construct and understand written words. Many early childhood music programs go even a step further, getting the children to act out a storyline set to music in order to further reinforce these valuable skills.
From the earliest stages, songs and music are an important part of developing children’s understanding of language, and eventually reading. Babies respond to the rhythm and melody of language before they understand what the words mean. As toddlers grow into preschoolers, call and response activities such as those commonly used in early childhood music programs help them to understand the rhythm and structure of words and sentences, and how they are formed into songs and written stories.