Some days ago, I was reading an article in a teacher’s magazine about singing and how through singing children can develop their vocabulary and learn phonics naturally.
The funny thing is, nowadays children do not sing in school as often as they should. Many mothers I have spoken to say the same. My son, if you ask him if he sang at school or if he had rhymes, he will tell you “no” but he will tell you about the latest hit in his nursery classroom: phonics.
I found out a few weeks back about them when my son was going about “a, a, ants in my arm”. He was repeating it with no rhythm, no melody. Just repeating the phrase and moving his fingers on his arm, up and down.
Me: “Where did you learn that?”
Him: “Miss told us. We watched it on the biiiiiig screen”
Me: “Ahh, I see. Do you like it?”
Him: “A, a, ants in my arm…”
The following day I took him to nursery and I asked one of the teachers and then she told me about a phonic programme they are using in the class room. She told me the three letters they were working on, and she insisted on not going any further than those letters. “Fair enough” was my answer.
Later that week, a letter came from the school, explaining that children in nursery were being taught phonics to “help them and prepare them for reception” and as a reinforcement they were asked to write their name; that it did not matter if they just made a line; they should write their name upon arrival instead of putting their picture up on a board.
You may think well, considering that 50% of the children in the classroom do not have English as the first language, the “ phonic programme” is a way to introduce them to the mysteries of English phonics so it does not hit them like a ton of bricks when they start reception. About writing their name, I suppose it introduces them to writing and literacy.
But let me focus on this phonics thing.
What is the difference between a youtube clip on phonics and sing? Yes, I know…youtube is there, a few clicks away. Whilst you watch the child(ren) with a corner of one eye you can get on preparing something else for the rest of the afternoon.
Voila’! Job done! Children are entertained and hey presto they learn. And you manage to get on with that something else that needs to be done.
I have worked alongside teachers from different schools who would not sing at all. I have been with teachers who would sing just for the sake of it. And children followed, happily as if it was the most natural thing, even those whose first language was not English. Hence, they were learning the mysteries of English phonics without any awareness of doing so. They were properly, not promptly, learning.
When children sing, they are learning to find the accents, the variations in sound, the tone, the beat. The rhymes and verses nourish their imaginations and help them develop they vocabulary. Not to mention that the repetition of these will give them security and confidence when speaking.
And this goes further: when you add movement to the singing, children start to learn about rhythm, timing, helping them to coordinate gross and fine motor skills which in turn will help them at a later stage in life.
You may say that children’s tv programmes do their fair share of teaching. Yes, in a metallic robotic sound (not to mention the accent), covered with songs and a paraphernalia of colours and flashing images. Where the rhythm and rhyme are accelerated, accentuated, and stripped of any natural timbre. Nothing can beat the human voice. Nothing.
And with the human voice comes one of the most beautiful, unique, most powerful by product: Singing. When you sing with will, with joy – even if you are like me that you cannot sing to save your life – children will follow suit. Because children can tell when you are making an effort, when you are confronted with something that takes you out of your depth, but you are doing it with joy. You are role modelling that nothing is impossible.
When you sing you pour your feelings into it, whether you notice it or not. Your mood changes, the way you do an activity whilst you sing changes. Try to sing when you do not want to. It will just not happen. I can tell you even when you are in a group situation and you do not want to sing, somehow the singing becomes contagious and you end up singing and craving more, with a warm feeling inside you. Singing does have a strong social side, unifies, makes you feel part of something. Just imagine how a child would feel, all warm and fuzzy after singing with his peers. An immense shared joy which sets the base for what a social gathering should, could, would be.
Which takes me back to teachers loading any phonic programme / song and leaving the children to listen and watch. What sort of social value would/could a child feel sharing images and sounds – short of calling them noises -? From my observations, children leave the screen either more agitated or confused; in a sort of “back to what we were doing” kind of look.
Which takes me back to the gesture, to the ever so important role modelling. If a teacher does sing, even when she cannot do so like Adele, at least she is role modelling that she is putting effort into it, to do it, to get it right. She is moving her lips and showing how the vowels, syllables and phonemes are done. Perhaps she will be moving hands, standing up right and smiling.
And children are learning. The gesture, the phonics, the nothing is impossible attitude. Naturally.
P.S.: During the last week, we managed to put some rhythm and melody to “A, a, ants in my arm” and sounds great. Even some movement and dynamic to it.