Making the Music & Reading Connection

This post is published with permission from Liz Buchanan’s excellent blog.

Many academic studies have shown a strong connection between musical activities and early literacy learning. One study that especially interests me is detailed in“Early Language Learning With and Without Music,” by Douglas Fisher, published in Reading Horizons in 2001.

The study evaluated four classrooms of students in kindergarten and first grade. The students were all English Language Learners who spoke Spanish at home. Two of the classrooms began the day with a song and added particular musical activities to reading instruction time, while the other two did not. The students in the classrooms that used music scored higher on reading assessments.

Most of the preschool and kindergarten teachers I meet understand the power of music for their students, but they often don’t know how best to use music to enhance student learning. Most early-reading curricula give some lip-service to singing (no pun intended). A song may come with each week’s lesson plans, but the song seems an afterthought and not that engaging. To put it nicely, these songs aren’t destined for the top 40.

In the Fisher study, the songs seemed more integral to the lessons, as though each lesson would lose its heart without the song. For instance, in one activity, the children had to find a mystery word in scrambled letters. For the classes using music, the mystery word was a song title, and when the students discovered the mystery, the teacher would play a recording of the song. As one teacher commented, “See how they love to find the mystery word? They know we’re going to sing a song and that the CD with the words will be available in the classroom library after we learn it. The connections they make are great. They know the words because we sang together. On their own, they get to see the words in print and hear them over and over again.”

As I’ve worked as a teaching artist in kindergarten classrooms, I’ve had teachers ask for particular songs to work on certain skills. The teachers (and their students) were tired of rote chanting of letter sounds and rhyming word families: B-Buh-Baseball and fat-cat-sat-mat. I was able to make musical connections that made the lessons more engaging for both teachers and students.

I’d love to see more teachers trying these songs in their classrooms. In my collection, Songs for Rhyming and Reading, there are songs for clapping syllables of words, emphasizing starting consonants, reciting long and short vowels, guessing rhymes and making word families. You can find this collection and many other early literacy-related songs on my page at Songs for Teaching.

For instance, in my song Animal Hand-Clapping Rap, students can learn about interesting creatures such as a cockatoo or coatimundi while clapping syllables. Teachers can change the pace by using the same song featuring food words. (For an article with more musical syllable clapping ideas click here.

The rhyme-guessing songs can turn rhyming skill learning into a game. In Icky Sticky and Ooey Gooey, kids guess rhyming body parts.

In I Like My Hat, students have a chance to expand the song into a writing activity about their favorite hat color. They’re invited to make up rhyming lines such as “My hat is blue, I stick it on with glue,” or “My hat is yellow, I wear it and say hello!” There’s also a chance to be creative and color a fancy hat.

In Vowel Jamboree, students sing long and short vowel sounds, rather than simply reciting them. It adds extra fun to letter sound lessons. For starting consonant sounds, teachers can try the classic Muffin Man with many added verses for other starting consonant sounds.

For more songs about Phonological Awareness click here!

Spring Song About Seeds! (and a bit about POTENTIAL)

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What could I become? I’m just a little seed…

Last spring, I started singing a brand new song about seeds on the way to a school where I work. I arrived and wrote the whole thing down in the parking lot. Yep, it’s one of those “organic” tunes that just happens before you know it! The song’s refrain is: “I’ve got potential! I’m a little seed.” The refrain repeats, encouraging participants to sing it back, call-and-response style. Click Here to view lyrics.

Seeds, of course, are not the only things with potential. This song invites discussion with children about the meaning of “potential,” as well as the life cycle and the characteristics all living things share. You can also encourage children to rewrite the song by adding their favorite flowers, plants and trees.

This is a great song to pair with a book. There are many, but the first ones that come to mind for me are Lois Ehlert’s Growing Vegetable Soup and Planting a Rainbow, or Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed.

There are also many songs you could pair with this one. Here are some suggestions (some are from my friends at the Children’s Music Network!) I’m impressed by Pam Donkin’s Planting Seeds of Love.

Here are some others:
Growing Sound’s Seeds of Hope;
MMMKids From A Seed Into A Tree;
Kiboomu’s The Gardner Plants A Seed;
Bobby Susser’s The Seeds In The Spring Are Going To Grow (With A Little Help);
Miss Jenny’s Let Your Garden Grow;
Music with Mar.’s Seed To a Flower
Marla Lewis’ I Love to Talk to Plants.

This post was first published on Liz Buchanan’s blog. To see all of Liz’s music on Songs for Teaching, click here!

Raiders of the Lost Bark

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During studies for my master’s degree at Lesley University, I had an opportunity to take a class on early literacy learning with Professor Jean Ciborowsky Fahey. Jean works closely with a group called Reach Out and Read, a non-profit organization that partners with pediatricians’ offices to encourage reading-related activities for very young children.

Jean enthusiastically encourages parents and early childhood teachers to play literacy games regularly – daily if possible – with their young children and students. You can play these games anywhere – the breakfast table, on the way to school, the supermarket line or the playground line. One game involves taking apart compound words. For instance, children might be asked:

Say “something.” Say it again without the “thing.” Some.

Say “pinwheel.” Say it again without the “pin.” Wheel.

Say “motorcycle.” Say it again without the “cycle.” Motor.

Games can also help children learn to separate out the onset and rime; that is, the initial consonant sound of the word (onset) and the remaining vowel and consonant sounds (rime). The child could be asked:

Say run. Say it again without the ‘r.’

Say dog. Say it again without the ‘d.’

Say find. Say it again without the ‘f.’

By learning to separate the starting sound from those that follow, the child begins to understand the families of words that have the same ending sounds. Reading the words in the families becomes that much easier, as cat, fat, mat, bat, rat and sat all have the same end letters, just different beginnings. I’ve written a Word Families song – click the link and you can check it out on my Songs for Rhyming and Reading at Songs for Teaching.

What follows is silly song that invites children to play with beginning and ending sounds. Make a flash card for each of the words, and separate the beginning sound from the rest of the word. Have different letters available to form the nonsense words. Ask a children to pick out the correct letter to begin the word.

My Dog Lost the ‘B’ from Her Bark Tune: “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
By Liz Buchanan

Oh my dog lost the B from her bark (repeat)
My dog lost the B from her bark bark bark
Now all she can say is “Ark!”

Until she found a “G” and went “Gark”
Oh, then she found an “S” and went “Sark”
Oh, what she really needs is a B you see
Please find a B for me.

Oh my cow lost the M from her moo …
Now all she can say is “oo”

My turkey lost the G from her gobble
Now all she can say is “obble”

My Frog lost the R from his ribbet
Now all he can say is “ibbet.”

Click here to view more of Liz Buchanan’s Songs on Songs for Teaching! This blog post was originally published on Liz Buchanan’s blog site Antelope Dance Music & Literacy.

Learning Through Music, for All Abilities

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I’m in a room with twenty-five children, four of whom use wheelchairs. As the children act out a song about butterflies, I choose several students from the “typical” classroom to partner with the children with disabilities. The students walk over cautiously at first. But they seem to overcome their shyness as they dance about the kids in wheelchairs. Smiles of pride come to their faces – they’re just five years old, but they’re doing something helpful that makes a difference in another child’s life.

This is my third year as a teaching artist with VSA MA at the Condon School in South Boston, integrating music with the literacy curriculum for children in the early childhood classrooms through first grade. Condon’s student population includes many students with special needs, and VSA MA’s main goal is to bring together children with a range of abilities through the arts.

This year, we combined classrooms in my music sessions to bring together students from Condon’s Developmental Day Care (DDC) program with the Pre-K and kindergarten classes. The DDC students face many obstacles in their daily lives – most have multiple, severe disabilities.

The other children in the school see the DDC students coming down the hall and may feel curious, worried, or even fearful. My music program aims, in part, to help demystify the lives and experiences of these fellow students, and create a place where everyone can enjoy an engaging arts experience.

I’ve received capable assistance from Maureen Finnerty, known to her young fans simply as “Moe” or “Miss Moe”. Moe – who has cerebral palsy – has been part of VSA since her own youth. It’s clear when you meet Moe that her early arts experiences had a formative role in shaping her career. Today she serves in a variety of roles as a teaching artist, theater director and performer.

Moe helped demystify the DDC students for me, too. With her help, I learned about how to make my repertoire of tunes, stories, rhythm and lyrics more accessible to a child with a severe disability. I learned about the stimulating vibration of rumbling thunder cans, which help enhance these children’s experiences in learning about the Big Bad Wolf or the troll in the Billy Goats Gruff. I learned about using soft-textured beanbags for learning through touch, and providing stimulating colors as we waved scarves.

Most of all, I saw how the active experience of music and movement can bring a story to life for children with a variety of abilities and learning styles. A favorite among the youngest children is my song about the Three Little Pigs. I assign the students parts – as pigs, houses and wolves. For some, there’s little to match the experience of belting out the blues chorus of the Big Bad Wolf.

It’s especially fun to watch one little girl from the DDC class respond to the song. Her speech, mobility and eyesight are limited, but the minute anyone mentions that wolf, she starts to blow! With the help of her teacher, she’s soon careening around the classroom to the bad-wolf chorus.

I also learned from Moe that an important learning milestone for the DDC students is the understanding of cause and effect, and making choices. In my music/movement rendition of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, all of the students have a chance to choose different ways to participate, including playing a colorful rain stick to make the sound of the river, shaking a thunder can to create a “troll” effect or tapping rhythm sticks to make the Billy Goats’ “trip-trip-trip” on the bridge.

Helping students understand and make these choices is a big part of enhancing their educational experience. It helps them grasp the concepts in the story, too. Through acting out the story, I hope the students are not only having fun, but learning something important. Whatever challenges they might face – whether it’s a physical disability, language barrier or a learning issue – they have strength inside themselves to stand up to adversity and overcome it.

Liz Buchanan

Liz Buchanan’s music programs are designed for fun and learning for children from infancy through age seven, although older children and adults also love her songs. Liz loves engaging children with stories and drama, building literacy learning through the arts. Liz holds an MFA in Creative Writing as well as a Masters in Education. In classrooms, in libraries, in the community—Liz’s music and creative arts programs help children love learning. Click here to see more of Liz’s Music on Songs For Teaching.

Click here to see more songs for working with children with special needs.

This blog post was originally published on VSA Mass Blog for All on May 2, 2013.