Why Songs Help Children To Learn

memoryNearly two decades ago, a Chinese friend taught me some words of Mandarin Chinese and a popular children’s song. Today, I have forgotten nearly all of the Chinese words I learned, but I still remember that song. The song was called “Mud Doll” and it goes something like this:

Nee waa waa
Nee waa waa
Yga nee waa waa
Ya mayo gen shing
Ja mayo sway ba
Ge sheng yga nee waa waa

If you speak Mandarin, I apologize if I destroyed your song. But I have sung that song for several Chinese people and they always recognize it and smile.

Much longer ago, when in University, I had to learn the names of the ten cranial nerves for my human physiology class. My Professor, Dr. Marian Diamond (without a doubt, my favorite university professor) taught us a helpful rhyme that I still remember today:

On old Olympus towering tops
A Fin and German viewed some hops

The first letters of the ten words of that rhyme represent the first letters of the ten cranial nerves:

I. Olfactory II. Optic III. Oculomotor IV. Trochlear V. Trigeminal VI. Abducens VII. Facial VIII. Auditory  IX. Glossopharyngeal X. Vagus XI. Spinal XII. Hypoglossal

Going back even further to grade school, I learned the alphabet song as a child. That song is still ingrained in my brain:

Q,R,S,T,U and V
W,X,Y and Z
Now I know my ABCs
Next time won’t you sing with me?

What is it about rhymes and songs that make things easy to learn, but more importantly, easy to remember, forever?

Two Stanford University professors proposed and proved that rhymes simplify recall, because they restrict the possible alternatives. In other words, using the alphabet song as an example, every line ends with a letter or word that ends with an “E” sound. The letters G,P,V, Z and the words ABCs and me all have an “E” sound at the end. So, you can not make the mistake to substitute the letters Q, R, S, U, W, X, Y, etc at the end of the line.

This certainly explains some of it but not all.   It also must have to do with the rhythm and the meter of the rhyme or song that stores the information differently than prose.

But songs and rhymes are not only easy to remember, they are fun to learn. How many silly rhymes did we learn as kids on playgrounds or as childhood songs, not because we had to learn them, but because they were fun to learn? Itsy bitsy spider, Old MacDonald had a farm, Mary had a little lamb, are just a few.

Since songs and rhymes are fun and make learning easy, what would happen if we took things that are normally thought of as difficult and make them easier using songs and rhymes?

Songs and rhymes can help to teach children to read by simplifying the process and making it fun.



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