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The Importance of Singing

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Q: My child's preschool teacher says that singing to her is really important. Why? What should I sing?

A: Your child has a great preschool teacher! We are most likely to think of singing as something that children enjoy and that is fun to do. But your child's teacher is going beyond that and is focusing on an aspect of early childhood development that is sometimes overlooked in its importance to literacy achievement. Singing is simply one of the best ways for developing the sound awareness skills that are critical to learning to read successfully

Let me explain. You may be familiar with the skills called phonics. Phonics instruction involves teaching children that letters have specific sounds, such as the sound of "b" as in "bat". In the English language, there are many sounds to learn and children must also learn that certain letters can make more than one sound, such as the letter c. The sound of "c" as in "cat" is called "hard," while the sound of "c" as in circle is called "soft." And the letter c is also involved in the sound of "ch" as in "cheese". Imagine that! At least three sounds are associated with the letter c alone.

This can be a lot for children to deal with when they are first learning to read. Phonics skills can become nearly impossible tasks in a kindergarten or first grade classroom if children have not previously been exposed to loads and loads of sounds, just for the sake of hearing them without any connection to letters or written words at all.

In other words, children must be able to play with the sounds of language — make up nonsense words, make all kinds of animal sounds, tell you what words have rhyming sounds, tell you what words begin with the same sound, and more. And they have to be able to do this on a purely auditory level. For example, if a child can listen to a set of words such as "bike, hat, and like" and not only tell you which of them rhyme but also add a rhyme of his own (such as "Mike" or even a nonsense word), then we would say that this child has a degree of "phonemic awareness," the ability to hear sounds in spoken words (phonemes).

Back to singing: Songs are both spoken and heard. Children do not have to be able to read in order to learn a song. And because songs are filled with rhymes, alliteration, and different sound patterns, they actually celebrate the sounds of language. Singing favorite songs over and over again helps children become consciously aware of sounds and the way we can manipulate them — break them apart, blend them together, highlight certain ones and minimize others.

So the bottom line is: Sing away! Sing traditional children's songs, teach your children your own favorite rock or pop songs, make up songs together. You will be instilling a life-long love of language as well as giving her the foundation necessary for learning to read.

About the Author

Susan Canizares holds a PhD in language and literacy development.

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