Smiling, laughing, bouncing, jumping in the air…it’s adorable to see the joy when a little one’s favorite song comes on. It turns out kids are actually hard-wired to enjoy music, and music classes like those at My Little Conservatory are a great way to have fun. But, did you know that they help develop literacy as well?
The power of rhythm and rhyme
Think for a moment about mnemonics, those little tricks we use to help us remember important information. Many of them use rhythm and sound patterns like, “I before E except after C,” which helps us remember spelling rules. Songs have these patterns of rhythm and rhyme also, making them naturally easy for kids to remember. As Christian Buckler noted in his story “The Enduring Legacy of Schoolhouse Rock!” in Marketplace,
“Schoolhouse Rock!” started with a simple idea: that lyrics are more memorable than facts and figures. Advertising executive David McCall thought of the idea when he heard his son singing along with song after song on the radio, even [though] the same child struggled to remember basic multiplication rules.”
This is why young children since the 70s have been learning about government, math, and grammar set to music in “Schoolhouse Rock!” Later in high school as they take tests and write essays, songs about how a bill becomes a law and how sentences are joined with conjunctions roll through their heads.
Auditory processes in both music and literacy
Learning to hear different notes (or pitch discrimination) is another way that music helps kids learn.
Pitches, which we hear as notes going up or down, are the basic units of music that make up songs. The sequence of pitches is how we recognize the difference between rhythmically similar “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Good King Wenceslas.” As kids learn to manipulate pitches to create melodies, they learn that big things are made up of little things. Learning to listen for pitches and differentiate between them helps them to listen for smaller pieces of language, too. Spoken language, like music, is made up of basic units of sound that combine to create words. For example, the word cat is broken up into three phonemes; /k/, /æ/, and /t/. When kids understand this concept, reading becomes easier. Link
Vocabulary as a language foundation
Aside from sounds, kids must also learn words. A large vocabulary lays the foundation in spoken language skills, and studies show that the size of a child’s vocabulary is a strong indicator of academic success.
On a typical day you will talk to your toddler about typical things, so only a limited number of words are going to be needed. Songs, however, introduce words that might not otherwise pop up at home. Twinkling stars, water spouts, wheels on busses, and sheep with bags of wool all appear in children’s songs, but not in everyday conversation. The best part is that these words appear in context, offering real-life examples of how to use the new words. Educators will tell you this is a great way to increase vocabulary. Link
Visual elements in music
Last, but far from least, music has a visual element.
Reading music teaches that symbols on a page have meaning in the real world. A note on a staff represents a pitch as well as how long that pitch will be held. Those notes join together in phrases, and phrases link together to become songs. A child with musical concepts can apply that understanding to reading: letters build words, words build phrases, and so on.
As your little one becomes familiar with these symbols and the songs, they will discover that they can follow the written lyrics and recognize familiar words in print. This, in turn, allows them to read above their level. Powerful stuff.
Join us at My Little Conservancy for classes because music is not only fun but also because by learning music, your little one is preparing to read.
Want to dig deeper? Here are some more articles that I found useful in gathering information for this topic:
Written for My Little Conservatory by Gretchen Himes, English as a second language instructor, mom, and amateur musician