Thursday, September 18, 2014

Singing A Story: The Magic of Musical Books

Part II: Choosing a Book to Sing

Brigid Finucane here from Merit School of Music in Chicago, where I teach early childhood music and movement classes.

In my first post, I wrote about benefits of adding singing books to your classroom. Past issues of Activate! have great ideas for literacy fact, the February/March 2014 issue is devoted to children’s literature. Featured stories include Eric Carle’s The Very Lonely Firefly, Deborah A. Imiolo’s The Squeaky Door, Lucinda McQueen’s (illus.) Little Red Hen, Pete Seeger’s Abiyoyo, the beloved adaptation of a Bantu folktale and many more!

How were these books first chosen, though, and what makes them successful in the classroom? The short answer is that each teacher has to decide for his or herself what will work in their classroom, for their students and the concepts they want to support. That being said, here are some considerations!

Choose a book you love. There is no need for the mediocre offering. Fine collections are available in our libraries. A good librarian will have many suggestions, as do co-workers, other teachers, listservs and parents of the children we teach. Bookstores that offer weekly Storytimes highlight current titles of note. Websites, like Isabel Baker’s  The Book Vine for Childrenvet the thousands of new books that are published yearly, while still containing a strong emphasis on classics.

Use expressive voice and comparatives. As Chicago singer-songwriter Susan Salidor says, “Early childhood music is all about high and low, fast and slow, loud and soft.” This is worth remembering when approaching a book. Don’t rush. Let the children have time to drink it in.

Presentation and the power of chant. Approach the presentation of early childhood picture books as you would a song or poem. Upon inspection, you will notice that standard structures are observed from book to book (pages are multiples of 8 due to printing protocols). Syllabication is consistent, allowing for rhythmic reading or chant.  Use that to your advantage. Remember: “Beat Always Stays the Same, Rhythm’s What You Sing or Say!”
Be preparedand have a plan. Read the book aloud before bringing it into the classroom…more than once. Discover passages where you stumble or where the syllabication is not consistent (my pet peeve!). Experiment with voicing and pauses to heighten the impact of the story. Determine whether you want this to be a listening experience, or whether student participation will promote the enjoyment and aid focus and comprehension.

Thanks for reading! Be on the lookout for Part III: The Magic of Melody


Brigid Finucane has worked as an early childhood music teacher since 1995 while continuing her life-long research into cross-cultural music, dances and stories.  Since 2000, she has taught early childhood and general music at Merit School of Music in Chicago, where she also acts as Faculty Mentor. During her time at Merit, she has developed a curriculum teaching English through music for Merit’s outreach program, and created or collaborated on Merit’s Pre-K through 3rd grade curricula. Brigid is passionate about sharing the joy of singing and music-making, and exploring ways iPads can enhance learning in the music classroom. She is an active member in the Children’s Music Network (CMN), a national organization of singers, songwriters, educators and librarians who believe in empowering children through music.

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