Rhyme, rhythm, and neural pathways: Singing helps kids with reading and much more

Want to give your child strong roots for learning? Consider the words of Beethoven: "Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks, and invents." Want to help your child specifically become a strong reader? Again, music is part of the answer. Sing songs, explore lyrics, and practice musical rhymes and rhythms to help build language awareness.

In a post titled, “Songs Help Teach Reading,” by Jay Davidson, on the Child Development Institute website, he writes of an important discoveryin his student teaching days more than three decades ago: “kids love to read the words of songs they sing.” He adds that “By the time a child is five years old, he has memorized the words of many songs.” He encourages maximizing that storehouse “by writing down the words and helping him to follow along with them as he sings. Use your finger to point to each word as it is sung.” The post also suggests other ways to make word-letter connections, even for non-readers or very early readers.

The lilt and cadence of everyday language becomes somehow “more” by way of song. Perhaps because awareness of rhythm happens long before a baby takes a first breath of air. Last summer an article by Lin Marsh titled, “Why Song and Dance Are Essential for Children’s Development, on the website of the British Council, suggests that “singing has many surprising benefits for children.” Lin points out that “A baby in the womb lives to the rhythm of its mother’s heartbeat. It hears and feels the sound and emotion of its mother’s voice.”

She adds that children use their voices and other instruments “to express feelings, but they also serve important learning functions – they teach us pattern, pulse, rhyme and structure, without the complication of language; they teach us the way humans bond and express emotion; they give us pleasure and encourage imagination and story-telling.” She notes that breaking out in song even has physical benefits, describing that “Singing is also an aerobic exercise that improves the efficiency of the cardio-vascular system, increasing the oxygenation of the blood and improving alertness.”

KidsHealth from Nemours posted that “Music is a natural part of life for toddlers,” whether singing to their stuffed animals or enjoying parents singing to them. The article goes on to suggest that because of its multisensory properties, music contributes to creating more cell pathways in the brain, neural connections that “will help kids in almost every area of school, including reading and math. Just listening to music can make these connections, but the biggest impact comes if kids actively participate in musical activities.”

Try a variety of songs for kids, ranging from tracks that accompany Start to Read! offerings such as Peter’s Dream and Jog, Frog, Jog to Count Your Blessings, a song that helps kids learn to count by counting their blessings, or another adorable learn-to-count song, “On the Road from 1 to 10,” to the charming “I Grow, Too!” (inspired by a Start to Read! offering) that teaches the name of more than a dozen baby animals. The latter three songs were written by multiplatinum-selling artist Brian Vander Ark of The Verve Pipe.

Song and dance is about more than entertainment and burning energy. It’s a joyful way to enhance early learning!