Why do teachers use songs with young children?

linguistics research Jan 30, 2023
Journal of Education 3–13 front cover, yellow background.

Singing with young children feels like a natural part of early education. It would be strange to find an early years or primary setting without songs, n'est-ce pas?

Indeed, as a secondary languages teacher and then early years practitioner, I used songs all the time and believed very strongly in their educational value. Many colleagues agreed. It was something we felt could improve children's memorisation of key concepts or words, and boost their development in myriad ways including their language, social and behavioural development.

Yet when I wanted to advocate for more singing and pin down the evidence to support why songs are such a foundational part of early childhood education, I could only find more teachers, like myself, writing blogs or textbooks based on our/their own experiences. This was great, but I knew I also needed to find some empirical, more objective evidence of the effect that songs have on children's educational outcomes other than teaching them music itself – I'm talking about the "transfer" benefits that are often linked to music and singing, like improving literacy outcomes. We can't go around making claims about what "works" without proof, after all!

However, I couldn't find anything that provided such evidence unless it was hidden behind a research journal paywall. Everything that was freely available repeated and supported my beliefs, without really answering my questions. 

That's when I decided to do some research of my own and started my MSc in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition at the University of Oxford in 2020. It was brilliant, and also the height of lockdown, which presented some challenges to conducting research. (But doing a master's whilst home-schooling three children is a tale for another day!)

Fast-forward another two years and my research paper from that MSc has just been published in Education 3–13, the international journal of elementary, primary and early years education. The paper is called:

Folk Pedagogy? Investigating how and why UK early years and primary teachers use songs with young learners.

Importantly for me as a practitioner who found I couldn't get access to papers I wished to read, this paper is open access and freely available to anyone. So please do have a look (click the title or picture to read it) and let me know what you think. I'd love to get the conversation around why we use songs with children started with you!

During this research project, I found some interesting differences in how teachers across early years, KS1 and KS2 use songs, and that KS2 languages teachers perhaps behave more like our early years colleagues in their planning and use of songs than generalist KS2 teachers.

What do you think, MFL teachers? Do you agree? How often and for what purposes do you use songs with your classes? Let me know on email or send us a message on our socials!

 And my next step is to finish my PhD (or DPhil, as it's called in Oxford) about songs' effect on the second language learning process in school contexts. So, if you'd like to learn more about how that research is going, please bookmark this blog and keep up to speed.

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