Songs invite participation, which in turn builds language. Children hear a song with a repeating phrase (or their name in it) and they HAVE to join in. Add a good beat and some playful rhyme and you have the recipe for fun with language. When children participate in singing, they are using some of the basic elements of language and literacy. A song can introduce children to new vocabulary, rhyme, phonemes, word patterns, and sequence. Through repetition, children gain familiarity with these elements of language and begin to apply the words and phrases to daily conversation.

Introducing a Song

Introduce a new song with gusto! Just as you use the cover of a book to stimulate interest, use a puppet, prop, or picture to get children to predict what a song might be about. This not only invites their involvement, it also encourages children to use clues and apply inductive and deductive reasoning skills. Sing or play a recording of the song a few times, inviting children to clap along or create hand movements. If there is a repeating chorus, invite children to sing it with you. Clapping is a great addition to the process because the beat of the song reflects the rhythm of the words children are using. For children who are uncomfortable about singing, clapping provides them with a way to participate and feel the beat of the language at the same time. Remember, language has a beat and tempo just like singing. Any level of participation allows children to incorporate these nuances and add them to their language "tool box." Soon they'll be applying what they've learned through music to receptive and expressive language experiences they have throughout the day.

Make Language Visual

One way singing helps children learn language is through recognizing predictable phrases. Just as in sharing a predictable book, songs can invite children to use language cues to guess what comes next in a phrase. As you sing the verses of "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly," leave out the rhyming word for children to fill in. Add visual cues and you will be expanding the auditory experience to a visual-literacy experience. Put the song on a chart, adding rebus pictures for some of the key words. Try using a pocket chart where children can add the missing words as they sing it. Keep song charts in the group-time area so that children can sing and play with the new words during activity times.

Make Language Physical

Young children just can't sit still and make music. That is a GOOD thing! When you invite children to move to the songs, you are adding the kinetic modality to language acquisition. Ask children to create their own hand movements to represent words in the song. How do the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round or the windows go up and down? Each time you encourage children to use a movement for words and phrases, you are adding to their store of knowledge about language.

Don't Forget to Listen

Listening is an important skill for language acquisition. The ability to attend to a song and to hear the differences in sounds, words, and rhythms is an early-literacy skill. A simple song such as "Bingo" is a great listening opportunity because children have to listen carefully and wait for just the right time to sing or clap. As the song is sung repeatedly, some words are left out and claps are added in place of words. Not an easy task!

Language skills don't have to come from singing alone. You can play music for children to listen and draw to. Play different selections of music for children to react to with crayons, markers, or finger-paint. You can ask children to "title" their art according to the images the music inspires in them.

A Home-School Connection

Family members often want to know the words to a class song. (They may hear bits and pieces of it at home but don't know enough of it to join in.) Invite children to illustrate their favorite songs and put them together into a collection for parents. You can send home a Song-a-Week on a hole-- punched sheet that parents can add to a ring binder at home. Add a note about the words you are working on and a suggestion for expanding the language experience. Conversely, children enjoy sharing their favorite songs from home too. You might want to invite family members to share a song with the class. Collect these songs in a classroom book.