If you want to improve your Phonics – SING!

Alistair Bryce-CleggABC Does A Blog, Continuous Provision, Creativity, EYFS Policy and Practice, Music, Nurseries, Phonics, Reading9 Comments

I love a bit of singing in the Early Years. In fact I love a bit of singing in general!

A couple of years ago at my boys school Christmas Carol Concert, during a particularly rousing rendition of ‘Oh, Come All Ye Faithful’, my eldest son turned to me and hissed ‘Pipe down Bublé!’

On the whole, regardless of your ability as a singer children will always join you in a chorus of whatever you fancy warbling. Also, there are some brilliant songs out there (have only just got Cauliflowers Fluffy (Paintbox) out of my head!).

When I first became a teacher my wife bought me a guitar, I learned 4 chords over the summer holidays and I have never looked back. It is amazing what you can play with 4 chords, everything from 5 Little Speckled Frogs to Little Mix!

Me with my Reception class in 1998 – I’m not sure what is going on with my hair either!

Whilst there is lots of joy in having a good sing. There is also a great deal of academic research that says that singing has a significant impact on children’s phonological awareness.

Children who engaged in regular singing and musical activities made significantly better progress than those who didn’t.

This is what one report says:

We examined the relations among phonological awareness, music perception skills, and early reading skills in a population of 100 4- and 5-year-old children.

Music skills were found to correlate significantly with both phonological awareness and reading development.

…Thus, music perception appears to tap auditory mechanisms related to reading that only partially overlap with those related to phonological awareness, suggesting that both linguistic and nonlinguistic general auditory mechanisms are involved in reading.

(Click on the link for the full report music and phonics)

This was also prevalent in a study of children who didn’t have English as a first language. Data shows that because of the differences between other languages and spoken English, children with English as an additional language often make slower progress in phonics. When children identified as EAL were engaged in a structured music/singing intervention they made significantly better progress than the others of similar background and ability.

Here is what the study said:

Children of immigrant families often have great difficulties with language and disadvantages in schooling. Phonological problems appear especially common.

Thus, the aim of this study was to determine whether music has a positive effect on the phonological awareness in these children. The effects of a music program were compared with an established phonological skills program and with a sports control group. Preschoolers of immigrants (19 boys, 20 girls) were randomly assigned to one of the three groups… At the pre-test, no differences between the groups were found regarding phonological awareness and control variables (age, gender, intelligence, socioeconomic status, language background, music experience).

At the post-test, the music group and the phonological skills group showed a significant increase in phonological awareness of large phonological units.

The current results indicate that music could be used as an additional opportunity to promote phonological skills in children of immigrant families(You can find the report here)

There is an awful lot of pressure on Early Years practitioners to ‘get going’ with phonics, although this is done with the intention of giving children the best possible start and lots of time to practise, if done too early it can have a seriously detrimental effect on their progress.

If you want to do a bit more research into the link between music and phonics, this is a really good piece by Maria Kay from the University of Aberdeen.  Maria-Kay-Reflections-article

There are LOTS of pre phonic skills that should be in place before children start on their more formal phonic journey (You can find more information about those here)

In short, we need to make music a significant part of our Early Years Curriculum. Not only because of the impact that it can have on phonological development but because of all of the other  HUGE benefits that children gain from being exposed to it.

So, go and warm up your vocal chords…


9 Comments on “If you want to improve your Phonics – SING!”

  1. I always felt that singing for very young children was helpful to them and have had it confirmed by my grandsons who are twins(will be 3 in Feb 20). They are not only able to join in but sing the songs on their own and memorise them well so it seems a wonderful aid to developing memory.
    For years I have led a singing session for my mothers and toddlers group which has received a very happy response from very young children – many under 2 years of age. I am very encouraged to learn about the research which shows a connection with phonics learning and the development of reading skills.

  2. Even though my singing skills are limited (according to my music teacher friend) my reception classes have always been very forgiving and readily join in. Singing is always part of my Phonics teaching. I’ve adapted many old favourites and Nusery Rhymes to link with Phase 1 and Phase 2. Lots of ideas in Bobby Shaftoe, clap your hands.

  3. Not only have I run several guitar clubs based on 4 chords, I do a great line in 3 note recorder accompaniments for assembly songs and Christmas carols!
    You can never have too much music and singing in primary schools – or in life!

    1. Ha! Helen those are my recorder skills too. Don’t get me started on my ocarina prowess!

  4. Language and singing are so connected in the simple songs sung in early childhood. The stressed syllables in speech fall naturally to a steady beat, the fundamental building block of music.
    There are so many reasons to sing with babies and young children, all of them good. Note Weavers worked with nursery children with language delay recently- report to be published soon.
    Music and singing is also really important for it’s own sake – music plays a huge role in all our lives after all. Can you imagine a life without music?

    1. No I can’t Zoe, but unfortunately it seems to be getting more and more squeezed out of education even in the Early Years. It is SO important that we ensure that we maintain its profile – for all of the educational benefits and also the HUGE impact it can have on wellbeing.

  5. I was telling a parent about the research into poor reading levels in boys in Year 3. Not one of the boys knew a nursery rhyme all the way through, they were taught them and their reading levels soared.

    1. Yep, I think music is the key to unlock lots of potential in our children both academic and creative. We just need to do more of it!

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