The power of music in literacy education


Music, the soundtrack to long car rides and the fuel for dance, has a greater power than pure entertainment. For many educators across Massachusetts, music is an invaluable tool to help children learn to read.

“It seems like play, it seems like fun, but there is real science behind music and learning as far as getting ready for pre-reading,” said Julie Roach, manager of the Youth Services Department at the Cambridge Public Library.

When students enjoy learning through song, literacy skills increase. And there are few things a child would enjoy more than the high-energy Sing Along program at the CPL. Each week, 130 parents, caregivers and kids take part in singing, dancing and learning.

“That sort of repetition, of hearing those similar songs every week and hearing the melodic tune, helps build vocabulary, helps those little synapses connect in the brain and helps babies learn to talk,” said Roach. “Sing Along teaches parents this is something you can do at home with your kid, and that is important.”

Roach is not alone in using music to advance reading skills, as other educators have found music to be the driving force in their students making stronger connections to the material.

“I learned after many years that singing was really the best way to promote literacy,” said Wendy Manninen, a retired teacher with over 30 years of experience and the founder of Singing and Signing, a program combining music and sign language to promote language and social development.

To incorporate music into her reading lessons, Manninen would teach her kindergarten class a song. She then read the class a picture book with the same song lyrics and the students would connect the lyrics to the letters and words on the page. Before they even realized they were learning, they were reading.

“It was sort of a magical thing,” said Manninen.

The instrumental role music can play in literacy doesn’t end in the classroom. Both Manninen and the CPL encourage families to sing and read at home.

“When you have that special bond together, with a grown-up, over a book or over some music, that is where that sort of love of reading and joy in reading really starts,” said Roach.

Find this article on our Mass Reads and Succeeds page featured in the Boston Herald.