Benefit #4 Language Skills
Singing games help develop language skills. Speaking and reading!
There’s so much research on the links between singing, rhymes and language acquisition and literacy that this might be quite a long one! I’ll pop some links along the way if you’re interested in diving deeper.
Usha Goswami CBE is a researcher in educational neuroscience and over the past two decades has done much research into reading development and developmental dyslexia.
Her PhD was on reading and spelling with analogy.
Now the director of the Centre of Neuroscience in Education, Professor Goswami gave a talk at the Hay Festival just before the pandemic where she recommended clapping games, music, nursery rhymes and marching to help with dyslexia.
Her research found the inability to hear the rhythm of words, rather than reading them, was to blame.
It isn’t just children with dyslexia that benefit from feeling the rhythmical flow of the rhymes and songs. All children can improve the fluency of their speech.
When my youngest was little he had some speech and language therapy. And when I say he, I really mean we. Because the major change we made was to slow down our own speech. We talk a lot! And fast! We interrupt each other and we often have music on in the background.
The poor lamb never stood a chance!
When we sing a song or perform a rhyme we are usually using a slower pace than speech. So we’re able to more clearly articulate and children have more processing time. There are no other distractions, especially if you’re unaccompanied.
The steady beat, and metre, of rhymes and songs, along with that rhythmic flow, helps with reading.
“We find that the ability to tap consistently to a beat relates to the consistency of the auditory brainstem response to sound, a measure that has also been linked to reading ability” (Hornickel and Kraus, 2013) Read more here or here
It’s really important that the songs and rhymes we use have the stresses in the same place as with normal speech.
I wrote a couple of little songs for the first editions of my Doremi Piano books and made the mistake of not considering the stresses.
Compare these two versions of my so-mi song
“Up down up down bounce like a clown”
“Up down up down waves the big clown”
In the first version the stress landed on “a” of “a clown” which is NOT where we’d place the stress in normal speech.
So I changed the words to the second version so “big” was stressed. And that worked better. And in fact the change from bounce to waves gave me more ideas for the preparation games so it was win-win!
Even at a basic level singing songs will increase children’s vocabulary. Children will happily sing words they haven’t heard before and the context of the lyrics will lead to an understanding of meaning. When they later see it written down they will have a head start with pronunciation and use.
None of my students know what a cobbler is, but after we sing Cobbler Cobbler in class they all do! Other words they often haven’t heard include snout, steeple, cuckoo, pease pudding (yuk) and spinning top.
Songs and rhymes that use actions to describe the words are even more valuable. Like Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes or this rhyme Bee Bee Bumblebee.
Bee Bee Bumblebee – act out a bee with flapping arms
Stung a child upon their knee – point to knee
Stung a pig upon their snout – point to nose
I declare that you are out – point around the circle to select a child to be out, or as I prefer “it” and give them a special job like being the bumblebee.
A quick note. I used to say stung a man upon his knee. However I ran a training day last week for the Bristol Cathedral Schools Trust and one of the attendees raised the point of gender and pronouns. We had a really good chat about it, and now I’m going to try and say “child” and “their” instead. I already try and use “their” as much as possible when talking about my puppets, and cobblers, so the children can apply their own gender in their imaginations.
I think that’s enough for now. I’m going down so many rabbit holes I won’t get onto anything else today! But if you have more ideas then please share.