Connecting Learning & Literacy
Aside from the fun alliteration of the L’s rolling off the tongue, there is a tremendous connection between literacy and learning. And many opportunities to make community connections—more alliteration!—when literacy is the focus.
In my private practice, I travel a large rural area to see clients primarily in their homes. Six months ago, I connected with the Omro Area Community Center to see if they had space so that a new client could meet me halfway.
They were very welcoming and they have a wonderful historical building that is well suited to the work I do. In meeting with the director to brainstorm some ideas about collaboration, she suggested connecting me with the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the local school district.
It turns out that the community center has a focus on literacy with a volunteer program called Little Fox Literacy and a partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a wonderful community program that puts books in the hands of children.
Most of my current work is one-on-one, but I used to travel to 19 special education classrooms each week and did most of my work in a group setting, seeing more than 200 kids each week.
I missed leading groups and I was itching to try out some of the songs from Alphabet Stew and Chocolate Too: Songs for Developing Phonological Awareness, Literacy and Communication Skills in a community setting, and these new connections turned out to be the perfect opportunity. It turns out that the local elementary school is within walking distance of the community center.
We were able to put together a five week program titled “Learning & Literacy through Music.” The program is being provided in an intergenerational setting with a different classroom each week and as many seniors as we can get to brave the Wisconsin winter weather coming together to connect through music and our love of reading.
Learning & Literacy Program – Week One
Our first group was Mrs. Desch’s kindergarten class from HB Patch Elementary. Following a greeting song which included letter recognition and social interactions (including an impromptu back rub), we sequenced a series of body parts and practiced echo singing with “Song In My Heart.”
We warmed up our brain to recognize rhymes by singing about a snowflake on my “delbow” (elbow), in my “rair” (hair), and on my “welly” (belly). During another rhyming song called the “Silly Name Game,” the kids enjoyed changing my name from Kathy to Pathy, Dathy, and Wathy. This is a fun way to teach rhyming and also introduces the more complex skill of onset-rime blending. During this song, we were treated to an impromptu echo song from one of our Seniors called “Little Sir Echo!”
We talked about impulse control during “Blending Compound Words” when kids learned to follow the structure of the music and WAIT until the end to tell us that “jelly” + “bean” = jellybean.
We also practiced syllable deletion with a fun song that told us we had a “birdhouse out back in the shed. Someone took the house, what’s left instead? It’s just a… bird!”
All of these skills—alliteration, rhyming, blending, and segmenting—are important building blocks for learning to read. Before learning to blend individual sounds into words, we need to learn how to do this with larger “chunks” such as syllables and words.
This is called phonological awareness, fancy terminology that means kids are aware of the sounds of speech separate from their meaning. They notice when words start with the same sound (alliteration) and they are aware when they hear words that rhyme. They also understand that sentences are made up of words, words are made up of syllables, and syllables are made of sounds or phonemes.
Many kids pick up by these skills simply by being read to and through “playing with language.” Other kids—especially our strong visual learners and those who have frequent ear infections when they are young—need to be taught these skills very intentionally. The motivating medium of music is the perfect way to accomplish this task!
To end our program, we sang “The Green Grass Grows All Around” to practice sequencing and to exercise our working memory. We spent about five minutes reading with a friend and ended with every child having a chance to strum the guitar during our goodbye song. On the way out, our Seniors were treated to hugs from the little ones.
We sure can pack a lot into 45 minutes when music helps to keep us on task and focused!
The seniors in our community connected with some of our youngest citizens. And we all had fun connecting through music.
2016 Social Media Advocacy Project
January brings with it an opportunity—organized by the American Music Therapy Association and the Certification Board for Music Therapists—to advocate for music therapy through social media. Part of this year’s challenge was to comment on my role as a connector. You can read more about this project here.