Learn With Songs and Poetry

If your child enjoys music (and what child doesn’t?), sing children’s songs that employ lots of rhyme and repetition to develop reading and writing skills. Also use songs with actions and finger plays. It is amazing how much “physical action” and “singing” contribute to learning to read. Old-timey Sunday School songs, or songs learned in pre-school and kindergarten, or on children’s TV programs are often excellent for this, as they use lots of simple words, rhymes, and actions. Many nursery rhymes have also been put to music. Children all have favorite movies or TV series or story books with theme songs they have memorized.

Use books that have large, clear print, or type or write lyrics out in large print so children can easily read them. Teach many new words by having your children follow the lyrics as they sing their favorite tunes. Point out the words in the song, and as you sing, run your finger along the words as you sing together.  Then encourage your child to run his finger under the words while singing. Or you can find many of these kinds of songs on YouTube videos, with the words running through the video, often with a dot bouncing from word to word during the singing. For many children, it really helps to “connect” their phonics words to real context; when they see and say/sing their reading lesson words in a song they know, the word learning becomes real and fun. And of course poetry and music are excellent aids to memorizing words.

You can read the song together (point at each word as you read it slowly; or better yet, have your child point at each word as it will help her focus and not be distracted), and then sing it together, slowly the first time, pointing at each word, and then faster the next time or two. If she wants to sing a song 3 or 4 or 5 times in a row, encourage it! Just make sure she’s actually following along with the words.

In the same way, read, and memorize–and act out, or put to music–nursery rhymes and other fun rhyming poems. Also encourage “copying” of poems and song lyrics, as well as favorite passages from stories and so on. Some people think “copying” is old-fashioned, but it is still one of the most effective ways for children to “learn by doing” as they copy correct handwriting (or cursive), correct spelling, punctuation, and sentence or poetry form.

Clap, stamp feet, wave arms, sway bodies, etc., while singing or do chants. Rhyme, rhythm, pacing, elongating sounds (especially vowels) are all great ways to develop a child’s listening, reading, and writing abilities. Use as many senses and physical actions as possible, especially with children who love movement; do the same with art, music, or whatever your child especially enjoys.

Children also love to make up poems and songs of their own. They’ll happily create rhyming couplets, limericks, and so on. Just as with stories they have written, children like to read their own writing, and it is a great way for them to practice. You can have the child dictate a story or poem, and you write it down with correct spelling and grammar–then have them copy it, illustrate it, and read it to whoever will listen! By having the child dictate, and you copy, the child will likely use vocabulary they are not yet able to read, but because they created the poem or story themselves, they will already know what is in it, and will be able to read what they could not otherwise read. You can, of course, also use a computer program for the “printing” and illustrating.

Children can “gift” their works to visitors such as grandparents and friends, reading it aloud to the recipient, and then sending it along with them. If the person lives at a distance, you can have the child tape themselves reading it, or you can send the work to the recipient, and then have the child read it to them by phone or Skype. Or of course you can also videotape the reading, and email it or post it on YouTube, etc. Kids love technology, so don’t be afraid to use it as part of their learning. Just remember to keep it “interactive!”


How do you use songs and poetry with your children as they learn reading and writing skills? Please be sure to share your experiences in the comments below. Thank you!

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

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