Music for Early Learning
Music is powerful. Recent studies show it can help us study. The Bible says it can soothe us. But can it actually help the young child learn?
Yes, says Linda S. Stoler, MA, CCCSp/L of Willinda and creator of the LinguaSong CDs. She chats with us this month about the power of music in early learning.
TOS: According to the latest research, when do children begin to learn?
MS. STOLER: A child’s ability to hear sound develops early in the fetus. During the third trimester, children can hear melodies. By the time a child is born the many sounds, rhythms, and melodies heard as a fetus have prepared him for the familiar sounds of his language. My daughter played the LinguaSong Lullabies throughout her pregnancy. When Myles was born, she found it easy to quiet him when he was fussing by playing the songs. It works every time, even now when he is 8 months old. Research has shown that by one month, babies can distinguish between sounds. Research supports that by 6 months a child’s ability to distinguish between sounds is a predictor of language and literacy success.
TOS: What is your background and what led you to your interest in this work?
MS. STOLER: As a child, I loved music. I grew up in New York City learning the words to every show tune on Broadway. I played several instruments. I created and directed musical theater out of my garage with my friends in the neighborhood. During my career as a speech/language pathologist, I began to search for more creative ways to help children learn. In order to be denizens of a new world, children not only need to develop their left brain, but need to learn using their entire body, mind, and spirit—thus the multi-modality method. I use music, movement, and manual motion or sign language to support the learning of phonological awareness, language, and early literacy skills. The academic learning is invisible as children learn with joy.
TOS: For our readers, what is phonological awareness, and how do your CDs help the young child develop this awareness?
MS. STOLER: Phonological awareness is the ability to manipulate and distinguish sounds. In 1966 I wrote my master’s thesis comparing children’s ability to distinguish sounds and their ability to succeed in reading. I found a very high correlation. In April 2000, the National Reading Panel, a group of researchers, college professors, reading teachers, administrators, and parents, reported that the critical components in learning to read include phonemic awareness or the ability to manipulate sounds, systematic phonics, guided oral reading, and reading comprehension. Phonological awareness has a very high correlation to reading success. My CDs are designed to encourage sound and language learning through the use of music. Children proficient in language are more confident socially and scholastically and more likely to achieve in school and ultimately in life.
TOS: You are the creator of the CD series LinguaSong. Tell us about it.
MS. STOLER: The LinguaSong series celebrates the wonders of language through music, dance, song, and sign for children beginning at birth through age 8. My CDs originated as sound poems for the individual phonemes of our language. Each song highlights a phoneme, allowing children to be bathed in the sounds of our language. The songs also include alliteration, rhyme, and repetition—very important elements for literacy success. The Teaching Guide accompanying my third CD, Sounds Like Fun, contains extension activities based on the No Child Left Behind mandates for phonological awareness, language, and literacy success. Sounds Like Fun also includes songs about concepts and the syntax or the grammar of our language. We are wired for both language and music. Learning with music, movement, and sign language allows for greater attention, focus, retention, and processing of information.
The music, written and arranged by Peter Wilder, an Emmy award winning composer and songwriter, includes every genre, from rhythm and blues to country and western and Broadway ballads. Willinda is working in association with Vermont Public Television in an ongoing effort to produce educational tools in both audio and video format.
TOS: You have seen some impressive results from the use of these CDs with young children. What has the research shown?
MS. STOLER: We are in the midst of a literacy crisis. Research conducted by the Carnegie Institute has found that one quarter to one third of our children are not prepared for kindergarten. Project Zero at Harvard University and the National Commission on Music Education both address the exciting correlation between music and higher cognitive and analytical skills, as well as improved self-esteem and selfdiscipline. Educators are finally realizing the importance of giving children of preschool age the necessary tools to prepare for literacy success.
In 2003 I conducted a series of ninehour training sessions for the Head Start staff in Vermont. The training was based on the No Child Left Behind mandates for phonological awareness, language, and early literacy. Teachers were given pertinent research information plus interactive songs, dances, and sign language to take back to their classrooms of 3- to 5- year-olds. During the year, children from these programs were given individual assessments three times. Data was collected and compiled on a program-wide basis. A 25 percent increase in the area of phonological awareness and language development, the precursors to literacy success, was seen over the prior year’s assessment results. There is much research that suggests that music and sign language support early brain stimulation.
TOS: What are some ways parents can create a language-rich environment for their young children?
MS. STOLER: A trusting, healthy relationship between an adult and child is the foundation for a child’s rich, complex, intellectual, social/emotional, linguistic, and spiritual development. Parents of babies birth through 18 months can spend time talking about what is happening, sing, listen, and move to a variety of music using sign language and gesture. They can imitate the sounds their baby makes and add sounds such as “moo”and “vroom.”A variety of games, such as peek-a-boo and hand clapping, can be played. They can point to objects and name them, take turns as they play, spend time looking into their baby’s eyes, and read books. For children 18 months and older, parents need to be open to their child’s ideas, share diverse experiences, encourage conversation, listen, read poetry and stories, support exploration of nature and art, and stimulate expression through music, dance, and sign language. It is essential to have fun together!
TOS: Could you briefly fill us in on what you have been doing recently?
MS. STOLER: I have produced another CD since Sounds Like Fun and a video of American Sign Language to accompany the Sounds Like Fun CD and teaching guide. My new CD is called Literacy Rocks! It is a collection of hot rockin’original songs designed to support and enhance phonological awareness, language development, and early literacy success for children ages 2 to 7 years. I now live for six months in St. Augustine, Florida, where I conduct training for teachers and administrators of preschools throughout the state. My five-hour literacy course has been approved by the state.
TOS: Thanks for these great reminders. The simple things we do with our little ones are so important! I trust this discussion has been helpful to our readers.
If you would like to learn more about Ms. Stoler, her CDs, or setting up training on the Multi-Modal Approach to Phonological Awareness, Language, and Early Literacy in your area, please go to her websites at www.willinda.com or www.lindastoler.com, contact her directly by phone (802-777-4299) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or write to her at PO Box 182, Jonesville, VT 05466.