As a children’s librarian, one of the things I miss most about pre-Covid-19 public library life is the sound of children singing—singing with others at storytime or just singing out loud as they and their adults go about their business in the library. When children sing, their joy in this activity is contagious. And it makes me especially happy because I know, thanks to the research behind the Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) parent education initiative, that singing is not only a fun activity for children, it helps children develop important early literacy skills.
Singing is one of the five practices ECRR encourages adults to use to build a child’s early literacy skills. Singing helps children: hear the sounds and syllables in words, practice the rhythms and rhymes of spoken language, learn new vocabulary words and their meaning, learn the names of the letters that make up words, discover new concepts, learn about story structure, and develop memory.
Now in the library though, there is silence. But I hope memories of past library storytime practices, parent patter, and fun, along with current virtual library programming, remind and encourage families to keep singing. And during the pandemic, families may find that there are even more benefits to singing beyond developing early literacy skills. As I read the information and ideas that mental health professionals, child development experts, and librarians are sharing with families to help connect them with needed resources and to stay healthy, I am excited to see that singing and music are mentioned as a way to help children become resilient.
According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “Age-appropriate, health-promoting activities can significantly improve the odds that an individual will recover from stress-inducing experiences. For example, regular physical exercise, stress-reduction practices, and programs that actively build executive function and self-regulation skills can improve the abilities of children and adults to cope with, adapt to, and even prevent adversity in their lives.” The Center’s activities guide for parents and caregivers, Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence, talks about using singing and movement songs to promote child development and resilience. “The demands of songs and movement games support executive function because children have to move to a specific rhythm and synchronize words to actions and the music. All of these tasks contribute to inhibitory control and working memory.”
PBS Kids for Parents tips and activities to help children learn and grow include singing and movement activities as well. Singing is a social experience and helps children connect with others and form a secure attachment with adults. Songs can teach children to understand, express, and manage emotions and control their behaviors. Taking turns, being spontaneous, watching and listening to others helps children develop flexible thinking. Movement songs teach children to follow directions and they become empowered by leading others in movement and song.
The Sesame Street Healthy Habits For Life website includes a resilience toolkit. The toolkit includes guides for parents and for educators and provides songs that will “help children build self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and emotional tools they need to cope with adversity.”
In a recent NY Times article about screen-time during the pandemic, author Anya Kamenetz suggests helping children create a toolbox of coping strategies they can use to help soothe themselves and de-stress. Not surprisingly, one of the things she suggests for the toolbox is a child’s favorite song. Families can also develop a family toolbox of coping strategies. To help children feel connected to others, the family toolbox can include a song pick from each family member and traditional songs that represent the family’s cultural heritage. It can include movement songs that can be enjoyed throughout the day, for example while traveling in the car or doing chores. Family favorites can include songs and movement activities simple enough for younger children to do but that can be made more complex for older children and adults. For an example, check out Ella Jenkins version of “Head and Shoulders” which stumps Mister Rogers.
And I hope that soon the sound of children singing will return to destroy this terrible quiet in my library.
Today’s blog post was written by Joanna Ward, Children’s Services Librarian at LA County Library, on behalf of the ALSC Early and Family Literacy Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group.