When you think of a child learning to read, what do you think of teaching them? Letters, sounds, sight words, vocabulary?
All of these elements of literacy are vital for a child to learn but there is much more to reading. The comprehension, thinking, analyzing, discussing, drawing conclusions, making predictions, making connections, making meaning… that’s my favorite part.
When I taught full time I always had a time during the year where we put away books and instead studied music during reader’s workshop. I know what you’re thinking… Music? During reading?
It’s really easy to view reading as something that just happens in a book, but I wanted my students, and now want my own children to know that reading is SO. MUCH. MORE. And what could be more engaging than a classroom (or in my case now, a home) filled with music?
This music unit was often the unit where I would get the most “out of” my students. We had the most incredible, insightful discussions, and the kids were really motivated. I would print out a song’s lyrics and they would get out highlighters, different colored pens, post-its, and dive into the song’s meaning. They’d discuss song meanings and tone and word choice, respectfully disagreeing with one another and writing their own songs inspired by common themes we found.
All of this intentional work analyzing language and words within the context of music definitely translated to an increase in engagement and performance when we jumped back into books.
So how can we, as parents, use music to engage our kids and teach them important literacy skills?
First of all, surround your kids with music. Different kinds of music. There's definitely a place for nursery rhymes and kid's music, but don't be afraid to play music you love. Expose them to the different genres of music and sounds. Play music at home as you cook, in the car, during dinner or bathtime. Make music joyful: sing, dance, laugh with your kids.
And then take the next step. Talk to your kids about the music. You may say…
- “What do you think this song is about? Let’s listen to it again. It sounded to me like it was about being kind to one another.” You’re teaching your child how to find the theme in literature.
- “What do you think that word meant? I don’t hear it very often. Have you heard it before?” You’re teaching your child how to find the meaning of complex vocabulary, perhaps by using context clues or activating their prior knowledge.
- “How does this song make you feel? Why?” You’re teaching your child to identify the tone of a piece.
With young kids, you may sing the same songs over and over with hand motions. This helps them develop language and memory skills. The repetition, although monotonous for you, is really great for their developing brains.
With older kids, you may take the time to print off the lyrics from a bunch of their favorite songs. Or a bunch of songs from a favorite artist. (You can find lyrics easily with a google search - type in the song name followed by “Lyrics”. You may have a stack of lyrics waiting on the kitchen table for them when they get home, with different colored markers and post-its, and you may tell them that you thought they may love listening to music and reading lyrics during their reading time tonight.
As you dive into really talking about music with your kids, just one eency warning. Like anything that we expose our kids to, we need to monitor the content in the songs we play. Otherwise, before you know it, your 90s kitchen dance party turns into your 7 year old asking you the meaning of Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back”. Oops
So, please, choose your music carefully. The music you choose will really depend on your child’s age and your family’s comfort with exposing your child to complex issues that might pop up.
Some songs that my students really seemed to connect to were: (There are SO many. This list should be much longer, but it’s a start.)
Living in the Moment - Jason Mraz
Don’t Laugh at Me - Peter Paul and Mary or Mark Wills (playing the two versions is a great way to compare/contrast tone, etc. The Mark Wills version in particular is a song that you will want to preview the lyrics before playing. It addresses some very mature issues that you want to be sure your family is comfortable confronting.)
Ebony and Ivory - Paul McCartney
Three Little Birds - Bob Marley
Where is the Love - Black Eyed Peas
Waiting on the World to Change - John Mayer
Today, I hope you dance with your kids. And as you dance, I hope you encourage your kids to listen, to REALLY listen, to the words they hear.