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Songs Help Teach Reading

By Jay Davidson

I discovered this when I was a student teacher thirty-one years ago, and it still works: kids love to read the words of songs they sing.

By the time a child is five years old, he has memorized the words of many songs. Use that to his advantage 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.

When I was teaching junior high school English, I had a tough group that usually couldn’t wait until the bell rang at the end of the period. But on one particular day, I had typed and copied the words of several Creedence Clearwater Revival songs. When the bell rang, they were singing and reading; they didn’t want to leave until the song was over!

This is a springboard for your beginning reader. Take the time to write down the words. If you are singing with a CD, use the lyrics sheet that comes with it. Then sing the song together.

Yes, at first your child is singing words that have been memorized. It is true that there may be little or no actual reading. In that respect, it looks like the Whole Language approach to teaching reading.

But you can easily move it to a phonics approach and have your child identify letters that make the sounds he is singing.

Let’s say, for example, that you are singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Look at the title. Which word is Mary? How do you know that? Most children will look at the first letter of the word. It’s the only word that starts with “m.” Make the sounds of the other letters in the word. Explain that the “y” frequently makes the “ee” sound at the end of words.

You don’t have to go over each word in this way, but you will find that after a while, your child will have shifted from singing words that are memorized to being able to read the words in isolation.

This article has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s Advice for Parents. This article is reprinted with the author’s permission.

This article has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s Advice for Parents.  This article is reprinted with the author’s permission.