When Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, Jenny Thomson was asked for some ideas on how to help children with reading, her answer was for teachers to emphasize skills such as "syllable clapping and linking language and music." Like a happy preventative tonic for struggling readers, research indicates that these vital skills taught in early childhood can lay the groundwork for the subsequent steps of literacy acquisition.
Can simple rhythmic exercises in preschool really help a child improve learning skills?
According to Nina Kraus, a leading brain researcher at Northwestern University,
"music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness." Early music training could be compared to a work-out for your brain, improving listening skills and listening ability.
The research backs it up but ask any preschool teacher or parent, they already know. Children love music and they love instruments. Give an unruly four-year-old a pair of rhythm sticks, and he or she often becomes a model student, often with the best rhythm in the class. Rhythm fascinates young children. Teach babies using instruments and they learn to speak and speak well (their native tongue or a foreign language). Give an adult foreign language student singing lessons and, if he or she is a musician, the pronunciation is nearly perfect. Why? They have trained listening skills and can recognize subtle changes in pitch and volume.
For maximum academic benefits the best time to train children, according to research, is before the age of 7. So let's get started. Here is a simple exercise you can use with your young learners. Amazingly, the Japanese two-year-olds I teach can do this perfectly, teaching them the rhythm of the language as well as the rhythm for reading in English as they get older. It also teaches them the vital skills of listening and carefully modeling what the teacher is doing.
If there are instruments in your classroom such as wrist bells, castanets or tambourines, pull them out and have some listening fun.
How to Play
Sing a familiar nursery rhyme such as "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and instruct the children that whenever they hear the words "little lamb" they should play their instrument in rhythm. (Lit-tle Lamb played one beat per syllable) The same game could be done to "London Bridge is Falling Down". When the children hear, "falling down" they play their instrument in rhythm.
How to Level Up
Give the children two instruments and instruct them when they hear "falling down" they are to play the tambourine, and when they hear "lady" at the end, they should play the bells. This will require them to think what is coming next in the song.
An added benefit to rhythmic lessons, is that the children learn to listen even when it is not rhythm time.