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Literacy & Listening

  • Mar 29, 2011
  • Dianna Babcock & Cheryl Henningsgaard

The foundation for literacy begins with listening. Exactly what is listening, and how does it impact literacy? How does music impact listening abilities for young children?

Music therapists utilize music as a tool to teach non-musical behaviors. Based on MRI Brain scans during music listening activities, all areas of the brain “light up” with music. Different parts of the brain have specific functions, yet it is music that can pass from one hemisphere to another. Music lights up the motor cortex, this is the reason we tap our feet in time to the beat, or the hippocampus, and we utilize songs and rhythmical devices to remember material for the next test. Listening to “special songs” from our past evoke emotional responses. Learning a new skill, like the order and sound of the alphabet, is easier with music, than without.

Listening requires audiation, concentration, and attending behaviors. We can also use music as a tool in our storytelling times by creating “musical moments” throughout the story time, encouraging young children to listen, attend, and facilitate their brain development. You can use music to enhance direction following as easy as singing about the next step included in the direction instead of speaking it and watch how the children respond. A great example of singing directions is using a “clean up song” and singing about cleaning up, instead of using verbal directives. Take away the words, and the children will continue to follow the directions with only the melody. Music makes a difference!

We can also encourage young children to develop their listening skills by exposing them to the exciting world of music that is typically found OUTSIDE the early childhood classroom. Music listening should also include world music, assisting in the development of a sophisticated listening palette, and also creating acute auditory awareness. Learning to speak requires sound differentiation, or phonemic awareness, and listening to different types of music facilitates auditory awareness and acuity needed for phonemic developments.

We encourage families to utilize the great resources of the library to find new listening material for their children. Some families are not aware of the musical resources found at their library, and we need to educate them on this. We should encourage our families to listen to music, and we can begin to do so by encouraging music listening opportunities during library story times and also highlighting music resources available to our families. Libraries could offer Musical Appreciation classes, or highlight specific music genres such as creating simple displays such as “Musician of the Week” (combining a Bibliography of the Musician, CD, and DVD of their work), or “Musical Composer or Style of the Month.” Finally, we should encourage our families to provide a wide variety of music listening choices for their young child, not just limiting them to the children’s section. The library is an excellent resource for music listening.

©MacPhail Center for Music, 2011

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