Imagine a classroom full of 6-year-olds moving around with big smiles on their faces, waving colorful scarves to music. Sounds like child’s play, right? What we can’t see when we observe this seemingly simple scene, however, is that some real and important learning is happening alongside all the fun. These children are developing key literacy skills through music.
This past summer, the Houston Symphony collaborated with Camp Adventure!, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation’s summer literacy camp. Over the course of four weeks, the Symphony’s Community-Embedded Musicians provided daily, free music classes for nearly 200 K-2nd grade students. These music classes supported the Foundation’s goal to influence student language proficiency and cognitive development.
“The scarf dancing activity is a favorite of mine because it gets the kids actively involved. While they’re having a great time, they’re also developing key musical skills like steady beat, rhythm and pitch,” says Anthony Parce, Houston Symphony Community-Embedded Musician. Bowling Green State University researcher Joyce Eastlund Gromko states that “when children learn to discriminate fine differences between tonal and rhythmic patterns and to associate their perceptions with visual symbols, they will benefit not only musically but in skills related to the processing of sound shown to be necessary for reading.”
Symphony Story Time
In addition to the scarf dance, Anthony and his colleagues worked with students by singing at story time. “Some of the songs we used this year have corresponding books, and the kids love reading the books, learning the songs and singing the story along with the book,” says Community-Embedded Musician Hellen Weberpal. “Using music is a fun and creative way to encourage kids to read. Getting to be the first introduction some of these kids have to music is also a great privilege, and I work hard to make it enjoyable for all of them.”
Sharing the joy of music with children while helping to address a key community need like early childhood literacy is exactly what the Houston Symphony is accomplishing through its education and community engagement work. “We are committed to doing what we can to contribute to the quality of life for all Houstonians. This initiative, along with similar literacy-based collaborations with Houston ISD during the regular school year, demonstrates our dedication to support student academic achievement through music,” says Amanda Dinitz, Interim Co-Executive Director.
While the link between music and literacy is powerful, what’s important to the kids at Camp Adventure! is that they’re having fun. When asked if she liked the class, kindergartner Hayden Zaval was enthusiastic, “It’s about singing, and I love singing!”
—Pam French Blaine, Chief of Education and Community Programming