Thursday, February 25, 2016

Singing in the Family Center

Written by Debbie Richman

On any given day in the Family Center, you will hear songs ringing through the hallways.
Some are songs to mark transitions and routines, such as the clean-up song, while others are more traditional songs for fun and enjoyment. Songs play an important role in early childhood classrooms, and while each classroom has their own collection of songs that they sing throughout the day, they all serve a similar purpose. Songs create a sense of comfort and community in a classroom, teach children about language and numbers, and help them strengthen their fine and gross motor skills. And, best of all, songs help children learn these important skills while still being a fun activity in which children can participate at whatever level they feel comfortable.

Singing songs, especially songs that are repeated throughout the year, creates a sense of community and belonging. The lyrics are something they can rely on. No matter what is happening in a child’s life, they can rest assured that their favorite songs will remain the same. As a classroom sings a song together, it also connects the children and helps everyone feel a part of something bigger than themselves. This is brought to an even bigger arena on Wednesday mornings, when the Family Center community gathers to sing with Tony. 

 Songs are also a way for children to develop language and practice their language skills. Phonemes, the building blocks of words, are practiced in songs that use nonsense words like “Rum Sum Sum” (or “Ram Sam Sam”). With rhyming songs like “Willoughby Wallaby Woo,” children learn rhyming through playful guessing. While singing these songs together, they are also practicing how to isolate discrete sounds within a word, which is an important early reading and early listening comprehension skill. Through songs, children are exposed to new vocabulary and phrases they might have not heard before. For example, in the song “Three Green Speckled Frogs” the children are exposed to the word “speckled.” While this is similar to the exposure children have from high quality children’s books, when singing songs children are hearing new words, singing them, and using the new words in context. 

Children also have the opportunity to practice number sense through songs that involve counting. For example, in the songs, “Five Little Ducks,” and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” children practice counting backwards from five down to one. By practicing counting these numbers over and over, children begin to memorize the correct order. While singing these songs, children also begin to use tools to help their counting, whether it is counting their fingers to determine the next number in the sequence or counting their friends. Children are also exposed to ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc) through songs such as “Five Little Pumpkins.” While practicing this song, children have the opportunity to match the cardinal number (one) to the ordinal number (first) by raising one finger on their hand (likewise with two and second, and on up to five). 

When singing songs, children are also developing their fine and gross motor skills as they move their hands and bodies along with the songs. In the song “Three Shiny Buns in the Bakery Shop,” children practice how to form the representation of three by folding one pinky finger down and holding it with the tip of their thumb (this probably sounds easy to us adults, but for two and three-year-olds, it can be quite tricky!). In the classic song, “Where is Thumbkin?” the teacher models how to isolate each finger on both hands while the children try imitate the fine motor movements. During more active songs, such as “Popcorn on the Train,” children are given the opportunity to get up and dance - whether that means jumping, twirling, bouncing, or waving their arms. In addition, during structured active songs, like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” children engage in bending, reaching, and pointing while simultaneously working on matching their movements to the appropriate parts of the song.

Songs are an integral part of a high quality early childhood classroom for all the reasons above and many more. For instance, while singing and repeating songs children are strengthening their memory skills. Songs can also serve as a conversation starter. In the song “Five Little Ducks,” children also think about and hypothesize where the little ducks are going, what they are doing, and why they didn’t come back when their mother duck called. Practicing this kind of predicting is a skill that will serve children well as they continue on in their schooling towards reading comprehension. With all the myriad benefits of singing songs together, we encourage you to sing with your child, and sing often!