Singing is fun! Well, I think so at least. I’m always wandering around the house singing to my favourite tunes. More often than not this happens to be within the musical theatre genre as I’m forever practising for my next upcoming performance. However, I’m not the only one who loves singing…children, especially young preschool children, love to sing and dance around to music.
There are so many different types of music that we all listen to, and they tend affect us all in different ways. How we each interpret songs can either make us happy or sad, even reminiscent or fired-up! Songs have the power to hold memories, and that includes singing to our little ones.
As well as creating fun-filled moments, maybe we can use music and songs to help children in others ways too?
That’s right! Singing songs, particularly repetitive nursery rhymes, can have a big impact on a child’s speech and language development. So what skills exactly are we helping to develop?
Attention and listening skills
Before children start to use language to communicate, they have to first master the skill of ‘joint attention’ – the child is looking, listening and sharing in the fun with you. You are both engaged and focussed in an activity and each other. Music is a great ‘go to’ activity. Children love it when I use rhymes and games that involve some actions, and if they are motivating enough, we share some lovely communication together.
Some children with language difficulties find it difficult to share attention. However, fun nursery rhymes with words that are often repeated can be great. I lie to use songs such as “Row row row your boat” and “Round and round the garden” – they have lots of fun, repetitive actions which involve both you and the child. Being repetitive, the child may even start to anticipate what action or words are next…get ready for some smiles!
Asking for things
There are probably quite a few songs that you can teach your child, and listening to some nursery rhyme CDs can help to learn some more. When you have found a few that quickly turn into favourites, turn off the CD and try to sing the songs at various times in the day. CDs are great to start off with and help to give some reluctant adult singers a boost of confidence, but the main aim is for the child to focus on you…not the CD.
Try pausing at the end of a favourite song and look at your child. Do they want you to sing it again? Were they able to somehow communicate that to you? Pausing allows them the opportunity to request more of something. Once the child is able to consistently ask for more, you can help further develop their communication by giving them a choice by asking which song. They may say a word or do an action. Some children love using pictures to help them express their choices. You could have a board with a few of their favourite songs on, represented by a picture. The child could either point to the one they want or, even better, have the option of giving you the song they want (individual pictures may be attached by Velcro or a magnet to the board). Some children cope better with giving you a physical object to represent the song. You could have a bag of objects and each object could represent each song.
Encourages first words
Most nursery rhymes are simple and repetitive, unlike our everyday language which changes and is often more complex. Therefore, these simple songs are a perfect way to encourage those first words. The words in songs don’t really change and, because they are so repetitive, they help children to remember a word. We can also use songs to provide lots of opportunities for the child to attempt to practise using the word in context. I like to give these opportunities by singing songs that I know the child knows well. I pause towards the end of a sentence and wait to see if the child fills in the gap, e.g. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a ….”.
Using signs and gestures
Songs that are accompanied by actions are a brilliant way of introducing your child to lots of different hand signs and gestures. Teaching our children to use signs and gestures repeatedly shows improvement in the development of spoken language skills. Start off with showing your child a few, simple gestures…and model using them lots of times as you sing the song. Some children may need some gentle encouragement to attempt to make the actions themselves. You could try taking their hands and help them to make the actions whilst singing. As long as they remain engaged and its fun…that’s the main thing!
Helping with routine
Songs can be sung at specific times in the day to help children understand what is happening. For example, a nursery may sing a song at the end of the day to let the children know that it is home time. Parents can also use this approach at home with children who struggle to understand when they need to finish an activity and start another.
Teaching new words
Use songs to teach new words! I love making up new songs to teach specific vocabulary. For example, I often sing songs to the tune of “Here we go round the Mulberry bush”. If I want to teach verbs for instance, I would just change the words to suit… “This is the way we wash our hands…”. Old McDonald is great for teaching animal words. The possibilities are practically endless and I’m sure you are a lot more creative than me…so have fun!
1 – Don’t be afraid to change songs to make the words simpler. Use the words or sounds that your child already knows and start from there.
2 – Sing around your child’s favourite topics – just make-up a song and have fun!
3 – Remember, you can use background music but not all the time. Singing with just you and your child will heighten your child’s joint attention skills. It’ll also give you the chance to emphasise particular words and actions by slowing down and saying the words nice and clearly. You can also pause whenever you need to give your child lots of opportunities to communicate, or maybe you need to pause for a second to help your child re-focus their attention back on you.
4 – Don’t worry about singing out of tune or making a mistake. Your child doesn’t care – they just want to spend time with you and have fun! There are times when making the odd mistake on purpose can be handy, particularly for old children who may be speaking more. Can the child correct you if you change up the words or say something silly?
So there you have it…singing is awesome! I’m sure every child and child-at-heart would agree with me (mostly!).
‘Where words fail, music speaks’
Hans Christian Andersen
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