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Singing, the Science of Reading and Cultural Connections: A Conversation with Musicians/Educators Alina Celeste and Mi Amigo Hamlet

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with award-winning, internationally-touring family musicians and teaching artists Alina Celeste and Mi Amigo Hamlet for a variety of bilingual music-based library programs focused on supporting early literacy skills and exploring a joyous blend of traditional and original songs and new interpretations of folktales in English and Spanish. Our conversation in this blog post discusses the intersections of singing, the science of reading, and the cultural connections that come from sharing songs and stories. 

Alina Celeste and Mi Amigo Hamlet

Alina, Hamlet, could you please tell us a little bit about yourselves and the work you do?

We provide nationwide bilingual concerts, educator workshops, art driven events with families for libraries, schools, and organizations that share our mission through our GoCreative Programs organization, which is based in Chicago.  

Hamlet started a program in 2001 teaching Spanish through art and music called Vamos Todos. Alina has been teaching music and movement in one form or another since 2002. We met at KindieComm in 2018, then teamed up during the Pandemic and started teaching together online. That’s where our programs were born.

Today’s discussion was prompted in part by the quote below. Could you please share the way you use traditional and original songs to connect young listeners to Latin American culture?

“Singing is a great way to expose children to language… Songs can also be used to pass on traditions. Music and songs are important aspects of many cultures and religions. Caregivers can expose children to the songs they grew up singing with their families. Singing can serve the dual purpose of passing on traditions and fostering language development.”  (Dowling, 2020)

Hamlet – I started playing guitar because I wanted my own kids to grow up knowing my hispanic heritage the way I learned it. The music I learned came from my grandmother, uncles, camp counselors, and then musicians such as Joan Manuel Serrat, Facundo Cabral, Quinteto Tiempo, Juan Luis Guerra, The Beatles, etc. I always felt passing down a range of music genres and culture is crucial to a sense of self and cultural knowledge.

Alina – Music is absolutely fundamental to the human experience. It is something that we connect with on a genetic level. Mother’s rock babies instinctively, people speak to young children in sing-song ways instinctively. I don’t believe there is a culture in existence that doesn’t pass identity, self knowledge and pride through music. That is why it is such a powerful medium to learn about and express oneself. We use music to connect with kids and families because it is a language we all speak.

Let’s reflect now on the connections between singing and the science of reading. How do you think using music, movement and songs in early childhood supports the development of literacy skills?

We actually teach a workshop on this very subject. Rhythm and rhyme are instinctive methods we use to teach language to babies, as well as to soothe them. Music is an extension of those basic methods. It is easiest to learn tonal patterns or language that is rhyming than a random collection of sounds or words. Our brains are designed to seek out patterns and music is a pattern of sounds. Reading and by extension, narrative structure, are also based on patterns of rhythm and rhyme. 

You start with little rhymes and crooning lullabies, and as a child develops, that grows into stories with beginnings, middles and endings, which in turn grows into complex narratives and working out ideas through language. Add to that the fact that young children need to move in order to learn. Reading is not just about words on a page, it’s about coordinating hand and eye movements too. Patterns are more easily understood when we can make them with our bodies, as well as see them. Clapping, bouncing, jumping, all this leads to understanding our bodies in space, and patterns as they apply to ourselves and our world.

Some experts emphasize the importance of considering cultural and social factors into the science of reading. How can librarians build and support these connections in their story times and other library experiences for children and families?

Just as music is intrinsic to humanity, culture is a fundamental part of music. Children are drawn to the rhythms and sounds of their early childhood, so connecting with them through that is a way to make them feel welcome. There is an ever-growing body of children’s books available that explore different languages and cultures. Especially in a situation where you have a child who is living in a culture that is different from the one they experience at home, it is such a validating thing to reflect their home-culture back to them. 

References

Alexander, P.A. (2020). What research has revealed about readers’ struggles with comprehension in the digital age: Moving beyond the phonics versus whole language debate. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1). 

Dowling, R., Shanty, L., Sonnenschein, S., & Hussey-Gardner, B. (2020). Talking, Reading, Singing, and Rhyming: Tips for Fostering Literacy in Infancy. YC: Young Children, 75(3), 80–83.

Interested in more on the Science of Reading? Check out these other ALSC Blog Posts

Unveiling the Science of Reading: Empowering ESL Students through Wordless Books

Play and the Science of Reading: How Play Helps Get Kids Ready to Read

The Science of Reading and Every Child Ready to Read

The Science of Reading: A Primer for Children’s Library Staff 


Today’s blog post was written by Meagan Albright, former Youth Services Librarian,  Alvin Sherman Library, Nova Southeastern University, Florida, on behalf of the ALSC Early and Family Literacy Committee.  She can be reached at meagan.albright@gmail.com.


This post relates to ALSC Core Competencies of Commitment of Client Group 1, 4, 5, Programming Skills 1, 3, 5, and 7.

One comment

  1. Cecilia A. Hevia

    What a delightful and informative interview. It’s wonderful to have people out there who are proponents of music and literature.

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