Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Singing With Children; Slow and Steady Wins the Race!

As we are all racing around trying to get a million things done, it's easy to forget the magic that can occur when we sing a simple song with our children. Young children are learning at an astounding pace, and the research tells us that the number of words a child knows upon entering kindergarten (vocabulary) is a leading indicator not only of later success in reading, but in graduating from high school! Songs are an incredible way for them to increase both their vocabulary, and their understanding of language. Melodies break words into syllables (phonemic awareness) and are packed with words we don't use every day (like curds and whey and water spout!). They have built-in patterns and repetition, building memory and increasing retention.   That's why it's so important songs are sung slowly enough that that children can hear the words, and then be able to sing along. Think about it. When you're having a conversation with a child, he is listening and you are talking. But when you sing, you are experiencing language together. It's an amazing thing! Of course children are just learning about all this language business, and as they begin to understand they can make sounds that are actual words, many children love to hear themselves sing every single syllable. It's all too easy for us as adults to sing so fast that our children can't keep up, and so are unable to participate. The first few years I sang with young two-year-olds, I (and the other teachers) didn't question the fact the the children weren't singing along. After all, they were only two! At some point I realized they needed time to process what I was singing, and what a huge part repetition played in that, as well as slow, deliberate singing. All you really have to do is take your cue from your child! Finger plays (like The Isty Bisty Spider) are a great way to pace your singing, as you will naturally slow down in order for your child to do the motions.

Just watching and being aware of your child's attempt to join you can "regulate" your speed. Slowing down your singing will allow your child to hear the syllables in the words, as well as their context and sentence structure, and give them the ability to sing along. Those little vocal muscles have to work harder than yours to keep up!

One more note...
We all have our favorite music to listen to, and my two young grandchildren love to dance to upbeat music just like all kids do But I intentionally also play simple children's music that has a melody and simple accompaniment so again, they can hear and replicate the words. My daughter validated this when she called me after a car trip with the kids and said, "Mother- your recording (Little Songs For Little Me) is brilliant!" Her son was trying very hard to sing along with every word, because he could. She had been playing faster music, and realized singing along at that pace wasn't even an option for him.  I made that recording twenty-five years ago, when I had just begun singing with children. I learned by watching them. And that's why I sang slowly. They taught me that, and pretty much everything else I've learned about singing with young children over the last thirty years.

So slow it down and enjoy the ride (and the song!). 

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