There are plenty of scholarly studies that show a strong relationship between singing and literacy development in preschoolers — and there is plenty you can do to help cultivate this connection.
Beyond the Alphabet Song
Linda Page Neelly, associate professor of music at the University of Connecticut, has done extensive research on the links between music and literacy development. As your child sings, she explains, he "begins to explore, sequence, and order sounds, which are critical skills for reading."
Neelly cites the familiar song, "A You're Adorable," which has been adapted as a book by Martha Alexander. While reading and singing this book, you are introducing or reinforcing letters in the alphabet. Meanwhile, your child is noticing letter/sound relationships and matching sung words with written ones.
By singing with your children, you're not just providing academic building blocks. You're also providing emotional ones. When you think of your mother, father, or favorite grandmother, does a song come to mind? Songs have a way of implanting themselves in our brains and planting us firmly in time, whether in early childhood or at that school dance where you had your first kiss.
Whether you’re sharing nursery rhymes, folk tunes from the 1960s, or songs by Raffi or Dan Zanes, there's no such thing as too much singing. And if after the 16th consecutive playing of "Baby Beluga" you wish Raffi had never left Canada, remember that preschoolers love and learn through repetition.
Don't Be Shy
You can't sing, you say? Can't carry a tune to save your life? News flash: your child doesn't care. He won't greet your singing with withering put-downs, like Simon Cowell on American Idol.
Our experts offer these tips on how to use songs and singing in everyday life, making music a joyful part of emerging literacy:
- Make up silly songs about everyday activities, like brushing teeth, getting dressed, or cleaning up. Use a familiar melody or invent your own.
- Explore your family's roots and traditions when looking for songs to sing.
- Go to the library to find books based on songs (e.g., There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Baby Beluga, Old McDonald), and/or music CDs based on books — then go home and sing them together.
- Have grandma or grandpa make a recording of a favorite song or book to send to your child. Preschoolers are fascinated by the sound of their voices, and this provides a memorable connection around music.