January 20, 2010

If music be the food of literacy, sing on

As published in The Erin Advocate

One of the best ways for children to develop their language skills is an activity that ranks high on the fun scale. Our brains are programmed to respond to music and our voices are voices are built to sing it out – when we get the right opportunity.

Family Literacy Day is coming up on January 27. The theme this year is Sing for Literacy, and there are several Erin events designed to promote better communication skills. Research has shown that music can be an effective tool for developing reading and writing ability, according to the ABC Canada Literacy Foundation.

"Singing together is a fun way to strengthen language skills, and an easy way to involve every family member," said ABC President Margaret Eaton.

Getting people to feel comfortable singing is a specialty for Betty Wise of Erin, a former teacher-librarian who is hosting Sing for Literacy sessions, for people of all ages. She starts out with simple chants and familiar snippets of melody that make it easy for everyone to chime in.

"It doesn't matter what your voice is like," she said. "Music is stimulating, it gets you energized – it gets more of your brain active."

Call to register for the events, to be held at the Erin Library this Saturday, January 23 at 10:30 am (519-833-9762), and at the Hillsburgh Library, January 30 at 10 am (519-855-4010). The libraries are also running the annual Family Literacy Bingo game, in which children complete various activities on the squares of a bingo card to win a prize.

The Bookends used book store, operated by East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) at 45 Main Street, is having a half-price sale on all books, January 23-30. Any child who comes to the store on January 27 will be allowed to choose a free book to take home.

Parents should read to their children from the day they are born, as one of the ways to stimulate their imagination. People develop as communicators, not only by speaking, reading and writing, but through touch, spirituality, visual art, music, academics, theatre and sports. Learning to play a musical instrument helps develop math skills through the study of structure and rhythm.

Music education in the school system is quite variable. It can be good, depending on the school budget, the priorities of the principal and the talents of teachers, but it often falls short of parents' hopes.

EWCS will present the eight-week program, The Moon is Round and Other Rhymes, at the Hillsburgh Library starting March 25. Caregivers will learn songs, rhymes, finger plays and lullabies for babies, birth to twelve months only. Call Marlene MacNevin at 519-833-9696, ext. 223 to register. There is no fee.

School-aged children are invited to the Paws for Literacy event at the Hillsburgh Library this Saturday, January 23, 1-3 pm. With the help of Spirit Ridge K9 Training and Rescue, young people read stories to dogs that have chosen for their calm temperament. Animals, of course, are a non-judgemental audience.

"It is amazing how kids take to the dogs," said Librarian Donna Revell. "It is the only program where boys outnumber the girls."

Boys the world over are slower than girls in improving their language ability, but there is debate about the nature of the problem. Are parents and schools overly concerned with promoting higher levels of skill at younger ages, possibly taking the fun out the process and setting kids up for frustration?

Is it beneficial to make kids sit still for long periods of time, when they might learn more by moving and doing things? Is there an over-emphasis on reading, at the expense of other forms of literacy? Maybe young boys need more things to read that match their interests, like comics, science fiction, sports and adventure.

For more information, try these websites:
county.wellington.on.ca (libraries)