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Rhythm, blues, and reading cues: How music improves young students’ reading skills

Children typically become proficient readers sometime between their fifth and seventh birthdays. By the time a child is in second grade, they often become self-conscious if they fall behind and may begin to display behavioral issues, according to Today’s Parent. While not all children will learn to read on the same schedule, there are things we can do as parents and educators to encourage the process.

One of the simplest and most profoundly effective methods for encouraging literacy is music.

Reading to the beat

Even before children learn to read, they are exposed to language in every aspect of their daily lives. Considering that children tend to learn song lyrics before they can memorize stories, it makes sense to utilize music in the classroom to deepen the learning environment.

Luther College notes that there are many commonalities between literacy and music and especially so in early elementary-age children. Music can be used to help children practice sounds (think the old nursery rhyme/song “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”).

Speech therapists often use music to help develop and refine language skills, which is important for children, who are often asked to read out loud in front of their peers.

Hearing in tune

In order for children to become proficient readers, they must be able to properly hear and process each sound. Auditory processing is affected by a number of factors including neurological organization and development.

Music therapy is used in children with auditory processing disorders, but it can be an effective learning tool to help all growing learners improve cognition as well.

It is not largely understood by the scientific community, but there is no question that music enhances the brain’s neuroplasticity, which is simply the brain’s ability to learn and adapt by creating new neural pathways and reorganizing existing ones. By triggering a regeneration response, children’s brains are more capable of hearing, understanding, processing and relaying sounds associated with speech.

Read between the rhymes

In addition to stimulating the brain, music can also help improve children’s reading skills and improve reading readiness in preschoolers. Following along to words on the screen can help children recognize common sound patterns and sight words.

And it isn’t just singing that has positive benefits. Learning to play a musical instrument, according to Dr. Nina Kraus during a 2017 Scientific Learning Corporation presentation, improves a child’s ability to read. Essentially, playing an instrument helps the brain learn to track rhythm in a way similar to how it learns to track sounds made by letter combinations.

Music to exercise the mind

Whether at home or at school, there are a number of fun and simple ways to utilize music. Start by reading a book that has an accompanying musical score. Allow your child or students to discuss how the music affects the overall feeling of the story.

You may also provide age-appropriate lyric sheets and have children identify the various parts of speech, such as the nouns and verbs. Children may also be tasked with writing a creative story based on a teacher-chosen piece of music.

Kent State University College of Music offers more suggestions and insight on why it is important to teach literacy through music.

Instruments for kids

Young children may be intimidated by complex instruments. However, there are plenty of tools to create beautiful music – and promote verbal and reading comprehension – that can be easily taught and learned by children of all ages. The guitar, bass, drums and flute/recorder are all favorites and can be acquired for a relatively small cost.

A place to practice

If you decide to let your child take a music class in order to learn a new instrument, provide them a comfortable location at home where they can practice without interfering with the rest of the family.

The space should be large enough to hold their equipment and, preferably, soundproofed. According to HomeAdvisor, it costs an average of $1,642 to soundproof a room. This includes the cost of materials (textured wall panels, carpeting, windows, etc.) and professional installation.

All in all

Music is more than a form of expression; it’s an art that can be incorporated into everyday learning situations both at home and in the classroom. And best of all, you don’t have to be a professional musician or vocalist to use music as a tool to better the lives of the young people in your care.