As a new English teacher, the incorporation of music into my lessons was presented to me as absolutely essential. Over the years, this has come to be my favourite resource, especially (but not exclusively) for young learners, used to facilitate transitions in our daily routine, to teach language, and to aid in child development.
Children thrive when provided with structure in their daily lives, and music can be used to reinforce routines by aiding smooth transitions. By the time the day is over, my voice is often strained from singing nearly non-stop. Most of the time these songs are sung to signal to my students what we need to do next: Clean up, brush our teeth, put on our jackets, say good-bye, and much more. Since toddlers and preschoolers have such short attention spans, we are constantly switching from one activity to the next, and that means a lot of transitions, thus, a lot of singing! The result is well worth sacrificing my voice. The moment my kids hear a the tune to a familiar “routine song,” they jump into action. As an added bonus, they now recognise and reproduce the key words and phrases from these songs as well!
The ease with which kids pick up and gain meaning from songs related to their routine leads us to understand just how helpful they can be in teaching a language, whether a first language or a foreign one. When teaching, we can divide a language into various parts which must be learnt. Teaching through music allows our students to develop speaking and listening skills, and to assimilate knowledge of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary - all while having fun and doing what they already love!
Beyond teaching vocabulary related to the daily routine, we can use songs to teach various lexical sets and grammar structures. In the Stars class at Wonderland, every month we work on a different theme (May’s is food!), and there is a plethora of children’s songs about all kinds of different themes, often with accompanying video and simple dance choreography. My students have so much fun singing and dancing along, and they learn the target vocabulary at lightning speed.
My students also learn proper pronunciation of their new words. While working with such small children, we must take into consideration the fact that they are still learning their mother tongue and often cannot pronounce much of anything absolutely correctly. However, when they are finally able to produce the language that they have assimilated, they do say them in a native accent. Not only do they learn sounds that may not exist in their first language (for example, the English “Z,” “V,” and “R”), but they also pick up a natural rhythm and melody in speech, aspects which are often overlooked while teaching English, but which are so important for smooth communication. With older language learners, these subtleties are taught at quite an advanced level, and are often very challenging to master. But when children learn them through music, they become second-nature.
Grammar lessons are another example of the kind of drudgery we can get around by teaching through music at an early age. The key phrases that children learn while singing their favourite songs all contain examples of basic (and not-so-basic) grammar structures, which can later be applied to endless contexts. This more instinctive approach to learning grammar is undoubtedly more enjoyable for pupils than later memorizing formulas and completing gap-fill exercises, and, more and more, is argued to also be more effective, despite the conventional focus on these types of activities.
The benefits of music to children in terms of language acquisition are clear to educators and parents alike. There have also been several studies conducted showing the positive effects that music can have on child development, including exercising motor skills, memory, and other skills which lay the groundwork for self-expression, healthy social interactions and a successful academic life. Finally, just as it does for us adults, music brings our children joy. After all, isn’t the ultimate goal to have happy, joyful children?