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Rhythm in Reading


Q. I can't sing very well, but I've heard that it's important to sing to your baby and young child, to help with future learning. How does that work? And what can a mom like me, with a "tin ear," do as an alternative to singing?


It's amazing how important a child's sense of sound is. Processing sounds into meaning is a complex skill that's one of the most important gateway skills for reading, if not the most important.


That's exciting news, since you don't have to be rich and own a library of 1,000 books to equip your child beautifully for reading instruction. All you have to do is talk and sing in an orderly fashion to your child! And, like you, those who can't sing can do the next-best thing: read poetry.


According to educational theorists and experts such as Florida consultant, rhythm is a basic reading resource that parents often neglect. Those who never sing familiar children's songs, or read familiar nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss to their children, are really shortchanging their cognitive development. Those who do these often enough so that their children can sing the songs and recite the poems with them are giving them a great head start.


Why? Because our language is based on sound, not print. Oral language is primary - built in -- and written language is secondary - you have to learn it. But we're well-equipped to learn, using sound as our main cue. Our brains are wired to pay attention to the rhythm in the sounds that the words make in reading. It's how we learn to connect the sounds the letters make when spoken aloud to their corresponding written symbols on the printed page -- symbols we call "words."


Rhythm also is how we understand syllables, and the order of words in a sentence. It happens much faster than you can detect. But for young children's language development, rhythm clearly is crucial.


That's why phonics is so important as the method of reading instruction. But even before that begins, songs and rhymes that instill familiarity with the order of words give a preschool child a jump start to automatic, accurate reading comprehension.


Parents should sing songs and recite poetry with their children just as often as they can. For fun, you can clap out the syllables to song or poetry lyrics together, recite rhymes out loud together, or make up your own rap poems and songs. Limericks and funny poetry are great. Dancing and rhythmic movement are, too! Have fun!


Rhythm and rhymes: they feed the need to help our children learn to read!


Homework: Here's an outstanding private school with reading instruction heavily based on rhythm:


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 104 2008


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