If You Want To Improve Your Phonics – SING!

Alistair Bryce-CleggCreativity, Phonics, Play, Talk1 Comment

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…


One Comment on “If You Want To Improve Your Phonics – SING!”

  1. Absolutely! When I found the ukulele I played even more than I had guitar. The work of Susan Hallam has always inspired me, trying to sing along for SEND children now not just EYFs (which was my natural home). Thanks for the joyful post.

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