How Music Supports Language and Literacy in the Young Child

Children listen to a storysong from South Africa

Children listen to a storysong from South Africa

Ongoing, interactive music sessions for our youngest students are designed to support literacy and language learning through developmentally appropriate, movement-based, culturally authentic music sessions taught by early childhood music specialist Nancy Hershatter. Nancy collaborates with classroom teachers on an ongoing basis to assess growth and development and to ensure that stated objectives are being reached.

For children who enter school as English language learners, music can be a bridge both to school adjustment and to language learning. According to research, there is a very strong link between music and language learning. When a child who speaks little or no English learns to sing a simple song or nursery rhyme with his or her classmates, he or she can begin to communicate, and school becomes a much less fearsome place.
According to author Mary Miche, “Music can teach vocabulary and the synthesis of language… in fact, songs can be one of the best vehicles for vocabulary development and language acquisition.” Furthermore, “…preschool children learn to speak a foreign language through experience, not through reading…. Hearing and imitating the sound of English is the most necessary skill. Music is one of the best ways for children to hear and imitate English.”
Miche goes on to say, “Music and language work together. The better a child learns music, particularly a wide array of songs, the more his vocabulary and pronunciation will improve.” 1
Author and educator Kathleen Bayless states “For children entering a strange and new community, music may provide familiarity and a sense of recognition. In music, there is no time or place, no right or wrong. The child can be comfortable and natural.”
Studies in the area of music and brain research corroborate these statements. For example, Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University, who broke new ground when he published his book on multiple intelligences, defined and described eight distinct intelligences. Of these, the first to develop in infants is musical intelligence. According to Dr. Gardner, musical learning parallels language learning; a child raised in a musically rich environment will develop strong language skills.
This natural interaction between music and language holds a particular significance in a multicultural setting such as Danbury, a city of 70.000 on the Connecticut-New York border. Danbury’s Chamber of Commerce Community Profile reads, “Danbury’s student body reflects the rich diversity of the community, which represents 71 nationalities speaking more than 48 different languages. More than 25% of students come from non-English speaking households.”

                  Goals of Harnessing Music to Boost Language and Literacy Learning in the Early Years
To provide ongoing music sessions for each child enrolled in music class ,with a special focus on English Language Learners.
To provide staff development workshops to early childhood teachers,focused on harnessing the power of music within the daily life of the classroom, as well as across the curriculum.

                  Children benefit from the music program in these specific ways:
A) Children who are English language learners  demonstrate an increase in expressive vocabulary of  words learned in the context of the music sessions.
B) Through the pairing of high quality books and songs, all children will demonstrate a beginning understanding of the relationship between spoken and written language, which shall include the playful use of sounds, rhymes and rhythmic patterns.
C) Each child will demonstrate an increased comfort level with musical expression and creative movement, which shall include the use of voices, our bodies and simple rhythm instruments.
D) Each child shall demonstrate increased awareness of his/her body in space, ability to control movements and follow directions.
These goals and objectives clearly illustrate the power of a high-quality, interactive music program to boost the early learning of lanugage and literacy. More articles on this and related subjects will be available soon on our blog.

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