Silly Nilly Song to Teach Rhyming

Silly Nilly SongI love gathering inspiration from other music therapists who are working in private practice while also developing their online presence both locally and as a resource worldwide. When free resources are offered, I nearly always sign up for the mailing list so that I can see what others are offering and learn from how others do their marketing.

In this case, my inspiration came from Bonnie Hayhurst, MT-BC who blogs over at the I love the clean look of her site and the creative energy that comes from the work she does on her website and in the community in Hudson, Ohio.


Silly Nilly Song to Teach Literacy Skills

I downloaded “Silly Nilly Shaker Song” and was immediately inspired to adapt the song for my own use. While the original version focused on playing a shaker instrument in a variety of ways (soft/loud, slow/fast), I wanted to use this song in a large group setting with my “Learning and Literacy through Music” intergenerational group in Omro, Wisconsin.

The main focus of Bonnie’s version of the song was to follow the musical directions to play in a variety of ways on the chorus, but I didn’t want the distraction of instruments or to take time to hand out and collect them in this large group setting.

Instead, I changed the verse of the song to intentionally teach the skills of onset-rime blending and phoneme substitution. I used the chorus as a simple movement break and it was a big hit!


Onset-Rime Blending to Create Rhymes

Let’s break this down for a minute and explain in greater detail what I mean by “onset rime blending” and “phoneme substitution.”

The onset is the initial consonant sound of a syllable. The rime is the vowel and all that follows it. In the word “mop,” /m/ is the onset and /op/ is the rime.

Learning to blend an onset with a rime and then swap that initial sound for a new one is how rhymes are created. Start with “mop,” replace the /m/ with a /t/ and you get “top.”

So, even without seeing the word printed, children can say or sing “silly” and then create a new word by taking off the “s” and replacing it with a new letter. Silly becomes billy, tilly, and zilly. When it comes to creating rhymes, it’s perfectly okay to use nonsense words!


Playing With the Sounds of Language

In the early stages of developing phonological awareness, it is all about learning to play with sounds of language.

This song is also an example of phoneme substitution. Phonemes are the smallest sound unit that can change the meaning of a word. The ability to substitute one phoneme with another in order to create a new word is a skill that typically develops around 6 years of age.

In my experience, substituting phonemes in a repetitive, silly-sounding song like the “Silly Nilly Song” is accessible to children at a much younger age. Another example of this is “Silly Name Game,” explained in more detail—and with a free download—here.

For most kids, it seems to be easier to substitute the first phoneme in a word like “silly” than with a traditional CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant) word like “mop.”


Free Resources for You!

If you’re interested in using this song to teach onset-rime blending and phoneme substitution, you can get a free download of the printed music by clicking here.

If you’d like to hear a recording and get a free download of the original version, head on over to www.Groovy and respond to the prompt to “Get a Free Song Album” or click on this link.

Who knows what inspiration will strike!

Learning & Literacy through Music

learning literacy musicConnecting 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

rub a friends backOur 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!”

Phonological Awareness

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!

Closing Connections

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.

music therapy2016 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.

Using the Stretchy Band to Teach Literacy

stretchy band to teach literacySeveral summers ago, on a family “vacation” to visit my sister (and a bunch of cousins to my children), my sister over at Bear Paw Creek talked me into doing a video shoot with one of her products—the Stretchy Band.  This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for a relaxing vacation, but you know how it is with sisters.  You step out of your comfort zone and do whatever you can to help them out.

That was the same summer that I was finalizing my book—Alphabet Stew and Chocolate Too:  Songs for Developing Phonological Awareness, Literacy, and Communication Skills—and I challenged myself to use the Stretchy Band to teach literacy skills.


Teaching Alliteration & Beat Competence

The Stretchy Band makes an appearance in my book three times.  The video below shows one example focusing on the skill of alliteration, also referred to as “sound matching.”  Alliteration is a fancy word for when words start with the same sound and it is an important foundational skill for learning to read. 

The Stretchy Band is also a fabulous way to teach “beat competence,” the ability to move your body in a steady beat which matches the tempo of music.  The fun thing about the Stretchy Band is that when you have a child who struggles in this area, you can put them between two children who have already developed this skill and their hands will get the sensory input of an object that is moving in time with the beat.


phonological awareness developmental continuum



Using Rhythm

We prepped for the activity shown in the video by first passing a simple count of “1-2-3-4” around the circle.  By this, I mean that while every child kept a steady beat by tapping the stretchy band on their legs, the children took turns counting 1-2-3-4. 

After this, we experimented with putting their names on beat one.  This would sound like: “Miss Kathy-2-3-4, Anna-2-3-4, Joy-2-3-4, Jessica-2-3-4, Cody 2-3-4.  I would cue with the “2-3-4” and the kids would simply say their names on beat one.

Putting this on beat one is strategic and research-based as the rhythm actually primes the brain and makes responding easier.  For kids that struggle with verbalizing and motor planning, this can be a huge help. 

Once this become really comfortable we introduced the concept of alliteration using this chant:

Alliteration, alliteration
Beginning sound celebration!
Say some words that start with M
M says /m/.

At the stage shown in the video, kids are being asked to generate a word.  In earlier stages, kids may be asked to decide whether two words start with the same sound.  For some, generating the word is actually easier.




Earlier Developing Skills

For kids that aren’t at this stage yet, sound matching can be targeted through instrument play.  Simply start with a matching set of rhythm instruments (maracas, sticks, egg shakers, etc.) and give the child one of each instrument while you have the matching instruments hidden.  I always travel with a large magnetic dry erase board which comes in handy for this activity.  If the child needs more structure, I use a simple song titled “What Do You Hear?” attached here as a free download.

Once they’re ready to start producing a series of words with the same beginning sound, the Stretchy Band is a fun way to reinforce this concept.  If a couple of the kids are struggling with coming up with a word, include them in the stretchy band circle and make it clear that it is okay to repeat a word. 

This gives them an opportunity for them to participate successfully and to “feel” the sound in their mouth which helps with the development of this skill.


Spark Your Creativity!

If you’re interested in your own Stretchy Band, it can be found at  The Stretchy Band makes for a highly motivating activity and might be the spark you need to create some new intervention ideas!

Dot to Dot Drumming

literacy music phonological awareness


I am excited to report that I have been published in the 2015 edition of imagine, an online magazine for sharing evidence-based information related to early childhood music therapy!

The 2014 issue included a book review of my Alphabet Stew and Chocolate Too book. More info about the book review here.  In 2014, I also submitted an article titled “Rhythm, Rhyme and Remarkable Repetition,” which was recorded as a podcast per the request of the imagine editorial team.  More info about the podcast here.  

While a podcast in imagine was definitely an honor, I am excited to report that in the 2015 issue, my submission was chosen for the “ideas” section, personally a favorite of mine as it always includes intervention ideas that can be implemented immediately. 

Click here for a direct link to my article—Dot to Dot Drumming:  Teaching Early Literacy Skills—on p. 106.

Dot to Dot Drumming is a fun and interactive way to teach left to right tracking as well as sentence segmentation and word substitution.  In simple terms, this just means being able to tap a drum one time for each word in a left to right sequence—segmenting a sentence into words.  By changing one word in the sentence (I see a dog.  I see a cat.), the meaning of the sentence changes and you are also able to target the skills of word substitution and comprehension. 

Including drums makes a fine motor and visual (and typically seated) experience into one that includes movement and gross motor skills.  Tapping the drums in a left to right sequence also provides timing cues for verbalizations and improves the ability to articulate a full sentence.

The imagine article includes a link to a 9 page free download that includes word/picture cards for the “I see a cat” sentence as well as a more complex sentence: “The cat sat on/in/under the table.” 

To involve more children and emphasize the skill of comprehension, large versions of each visual are included so the animal can be physically moved on or under the table, for example.  I prefer to attach magnets to the back of my visuals so that they can be easily manipulated on a dry erase board.

literacy music sentence substitution


If you find that your students are ready for a greater variety beyond cat, dog, mouse, table, couch and basket (included in the free download), there is a 20 page expanded set of visuals available here.  The expanded set also includes the following: 

  • Large and small pictures for cat, dog, mouse, table, couch, basket, chair, umbrella, box, rug, and bed in addition to a visual representation for in, on, and under. 
  • Additional word cards to fade use of picture cues for sight words.
  • Word cards for sentence variations that include we, you, your, I, like, to, a/an, is.
  • Large print word cards for students who are visually impaired or to create a duplicate sentence in front of a classroom.

For the months of October and November, I am offering this resource to you for half price.  Simply enter THANKS as a coupon code and this resource is yours for only $5.  It will arrive as an immediate download.

As always, I would love to hear about your experiences using this resource for improving literacy skills.  You can email me directly or leave a comment below.

Happy drumming and learning!

Summer Recap & News to Share

literacy and music


It was approximately a year ago that I set a goal to write a blog post every other week. I’m happy to report that I met my goal during the school year and it’s fun to look back at all the fun content I was able to add to my website. A few favorites that prompted the most engagement with my readers:

Here is a quick link to posts that include FREEBIES for you:

I had intentions of continuing throughout the summer, but quickly realized it was not meant to be. Spending time with my three children and taking care of our LARGE garden soon took priority.

The most exciting news of the summer is that all three of my children were reading chapter books without any prompting at all. Last summer, my son had just finished first grade and while he was reading when I asked him to, he didn’t yet have that voracious appetite for books. Fast forward to this summer and the first thing he would grab every morning when he woke up? A book, of course!

At the top of this post is one of my favorite series of pics from the summer. My eight year old boy spent at least half an hour in a tremendous variety of positions reading on the slide. My middle child literally read a chapter book nearly every single day, I kid you not. I wish she would have kept a list. My older daughter read the entire Anne of Green Gables series!

The kids and I also spent several weekends at Aunt Sonya’s house. She hosted a fundraiser rummage sale for my niece, little “Miss Bug,” who is battling Leukemia. They had fun going through their toys for stuff to sell, preparing baked goods, staffing the lemonade stand, and popping popcorn. They also had a tremendous amount of fun buying items at the sale and, of course, hanging out with family. I didn’t really think it was possible, but we raised a total of $1,200!

More exciting news: I was recently published in Imagine (more on this later) and I was interviewed by Rachel Rambach over at her podcast, Guitars and Granola Bars. I surprised myself by being nervous for this interview, but I also surprisingly really enjoyed listening to the recording. Check it out if you’d like to hear my professional story and my new analogy about the mindset I’m using for the elusive “work-life balance.”

I have lots of plans for sharing resources and information with you this school year, so stay tuned…

Songwriting Challenge



In April and May, I participated in a five week songwriting challenge organized by Rachel Rambach over at  While I write songs almost weekly for my clinical work, it was fun to participate in a community of songwriters.  Songwriting is definitely something that gets easier with practice and with a little mentoring from experienced songwriters.My friend, Nicole Martens, has been a tremendous influence in this area.  In fact, after her help with improving some of my compositions, we created a five hour continuing education class on the topic of songwriting.  The big takeaways from that learning experience:  accurate word emphasis (being sure the accented syllable of a word falls on a strong beat in the music), symmetrical phrase structure, and appropriate vocal range for young voices.  Attention to these details results in songs that are much more effective for helping kids learn.


Greeting Song

The first task was to write a greeting song.  Music therapists often use a greeting song at the start of each session to create familiarity and structure.  I wrote a short greeting song for an adult client of mine.  He has become very skilled at singing “Hi Kathy” in response a greeting song I wrote several years ago.  The goal of this song is for him to greet me first.  Eventually, I will be able to cue him by singing just the melody of the opening which accompanies the lyrics of “It’s time to say…”



Piggyback Song

Task number two was to write a piggyback song, which essentially means putting new words to a familiar melody.  During this weekly challenge, I came down with a spring cold and completely lost my voice.  I have been hoarse many times in my life, but this was an absolute ZERO voice for 4 days and it was kinda scary.  It wasn’t really due to the cold, but lack of self care and overusing a compromised voice box.

So, I ended up notating this one in Print Music and posting the printed music.  It’s to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”  Lyrics are included below.  If you’re interested in the notated version, you can get the one page pdf here.

I’ve been working on this song, for what seems like too long.
Rhyming and playing with the timing, but you can’t go wrong
When you use music, to help kids learn.
I love to use music, to help kids learn.
I love music therapy, I love music therapy
Except for when I lose my voice, then it’s kinda scary!
I need to get better with self care, listen to my body and don’t push so hard.
Then I won’t lose my voice, I will make a better choice.
Please come back real soon, I feel like such a goon.
Please come back so I can work.  Being able to sing is such a perk!


Instrument Song

The next challenge was to choose an instrument and at least one goal that could be targeted with the instrument.  I chose the agogo bells.

Song for Agogo BellsThis specific song could be used to work on following directions, identifying small and large, or for turn taking.  In group sessions with young children, I often include an instrument song that requires passing an instrument around the circle structured with a brief, fun song that keeps the other kids moving and grooving while they are waiting their turn.



Song for a Client-Specific Goal

The fourth task was to write a song for a client-specific goal or objective, keeping in mind the client’s preferred style of music.  I used a math song for this one with a goal of changing an improper fraction into a mixed number.  You can read more about that here.  This particular client is very motivated by songs that end with a variation of “Shave and a haircut…two bits!”



A Song for Me

This was definitely the most challenging song of all.  I don’t think I’ve ever written a song just for me.  I’ve put a few Bible passages to a memorable melody, but coming up with lyrics is not my strength.

While cooking supper one night, I asked my ten year old daughter—who is becoming quite a gifted writer—to write me a poem with four verses, four lines each.  Meanwhile, I kept cooking and started coming up with some opening lines of “I love to read, I love to read, I love to read, but what I need.”  That’s as far as I got, but was going to go on about needing more time to get through all of my book piles.  Ten minutes later, Anna comes downstairs with four complete verses!  On the SAME TOPIC!

That got my creative juices flowing and “Reading, Reading Everywhere” was born.  The lyrics are about 50% mine and 50% my daughter’s.  I’m really quite pleased with the result.

Reading is something that’s good for your brain.
You can read in your bed, you can read on a plane.
You read a lot in school, it’s really kinda cool.
But if it’s a library book, don’t read in the pool.

Are you short on cash?  Do you want to buy a book?
You can go to the library and just take a look.
Or, you can get your own library card.
Talk to the librarian, it won’t be hard.

Then you can check out a book.
Maybe a book that will help you learn to cook.
Or, it could be, a book about ancient Rome.
Either way, you get to bring it home!

Reading is awesome, fun for you and me.
As long as you return it on time, it’s free!
Support the library ev’ry chance you get.
But, please remember, don’t get the book wet.