Morpho Literacy

Bilingual Literacy-Based Programming with Amy Olson

Bilingual Programming and Literacy May 26, 2010

Filed under: Chapter - Bilingual Music Programming and Preliteracy — Morpho Literacy @ 8:56 am


Amy Olson

Exposure to and eventual fluency in the English language is necessary for academic success in U.S. schools.  Conservative estimates suggest there are over 5.5 million students attending U.S. public schools whose first language is not English; of this group, 80% are fluent in Spanish (McCardle et al. 2005).  When ELL (English Language Learner)[1] children attend school they have to face the daily challenge of learning to communicate and read in a language that is different from the one that is spoken in their home (Lindsey et al. 2003; Páez et al. 2007). Unfortunately, statistics have consistently shown that ELL children are at risk for poor reading outcomes, and even proficient bilingual[2] children begin kindergarten with language and preliteracy skills that are below expectation (Hammer et al. 2007; Páez et al. 2007).

Where can ELL children go to improve their preliteracy skills prior to entering kindergarten?  The most obvious choices are preschools, early starts, and head-start centers. However, the local public library and elementary school library can also play an integral role in developing and fostering language and preliteracy skills. In the U.S., the ability to offer bilingual programming has become an essential part of being a children’s librarian as the Latino community is the largest and fastest-growing minority group, exceeding 3.94 million people (U.S. Census Bureau 2008). Outside of a classroom, music might be the only major source of English that an ELL child will hear; thus the integration of music into a preliteracy learning setting, such as a school or library, can assist a child’s language development and academic learning while simultaneously allowing them to develop musically (Bolduc 2009; Wiggins 2007).

This chapter will discuss how music can help ELL children with language and preliteracy development, the musical tale, and ways children’s librarians can use the musical tale in bilingual musical literacy-based programming. In addition, suggestions for bilingual music-oriented programming, websites, musical tale titles, and CDs are also provided to assist children’s librarians and other educators in creating valuable learning experiences for children.


Historically, songs and oral poetry have been used to pass cultural history and lore down from generation to generation.  Over time, written language has overtaken oral language as the primary means of communication.  Yet, music is one sure form of communication that crosses the gap between oral and written language skills (Wiggins 2007).  Infants and young children rely on their aural and oral skills for language acquisition and learning.  At the same time, infancy and early childhood are critical periods for the development of musical abilities and the formation of musical identities.  Children as young as four years of age are able to remember random digits, letters, words, and even multiplication tables through song or rhythmic groupings (Anvari et al. 2002).  For example, toddlers learn their ABCs to a tune far before they are able to read or even recognize letters.  Interesting enough, while the tune used for the ABCs is also the same tune used for Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, it is also actually an old French tune that was made popular by Mozart in his Twelve Variations on Ah! Vous Dirai-je, MamanThus, perhaps surprisingly, the ABCs tune can be an excellent way to introduce children to different styles of music, composers, languages, cultures, and countries.

A young child’s introduction to text often occurs through songs, chants, jingles, or rhymes.  People hum and sing all the time: in the car, while walking, in the shower, or when putting a baby to sleep.   During playtime, it is common, almost innate, for a child to sing, “Nyah-nah-nah-nyah-nah. You can’t get me” to those they are playing with in order to get their attention.  Children experience music throughout their daily lives and enjoy having opportunities to represent what they know, playing with both language and lyrics (Yopp and Yopp 2009).  Singing without the aid of instruments or technology, too, is natural to children.  Singing alone, acapella, allows children to listen to their own voices, to create new sounds, and to listen to the children’s librarian and/or their parent/caregiver.

Music can prepare children for the different experiences they will encounter, allowing them to explore diversity and cultures that are not their own (Kirmani 2007).  Music also enables ELL children to have pride in and celebrate their own culture, to not remain hidden but become empowered, and to participate in their community.  Music allows children to investigate the world around them, to imagine, to encourage others, and to be encouraged in their own personal creativity (Yopp and Yopp 2009).

Music can introduce children to cultural proverbs and idioms.  Proverbs and idioms can be hard for children to understand, and often require an adult’s explanation.  English proverbs and idioms are incredibly difficult for ELL children to comprehend as many expressions do not cross cultures well (e.g. just in the nick of time, a piece of cake, out of the blue).  Acquisition and use of idioms and proverbs are some of the last language skills that a new language-learner will attain.

A child’s involvement with music allows their auditory and discrimination skills to improve naturally.  Through music children can experience different facets of listening: reflective (where children are encouraged to think for themselves) and active listening (where children listen to participate).  Music and songs help to increase these listening skills in a fun and relaxed manner.  If a child is unable to listen, they are unable to participate.  Children instinctively listen to music in order to identify familiar melodies and rhythms, just as beginning readers will look for words that sound alike, that have patterns, and/or contain rhyme.  Listening to music allows children opportunities to identify variances in pitch or tone, to differentiate between sounds, to identify rhythmic patterns, to describe sounds accurately, and to articulate personal responses to what they hear.

Children’s librarians and parents/caregivers should remember to focus on the child’s process of learning rather than the product of their song.  It is far more vital to encourage children to compose and improvise than to worry about how the music sounds.  This then takes the pressure off of a parent/caregiver or children’s librarian; they don’t have to ‘prepare the child to sing’ by getting out specific instruments or electronics….the child can just sing spontaneously.

And, when a child is enjoying themselves, it is likely that their attitude is positive.  It is much easier for children to learn if they are having a pleasurable experience within a positive environment.  A negative attitude or environment can prevent a child from learning; if a child is frightened or feeling unaccepted, they are less likely to participate.  An encounter with music, fortunately, tends to be a pleasant experience for children.  Through song children are able to find ways to fluently and freely convey their feelings and thoughts – all while learning new forms of self-expression in a positive environment (Wiggins 2007).  And ultimately, children will have their confidence augmented because of their participation, even if their involvement is solely through body movements or clapping out rhythms (Bolduc 2009).


Music can play an important role in helping children develop phonological awareness. Phonological awareness happens when children: (1) Learn to match the individual speech sounds they have been hearing to the letters of the alphabet (phonemic awareness) and (2) understand what graphemes represent (graphemic awareness).  Phonemic and graphemic awareness are the precursors to phonological awareness.


A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech, that when replaced, results in a change of meaning – mop becomes map or los becomes las.  The phonemes in each of these examples are ‘o’ and ‘a’, respectively.  Phonemic awareness occurs when a child can hear or see the word, ‘bug’, and is able to match the individual sounds of each word to their corresponding letters, /b/-/u/-/g/.  Children who are able to isolate and manipulate phonemes in words have greater success with reading than those who have difficulty with phonemes (Lamb and Gregory 1993).  In addition, children who are able to recognize the beginning and ending sounds of words are more successful in school than children who cannot.

Monolingual[3] children are likely to develop their skills at a faster rate than ELL or bilingual children (Uccelli and Páez 2007).  Music is one tool that can help to equalize educational instruction between these monolingual, ELL, and bilingual children, as phonemic awareness allows children to demonstrate greater ease with oral and written language, both inside and outside of the classroom (Favila et al. 1999; Herrera et al. 2007; Lamb and Gregory 1993).

Children can also be taught about phonemes through various forms of rhythmic clapping.  For instance, if children’s librarian were to have the children clap each syllable of the names below, the first two names would have three claps and the last two names would have two claps.

Tor-i-ah           An-ge-la          An-drés           Mi-chael

(Hansen and Bernstorf 2002; Stuart-Hamilton 1986).  Rhythmic clapping enables the children to reproduce speech patterns while physically experiencing the musical and literary concepts of phrasing (Hansen and Bernstorf 2002).  Teaching phrasing in this way allows children to have a grasp of how a word is read, how to group words together smoothly, and how to make a transition from one word to another word within a sentence.

If the children have difficulty simultaneously clapping with the children’s librarian, they can be encouraged to echo-clap instead.  Echo-clapping is where the children’s librarian initiates a clapping pattern and the children imitate the pattern, as if they were the echo (Hansen and Bernstorf 2002).  Subsequently, as the children progress and begin to feel more comfortable with the concept of rhythmically clapping out words and syllables through imitation, the children’s librarian can return back to group syllabic clapping.

As the children become more confident with syllabic/phrase clapping in a group, they can be further challenged by the children’s librarian to accent syllables within a word.  The accenting of syllables can be done in two ways: to either clap louder on the accented syllable or to physically clap higher up in the air than normal to demonstrate an accented syllable.   Both rhythmic clapping and accentuating accented syllables help ELL children greatly as Spanish is a language where typically the second to the last syllable receives the accent or the accent mark is visible in a word.  These accent rules are not as consistent in English, where the accenting of syllables is far more random and physical accent marks are less common. (Herrera et al. 2007).


Graphemes are symbols, typically letters, used to represent certain sounds.  For instance, in the word box, the x sounds like k and s together, so the grapheme for x is ks.  A child who has difficulty with graphemes will tend to spell phonetically, such as writing nee instead of knee and froot instead of fruit.  When a child has difficulty with graphemic awareness, it will become evident through their spelling tests.  For ELL children, graphemic awareness becomes all the more difficult in that the English language has approximately forty-four different vowel and consonant sounds, whereas the Spanish language has twenty-four different vowel and consonant sounds (Yopp and Yopp 2009).


Phonological awareness, the most important step in a child’s ability to read, is directly related to the development of his/her reading skills. Phonological awareness happens when a child is able to distinguish and be sensitive to individual sounds and syllables, combining both phonemic and graphemic awareness (Lamb and Gregory 1993).  At the phonological awareness stage of learning, it is all the more important to introduce ELL children to varying songs and books that encourage them to explore musical poetry, rhyme, and meter – and this may be done through the musical tale.


The musical tale is a children’s picture book that features the lyrics of a song along with illustrations that enhance the lyrics.  The musical tale enforces a child’s phonemic, graphemic, and phonological awareness skills through lyrics and through rhythm using all five senses – seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling.  Musical tales provide a way for children to see illustrations and print in English and in Spanish, to hear the tales as they are sung, and to touch, taste, and smell the instruments and books as they are used.

Rather than sitting down and officially learning how to read (which could be perceived by the child and even their parent/caregiver) as work, the musical tale offers an opportunity for the child to do something they enjoy – playing with music – in order to learn. This is not to suggest that musical play is only a game; songs have intrinsic, instructional value.  A child’s ability to embrace musical play and opportunities for imagination provide a foundation for learning preliteracy skills.

Lyrics and Musical Tales

Lyrics in musical tales tend to be children’s songs or nursery rhymes, chants, fingerplays and poetry set to a melody, or other songs that have become well known classics.  Lyrics allow children to explore their language through repeated exposure to words.  Lyrics enable children to experience and celebrate diversity not only of other cultures, but of other singing styles.  Ideas and emotions, both of those of the children and those of the songwriter, are able to be explored through melody and lyrics, combining music with meaning.

Musical tales are useful to demonstrate to children how a book is read in English or Spanish.  As a musical tale is sung, the words can be pointed out to the children by the children’s librarian; the children watch as the words are read from left to right and top to bottom, learning important literary skills (McIntosh et al. 2007; Wiggins 2007).

Musical tales can help children who are attempting to learn.  To learn a song requires practice and memorization, which is essentially the repetition of vocabulary, fine tuning pronunciation and intonation, and reinforcing grammatical and rhyming patterns (Jalongo and Ribblett 1997; Paquette and Reig 2008).  Repetition is essential for children; hearing sounds, words, and phrases over and over is a necessary part of language acquisition, as is learning to recognize those words that make the same sounds and how to manipulate those sounds to create new words (Paquette and Reig 2008).  Vocabulary knowledge is an important precursor to preliteracy for children (Dickinson et al. 2003; Uccelli and Páez 2007).  ELL children with slower vocabulary development are less able to comprehend information at the same level as their monolingual peers (August et al. 2005).  Yet, through repetition, ELL children may overcome their risk of early preliteracy difficulties and not lag as far behind the monolingual children of the same age (Uccelli and Páez 2007).

For instance, in the musical tune In My Face/En mi cara children sing about the different parts of their face while reinforcing their vocabulary skills as they point to the parts of their faces:

In my face, my little round face           En mi cara redondita

I have two eyes and a nose                  Tengo ojos y naríz

I have two ears                                    Tengo orejas

And lots of hair                                    Tengo pelo

And a mouth                                        Y una boca

Here’s how it goes (blow kisses).        Pa’ hacer así (sopla besos).   

Additional examples of musical tales that reinforce repetition and vocabulary skills are Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice which helps children to learn the months of the year through catchy rhymes and song; Eric Carle’s Today is Monday which allows children to explore the days of the week through song; Bill Martin’s Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 which encourages children to rhythmically chant their numbers.

In Over in the Meadow/Allá en la pradera by Olive Wadsworth, children are not only able to sing about animals, but they describe what sounds animals can make in English and in Spanish.  Animal sounds are very different in English versus Spanish; children will delight in their differences.  For example, in Spanish a sheep says ‘be be’ but in English it says ‘baa, baa’; in Spanish a rooster says ‘kikiri, kí’ whereas in English it sayscockadoodledoo’.  In the musical tale Come and See My Farm/Vengan a ver mi granja children are able to play with different animals sounds while improving their vocabulary skills:

Come and see my farm, it is lovely. Come and see my farm, it is lovely.  

The cow, the cow says this: moo, moo


Oh, come my friends

Come my friends

Come and see my farm.

Come my friends

Come my friends

Come and see my farm.



The sheep, the sheep says this: baa, baa

The duck, the duck says this: quack, quack

The chicks, the chicks say this: cheep, cheep

The rooster, the rooster says this: cockadoodledoo

The pig, the pig says this: oink, oink

Vengan a ver mi granja que es hermosa.Vengan a ver mi granja que es Hermosa 

La vaca, la vaca hace así:  mu, mu


O, vengan amigos

Vengan amigos

Vengan amigos, vengan.

Vengan amigos

Vengan amigos

Vengan amigos, vengan


La oveja, la oveja hace así:  be, be

El pato, el pato hace así:  cuá, cuá

Los pollitos, los pollitos hacen así: pío, pío

El gallo, el gallo hace así:  kikiri, kí

El cerdo, el cerdo hace así:  oinc, oinc.

Rhythm and Musical Tales

Children are able to experience language not only through lyrics, but through rhythm as well.  Good readers require good rhythm.  As rhythmic chant is emphasized through musical tales, children are learning to become rhythmic readers. Children spontaneously respond to rhythm, thereby almost naturally learning volume, tempo, duration, and percussive pitch.  Clapping, nodding, and/or walking to the beat, playing rhythm instruments, and chanting all allow children to anticipate patterns both in rhythm and in language (Hurwitz et al. 1975).

Rhythmic chanting is an especially powerful tool for ELL children.  When a children’s librarian chants a musical tale, the children are able to focus solely on the words and rhythm, without having to navigate a tune, making it possible for children to participate almost immediately in the music (Paquette and Reig 2008).

Movement to rhythmic musical tales encourages both large and small motor development through creative physical movement.  Creating a safe environment that encourages physical movement and expression can help the children maintain attention and retention while learning their preliteracy skills.  For instance, if the children are only able to sit down on the story carpet during storytime, they might have difficulty focusing on what the children’s librarian is doing.  Encouraging them to move, to get off the storytime carpet, and to participate in a group captivates the children and allows their minds to be more receptive to what is being taught.  And, once a child feels at ease with rhythm and movement, they will be able to demonstrate the kind of thinking, action, and interaction that embraces the multifaceted nature of active learning.

For example, in this cumulative musical tale Juanito cuando baila/ When Little Johnny Dances the child is taught to first move his finger in rhythm.  As the song is sung a second time, the child is to move his foot and then his finger.  These movements continue to gradually get more and more complicated as the song is sung repeatedly to include moving the knee, hip, hand, elbow, shoulder, and finally the head:

Juanito cuando baila,                    When Little Johnny dances

Baila, baila, baila,                         Dances, dances, dance.

Juanito cuando baila,                    When Little Johnny dances

Baila con el dedito,                       He dances with his finger (MOVE THE FINGER)

Con el dedito, ito, ito                     With his finger, inger, inger

Así baila Juanito. And that is how he dances.

Juanito cuando baila,                    When Little Johnny dances

Baila, baila, baila,                         Dances, dances, dance.

Juanito cuando baila,                    When Little Johnny dances

Baila con el pie,                            He dances with his foot

Con el pie, pie, pie…                     With his foot, foot, foot… (MOVE THE FOOT)

Con el dedito, ito, ito                     With his finger, inger, inger (MOVE THE FINGER)

Así baila Juanito. And that is how he dances.

OTROS VERSOS:                         OTHER VERSES:

Con la rodilla, illa, illa… With his knee, knee, knee… (MOVE THE KNEE)

Con la cadera, era, era… With his hip, hip, hip… (MOVE THE HIP)

Con la mano, ano, ano… With his hand, hand, hand (MOVE THE HAND)

Con el codo, odo, odo… With his elbow, elbow, elbow (MOVE THE ELBOW)

Con el hombro, ombro, ombro… With his shoulder, older, older… (MOVE THE SHOULDER)

Con la cabeza, eza, eza…             With his head, head, head… (MOVE THE HEAD)

Or as an alternative, the musical tale Ring Around the Rosie/ Juguemos en la fronda encourages children to hold hands to form a circle and walk together:

Ring around the rosie,                         Juguemos en la fronda (WALK IN CIRCLE)

A pocket full of posie,                          Cantemos una ronda

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.            Baila, baila, ¡siéntate! (FALL DOWN)

The cows are in the meadow               Las vacas en el prado (PRETEND TO EAT)

Eating buttercups                                Comiendo el fardo

Ashes, ashes, we all stand up!             Canta, canta, ¡párate! (STAND UP)

If a child does not participate with the group, the circle is broken.  Thus, children are naturally encouraged by their peers in order to move together and make the musical tale work.  Children learn to work cooperatively, to share the same space – not bumping or crashing into each other, and to develop confidence, social bonds, and self-esteem as they see their creative expressions having value and being accepted (Jalongo and Ribblett 1997; Kirmani 2007).

Woody Guthrie’s song, Let’s Go Ridin’ in My Car/Vamos en mi carro, is a fantastic example of how to get children to participate while sitting down in their ‘vehicle’.  Prior to singing the song, the children’s librarian should ask the children:

  • Can you show me how to drive a car? (Make a motion of turning a steering wheel)
    • ¿Puedes mostrarme cómo manejar un carro?
  • Can you fly a plane?               (Make a motion of wings in the air)
    • ¿Puedes volar un avión?
  • Can you ride on a train?  (Make a motion of a train chug, chug, chugging)
    • ¿Puedes viajar en tren?
  • Well great, then you can sing with me!
    • ¡ Fantastico, entonces puedes cantar conmigo!

Asking these questions prior to singing the musical tale allows the children to feel confident that they know the movements and allows them to anticipate what is going to happen throughout the duration of the musical tale.

Let’s go ridin’ in my car, car                          Vamos en mi carro

Let’s go ridin’ in my car, car                          Vamos en mi carro

Let’s go ridin’ in my car, car                          Vamos en mi carro

Let’s go ridin’ in my car.                                 Vamos en mi carro

Let’s go flyin’ in my plane, plane                    Vamos en mi avión

Let’s go flyin’ in my plane, plane                    Vamos en mi avión

Let’s go flyin’ in my plane, plane                    Vamos en mi avión

Let’s go flyin’ in my plane.                              Vamos en mi avión

Let’s go chuggin’ in my train, train                 Vamos en mi tren, tren

Let’s go chuggin’ in my train, train                 Vamos en mi tren, tren

Let’s go chuggin’ in my train, train                 Vamos en mi tren, tren

Let’s go chuggin’ in my train.                         Vamos en mi tren.

Establishing a sense of rhythm through movement and using percussive instruments (e.g., shakers, maracas, drums, jingle bells, etc.) can be done through musical tales as well.  To sing Al tambor/The Drum, the children’s librarian should bring out several drums and pass them out to various children in the group.  Throughout the musical tale, the children should be encouraged to experiment and play with the drum while singing.  Each time the musical tale is completed, have each child with a drum pass it to another child.  When this musical tale is done successfully, the children will have learned to share and work cooperatively by passing the drum around their group until every child gets a turn with a drum.  If the children are unwilling to share, the musical tale cannot continue and the group’s interaction becomes broken until the child learns to share.

The drum, the drum                                        Al tambor, al tambor

The drum of happiness                                    Al tambor de alegria

I hope that you will share with me                  Yo quiero que tú me lleves

The drum of happiness.                                   Al tambor de alegria.

Combining lyric recognition and movement may be encouraged through the singing of Chocolate.  Before starting, create four differently-colored, cardstock signs and write one syllable — CHO, CO, LA, and TE — on each sign.  Give each sign to four different children and have them hold up their syllable each time it is sung in the song.  Before starting the song, make sure each child without a sign has their imaginary spoon/cuchara and bowl/tazón ready to ‘use’ so that they are ready to ‘mix’ up their chocolate!

Uno, dos, tres CHO Hold up the ‘CHO’ sign

Uno, dos, tres CO Hold up the ‘CO’ sign

Uno, dos, tres LA Hold up the ‘LA’ sign

Uno, dos, tres TE Hold up the ‘TE’ sign


Chocolate, chocolate, baté, baté chocolate. Have the children stir their large bowl

Chocolate, chocolate, baté, baté chocolate.

However, simply doing an occasional musical tale or music-oriented program will not lead to the positive preliteracy results for children as suggested by research.  Thus, the subsequent section describes how a librarian may take their knowledge of music and preliteracy practices and create an engaging program that will assist ELL children with their language and preliteracy development using the musical tale.


To make a difference in a child’s preliteracy development and musical appreciation, a daily long-term (at least seven months duration), musical tale program would be the most beneficial.  Children are not going to improve their language or reading skills through music, nor will they have a true understanding of these skills, without participating in a more rigorous musical program (Barwick et al. 1989; Butzlaff 2000; Lamb and Gregory 1993; Riding and Simmons 1989; Stuart-Hamilton 1986).   The level of preliteracy and musical education that children have prior to kindergarten will influence their academic performance, both in kindergarten and throughout elementary school (Dickinson et al. 2003; Riding and Simmons 1989; Turan and Gül 2008).  In addition, the children who have had musical training are far better at verbal (oral) recall than those that have not had musical training (Anvari et al. 2002).  Both public libraries and school libraries could be excellent venues for a musical tale program in order to support preschools and the educational system as a whole.

Realistically, it is unlikely that a public library would be able to maintain a daily musical tale program due to other programming requirements, time limitations, and spatial constraints.  More problematically, parents/caregivers are unlikely to be unable to commit to bringing their children to the public library on a daily basis.  When a child’s ability to participate in a daily, long-term musical tale program is dependent on whether a parent has time to bring them to the library or not, the possibility of offering a musical tale program on a weekly basis becomes far more realistic, both for the public library and for parents/caregivers.

It is far more likely that an elementary school would be able to offer a daily musical tale program as the children are already present, the program could be offered in a classroom, and the program could easily be adapted to fit any curriculum requirements the school might have.

Five Musical Steps towards Preliteracy

The structure of a basic musical tale program is very simple – it is made up of songs, chants, and rhymes chosen by the children’s librarian combined with musical tales.  At the onset of the program, it is important for the children’s librarian to select musical tales and other songs that are familiar to the children, only interspersing one or two new, unfamiliar songs into the program.  Then, as the newer songs are learned by the children, additional untried or less recognizable songs could be added to the repertoire.  As long as a program is fun and exciting, the children will want to come and participate; their learning will follow naturally.

Parental participation is beneficial, and even essential; the children’s librarian should encourage parents to come and participate with their children in the musical tale program as much as possible – even if they are unable to speak English and/or Spanish.  In addition, the children’s librarian should send bilingual lyrics, including pronunciation, home with the parents/caregivers whenever possible.  Sending home the lyrics will allow the parents not only to participate during the musical tale program when they are able to attend, but will enable them to sing and reinforce the songs with their children at home, outside of the official musical tale program.

The use of a musical tale within a musical tale program could be implemented through five steps:

1. Sing the same musical tale daily until the children become comfortable with it.  Repeatedly singing a song will bring about phonological awareness.  The musical tale should be lyrically and melodically repetitive, short, and simple.  For the sake of future discussion, we will use the musical tale The Itsy Bitsy Spider/La araña pequinita:

The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout              La araña pequinita subió, subió, subió

Down came the rain and washed the spider out         Vino la lluvia y se la llevó

Out came the sun and washed away the rain              Salió el sol y todo lo secó

And the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.       Y la araña pequinita subió, subió, subió.

  • Encourage the children to sing along as the children’s librarian points to the words on each page, allowing the children to use their visual, aural, and oral skills.

In this manner children are able to get a general concept of what the words look like (word recognition) while imitating the children’s librarian.

  • As the children become more comfortable with the musical tale through constant repetition start to leave key words out and let the children fill in the blanks.

The itsy bitsy spider went up the water ______           La araña pequinita subió, subió, ______

The itsy bitsy ______ went up the water spout            La ______ pequinita subió, subió, subió

2. Begin to experiment with basic musical concepts by adjusting the singing style of the group during the musical tale. Many basic musical concepts are common adjectives, used daily on the playground, which could be further incorporated to teach about basic learning concepts:


  • soft vs. loud
  • suave v. fuerte (Spanish)
  • piano v. forte (Italian)


  • fast vs. slow
  • rápido v. lento (Spanish)
  • allegro v. largo (Italian)


  • high vs. low
  • tono alto v. tono bajo (Spanish)
  • acuta v. sottovoce (Italian)
  • Start the musical tale at higher or lower on the musical scale.  Initially make sure that the tonal change is obvious, even extreme, until the children truly comprehend the concept of tonal variation.
  • Use the appropriate musical terms.  While musical terms are typically in Italian, they can be comforting to ELL children as many Italian words are very similar to, or identical to, the Spanish words.

3. Write the musical tale title and lyrics down on paper, cardstock, or dry erase board, etc.

  • Have the children attempt to identify the letters of the sounds they are singing.  The children’s librarian should pronounce and name the letters as the children try to identify them.

Creating an integrated curriculum that incorporates reading, writing, and song exposes children to the fact that the words they are singing are similar to the words they see around them every day.  Words are not just read or sung in a book, but can form together to become a sentence or paragraph, thereby having meaning.  This seemingly simple concept is actually a step forward for children with regards to their reading development.  Again referring to The Itsy Bitsy Spider / La araña pequinita:

  • Ask the children to look carefully at the title of their musical tale.
  • Ask them which word is spider or araña.
  • How do they know?
  • Are they sure?

It is most common for children to see the first letter in a word, such as the ‘s’ in spider or the ‘a’ in araña.  Make the sounds of the other letters in the word spider and araña and have the children imitate these sounds.

4. Begin to sound out each word by syllables.

  • Encourage the children to echo-clap or clap each syllable.
  • Begin to accent certain syllables, according to their pronunciation, by clapping louder for accented syllables and quieter for those which are not emphasized.

5. Print each word from the musical tale onto cardstock squares, similar to flash cards.

  • Help the children sound out letters; removing the words from their context or illustrations might be difficult for the children initially.
  • Help them to discover that individual words have meaning, even when taken out of a sentence.
  • Mix up the words.  Play a game to help children recognize the words out of context.  After the words have been replaced in order by the children, string the flash card words together again.  Once the musical tale is reconstructed, it can be displayed on the walls in the area of the program.
  • Continue to pick and choose strong nouns or verbs out of the musical tale until the children are able to consistently recognize more and more words.

As the children learn to recognize words from their musical tale, they will discover that these words can be found in other musical tales as well.

Of course, The Itsy Bitsy Spider / La araña pequinita used in this five-step process would only be one of many musical tales sung throughout a long-term musical tale program, as it would be important not to focus too much on one specific musical tale.  Once the children are comfortable with one musical tale, a second one may be chosen and the five-step process begun anew.

Bilingual Programming Alternatives

It may not be possible or realistic to implement a daily musical tale program into your library’s programming; other types of bilingual programming may be more acceptable or realistic.  Consider doing the musical tale program on a weekly basis, rather than a daily basis – the preliteracy benefits of this format might not be as significant; however the children (and parents/caregivers) still will learn and benefit.

Below is a list of additional suggestions for programming that incorporate music with visual art, multicultural literature, writing, and dancing/acting.  Just as music is a wonderful tool to use in order to help children with the various facets of language:  listening, speaking, memorizing, reading, and writing, it is also an inherently creative activity, so it relates well to other creative activities, such as visual art, multicultural literature, creative writing, and dance/drama.  These cross-curricular programming alternatives for incorporating music and musical themes range from the simple to the more complex, thereby accommodating your scheduling needs:

Through Music

  • Play music and invite children to illustrate what they hear
  • Create a shelf of CDs/DVDs from all over world in order to represent different cultures and languages (not necessarily just in English or Spanish)
  • Expose children to multiple musical genres
  • Play music that demonstrates a feeling – ask the children to describe how the music makes them feel
  • Use different musical instruments – let children experiment and make noise just for the sake of making noise
  • Have durable musical instruments available for the children to play and/or check out
  • Encourage children to sing and hum not only during programming, but at home, too
  • Ask children discovery questions: How is music part of our lives?  Does a sink make music?  What about a vacuum cleaner?  What sound does the rain make?
  • Read a book about a composer and listen to that composer’s music.  Have the children create their own music that imitate the composer or create music that evokes similar feelings
  • Translate some musical tale books from English into Spanish that are currently unavailable – make sure that the rhythm of the translation matches that of the English
  • Translate some musical tale books that are only available in Spanish into English – make sure that the rhythm of the translation matches that of Spanish
  • Have musicians come in to perform, talk to the children, and support what you are doing – parents and/or professionals

Through Visual Art

  • Use books with illustrations that depict what is going on – talk to the children about the images and how they work together with the words to create meaning
  • Listen to a bit of music (from different genres) and use different artistic media to create pictures.  What colors will they choose?  Why?
  • Create masks, puppets, or musical instruments that would go well with the music being sung in the program so the children conduct their own program at home
  • Choose a strong noun and have the children draw what that word means to them.  Post the images on a wall in a special ‘Word of the Week’ area
  • Have visual artists come to display their art, talk to the children, and support what you are doing

Through Multicultural Literature

  • Have a shelf of readily accessible multicultural books available to the children for reading or to borrow
  • Emphasize English and Spanish musical tales, poetry and folklore – poetry and folklore are often easy to write songs for
  • Create a quiet reading corner where multicultural music can be played while the children are reading
  • When appropriate, encourage children to talk about situations in their lives that are similar to what is being experienced in the multicultural books and musical tales
  • Have multicultural authors and illustrators come talk to the children and support what you are doing

Through Creative Writing

  • Create a ‘Word Wall’ with all the vocabulary words that the children have learned through the program
  • Make up songs for lists of spelling words, math facts, names of states, a new tune for the ABCs, etc.
  • Post words from lyrics – practice print, cursive, and calligraphy
  • Use lined poster paper to create a song chart of all the songs titles children have learned during a period of time in programming
  • Create a rebus song sheet to help children remember more difficult songs
  • Have writers and poets come talk to the children and support what you are doing

Through Dance/Drama

  • Use puppets to let the children act out the song lyrics
  • Act or dance out a song, incorporate percussive instruments into the song
  • Use a song that the children are comfortable with and change its setting
  • Have dancers and actors come to perform, talk to the children, and support what you are doing


Children’s librarians can alter the direction of a child’s educational career with musical tale programming.  When children listen, sing, interact, experiment, and create, they are developing important building blocks of knowledge that they will use when reading and writing.   Through daily, long-term musical tale programming children are able to enhance their reading skills, facilitating the development of simple concepts, memory, basic vocabulary, reading comprehension, and eventual fluency.  The preliteracy skills gained throughout musical tale program are especially beneficial for ELL children, those who are already entering the U.S. school system at a linguistic deficit.

This chapter concludes with a list of suggested web resources, musical tales, and CDs that should be helpful to children librarians and educators interested in creating their own bilingual musical programming.


Websites are a highly informative tool for creating musical programs for children. Not only is it possible to get current information that is updated regularly, but song lyrics are readily accessible and often linked with midi audio files.  It is no longer necessary to have to read music in order to learn the tune, one can quickly and conveniently listen to the song on the internet in order to learn the melody.

Children’s Music Web. “Resources for Teachers.”

Educational Media Collection and the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh. “Music for Children

of All Ages.”

ESL Partyland. “Teaching ESL with Music.”

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the National Institutes of Health

(NIH), and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). “Young and Young

at Heart.”

National Storytelling Network. “National Storytelling Network: Connecting People to and

through Storytelling.”

Songs for Teaching. “Songs for Teaching: The Definitive Source for Educational Music.”


Ada, Alma Flor, F. Isabel Campoy, and Vivi Escriva. Merry Navidad! Christmas Carols in

Spanish and English/Villancicos en español e inglés. New York: Rayo, 2007.

Ada, Alma Flor, F. Isabel Campoy, Alice Shertle, and Vivi Escriva. ¡Pío Peep! Rimas

tradicionales en español: Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes. New York:

HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.

Adams, Pam. Old MacDonald Had a Farm. UK: Child’s Play International, 1978.

Beaton, Clare. Clare Beaton’s Mrs. Moon: Lullabies for Bedtime with Lullaby CD. New York:

Barefoot Books, 2003.

–. Clare Beaton’s Mother Goose Remembers with Singalong CD. New York: Barefoot Books,     2006.

Beaton, Clare and Tessa Strickland. Clare Beaton’s Playtime Rhymes for Little People with CD.

New York: Barefoot Books, 2008.

Cabrera, Jane. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe. New York: Holiday House, 2009.

Carle, Eric. Today is Monday. New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1997.

Christelow, Eileen. Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed/Cinco monitos brincando en la

cama. New York: Scholastic, 1989.

Corr, Christopher and Javier Mendoza. El mundo con CD. New York: Barefoot Books, 2008.

Corr, Christopher and Fred Penner. Whole World with Singalong CD. New York: Barefoot

Books, 2007.

Delacre, Lulu. Arroz con leche: Popular Songs and Rhymes from South America. New York:

Scholastic, 1992.

–. Arrorró mi niño: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games. New York: Lee & Low Books, 2004.

Ellwand, David. Ten in the Bed: A Counting Book. New York: Handprint Books, 2000.

Engle, Christina and SteveSongs. Knick Knack Paddy Whack with Singalong CD. New York:

Barefoot Books, 2008.

Fatus, Sophie and Fred Penner. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush with CD. New York:

Barefoot Books, 2007.

Frazee, Marla. Hush Little Baby: A Folk Song with Pictures. New York: Harcourt Children’s

Books, 1999.

Griego, Margot C., Betsy L. Bucks, Sharon S. Gilbert, Laurel H. Kimball, and Barbara Cooney.

Tortillitas para mamá and Other Nursery Rhymes. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and

Winston, 1981.

Hale, Sarah Josepha and Salley Mavor. Mary Had a Little Lamb. New York: Orchard Books,


Hall, Nancy Abraham, Jill Syverson Stork, and Kay Chorao. Los pollitos dicen/The Baby Chicks

Sing. New York: Little, Brown, & Company, 1994.

Hinojosa, Tish and Lucia Angela Perez. Cada niño/Every Child. Texas: Cinco Puntos Press,


Hort, Lenny and G. Brian Karas. The Seals on the Bus. New York: Henry Holt and Company,


Jaramillo, Nelly Palacio and Elivia. Las nanas de abuelita/Grandmother’s Nursery Rhymes. New

York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996.

Krauss, Ruth and Mary Blair. I Can Fly. New York: Random House, 1951.

Kubler, Annie. Row, Row, Row Your Boat. UK: Children’s Play International, 2003.

Lewis, E.B. This Little Light of Mine. New York: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing,


Martin, Jr., Bill, John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  New York:

Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 1989.

Martin, Jr., Bill, Michael Sampson, and Lois Ehlert. Chicka Chicka 123. New York: Simon &

Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2004.

Mayo, Diana. The House that Jack Built. New York: Barefoot Books, 2001.

McQuinn, Anna and Sophie Fatus. If You’re Happy and You Know It. New York: Barefoot

Books, 2009.

Ormerod, Jan and Lindsey Gardiner. Over in the Clover. New York: Barron’s Educational Series,


Orozco, José-Luis and Elisa Kleven. De colores and Other Latin American Folk Songs for

Children. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1999.

–. Diez deditos and Other Play Rhymes and Action Songs from Latin America. New York:            Puffin, 2002.

Owen, Ann and Sandra. D’Antonio. Las ruedas del camión/The Wheels on the Bus. Minnesota:

Picture Window Books, 2006.

Peek, Merle. ¡Dénse vuelta! Una canción de cuentas/Roll Over! A Counting Song. New York:

Clarion Books, 2008.

Raffi and David Allender. Shake My Sillies Out. New York: Crown Books for Young Readers,


Rockwell, Anne. El toro pinto and Other Songs in Spanish. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Rosen, Michael and Helen Oxenbury. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. New York: Margaret K.

McElderry, 1989.

Saport, Linda. All the Pretty Little Horses. Australia: Sandpiper, 2005.

Sendak, Maurice. Chicken Soup with Rice. New York: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 1990.

Taback, Simms. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. New York: Penguin Group,


Trapani, Iza. Jingle Bells. Massachusetts: Charlesbridge Publishing, 2005.

Wadsworth, Olive A. and Anna Vojtech Over in the Meadow/Allá en la pradera. New York:

North South Books, 2002.

Weiss, George David, Bob Thiele, and Ashley Bryan, What a Wonderful World.  New York:

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1995.

Winter, Jeanette. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. New York: Red Wagon Books, 2000.

Zaritzky, Bernard and Joan Paley. Little White Duck. New York: Little, Brown and Young

Readers, 2000.


Anaya, Jorge. “A bailar! Canciones infantiles/Let’s Dance! Spanish Learning Songs”,

Whistlefritz, 2009.

Barchas, Susan. “Piñata! & More! Bilingual Songs for Children”, High Haven Music, 1997.

Bilingual Beginnings. “Children’s Nursery Rhyme Songs in Spanish/Canciones infantiles para

niños en español”, Bilingual Beginnings, 2004.

Buckwheat Zydeco. “Choo Choo Boogaloo”, Music Little People, 1994.

“A Child’s Collection of Folk Music”, Music for Little People, 1996.

“For the Kids”, Nettwerk Records, 2002.

Guthrie, Woody. “Songs To Grow On For Mother And Child”, Smithsonian/Folkways, 1992.

Hinojosa, Tish. “Cada niño, Every Child: A Bilingual Album for Kids”, Rounder Kids, 1996.

Jenkins, Ella. “You Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song”, Smithsonian/Folkways, 1992.

Johnson, Jack. “Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George”, Umvd Labels, 2006.

Jordan, Sara. “Bilingual Songs, Volumes 1-4”, Sara Jordan, 2002.

“Latin Lullaby”, Ellipsis Arts, 1998.

Ledbetter, Huddie (Leadbelly). “Sings for Children”, Smithsonian/Folkways, 1999.

Marley, Ziggy. “Family Time”, Tuff Gong Worldwide, 2009.

Martita/De Jerez/Rojas. “Songs in Spanish for Children”, Sony Special Product, 1995.

Raffi. “The Singable Songs Collection”, Rounder/PGD, 1996.

Seeger, Pete. “Song and Playtime with Pete Seeger”, Smithsonian/Folkways, 2001.

[SOUNDTRACK] “Muévete: Learning Spanish through Song and Movement”, Spanish

Playtime, 2005.

Sweet Honey on the Rock. “All for Freedom”, Music for Little People, 1992.

They Must Be Giants. “Here Come the ABCs”, Disney Sound, 2005.

They Must Be Giants. “Here Come the 123s”, Disney Sound, 2008.


Anvari, Sima H., Laurel J. Trainor, Jennifer Woodside, and Betty Ann Levy. “Relations Among

Musical Skills, Phonological Processing, and Early Reading Ability in Preschool

Children.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 83, no. 2 (October 2002): 111-130.

August, Diane, Maria Carlo, Cheryl Dressler, and Catherine Snow.  “The Critical Role of

Vocabulary Development for English Language Learners.” Learning Disabilities

Research & Practice (Blackwell Publishing Limited) 20, no. 1 (February 2005): 50-57.

Barwick, Julia, Elizabeth Valentine, Robert West, John Wilding. “Relations Between Reading

and Musical Abilities.” British Journal of Educational Psychology 59, (June 1989): 253-


Bolduc, Jonathan. “Effects of a Music Programme on Kindergartners’ Phonological Awareness

Skills.” International Journal of Music Education 27, no. 1 (February 2009): 37-47.

Butzlaff, Ron. “Can Music Be Used to Teach Reading?” Journal of Aesthetic Education 34, no.

3/4 (Autumn – Winter 2000): 167-178.

Dickinson, David K., Allyssa McCabe, Louisa Anastasopoulos, Ellen S. Peisner-Feinberg, and

Michele D. Poe. “The Comprehensive Language Approach to Early Preliteracy: The

Interrelationships among Vocabulary, Phonological Sensitivity, and Print Knowledge

Among Preschool-Aged Children.” Journal of Educational Psychology 95, no. 3

(September 2003): p 465–481.

Favila, Alejandra, Guillermina Yáñez, Jorge Bernal, Juan Silva, Erzsebet Marosi, Mario

Rodríguez, and Thalia Fernández. “La conciencia y la memoria fonológicas son factores

predictores del nivel de lectura y escritura alcanzado en niños de primer grado de

primaria.” Revista Mexicana de Psicología 16, no. 1 (June 1999): 57-63.

Hammer, Carol Scheffner, Frank R. Lawrence, and Adele W. Miccio. “Bilingual Children’s

Language Abilities and Early Reading Outcomes in Head Start and Kindergarten.”

Language, Speech, & Hearing Services in Schools 38, no. 3 (July 2007): 237-248.

Hansen, Dee and Elaine Bernstorf. “Linking Music Learning To Reading Instruction.” Music

Educators Journal 88, no. 5 (March 2002): 17-21, 52.

Herrera, Lucía, Sylvia Defior, and Oswaldo Lorenzo. “Interventión educativa en conciencia

fonológica en niños prelectores de lengua materna española y tamazight. Comparación de

dos programas de entrenamiento.” Infancia y Aprendizaje 30, no. 1 (2007): 39-54.

Hurwitz, Irving, Peter H. Wolff, Barrie D. Bortnick, and Klara Kokas. “Nonmusical Effects of

the Kodaly Music Curriculum in Primary Grade Children.” Journal of Learning

Disabilities 8, no. 3 (March 1975): 45-51.

Jalongo, Mary Renck and Deborah McDonald Ribblett. “Using Song Picture Books to Support

Emergent Preliteracy.” Childhood Education 74, no. 1 (Fall 1997): 15-23.

Kirmani, Mubina Hassanali. “Empowering Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Children and

Families.” Young Children 62, no. 6 (November 2007): 94-98.

Lamb, Susannah J. and Andrew H. Gregory. “The Relationship Between Music and Reading in

Beginning Readers.” Educational Psychology 13, no. 1 (March 1993): 19-27.

Lindsey, Kim A., Franklin R. Manis, and Caroline E. Bailey. “Prediction of First-Grade Reading

in Spanish-Speaking English-Language Learners.” Journal of Educational Psychology

95, no. 3 (September 2003): 482-494.

McCardle, Peggy, Joan Mele-McCarthy, Laurie Cutting, Kathleen Leos, and Tim D’Emilio.

“Learning Disabilities in English Language Learners: Identifying the Issues.” Learning

Disabilities Research & Practice (Blackwell Publishing Limited) 20, no. 1 (February

2005): 1-5.

McIntosh, Beth, Sharon Crosbie, Alison Holm, and Barbara Dodd. “Enhancing the Phonological

Awareness and Language Skills of Socially Disadvantaged Preschoolers: An

Interdisciplinary Programme.” Child Language Teaching and Therapy 23, no. 3 (October

2007): 267-286.

Páez, Mariela M., Patton O. Tabors, and Lisa M. López. “Dual Language and Preliteracy

Development of Spanish-speaking Preschool Children”.  Journal of Applied

Developmental Psychology 28, no. 2 (March 2007): 85-102.

Paquette, Kelli R. and Sue A. Rieg. “Using Music to Support the Preliteracy Development of

Young English Language Learners.” Early Childhood Education Journal 36, no. 3

(December 2008): 227-232.

Riding, R.J. and L. Simmons. “Instruction in Pre-Reading Skills in Preschool Children and Its

Effect on the Subsequent Rate of Reading Attainment.” Educational Psychology 9, no. 3

(1989): 247-252.

Stuart-Hamilton, Ian. “The Role of Phonemic Awareness in the Reading Style of Beginning

Readers.” British Journal of Educational Psychology 56, no. 3 (1986): 271-285.

Trehub, Sandra E. “Musical Predisposition in Infancy.” Annals of the New York Academy of

Sciences 930 (June 2001): 1-16.

Turan, Figen and Gözde Gül. “Early Precursor of Reading: Acquisition of Phonological

Awareness Skills.” Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice 8, no. 1 (January 2008):


Uccelli, Paola and Mariela M. Páez. “Narrative and Vocabulary Development of Bilingual

Children from Kindergarten to First Grade: Developmental Changes and Associations

Among English and Spanish Skills.” Language, Speech, & Hearing Services in Schools

38, no. 3 (July 2007): 225-236.

U.S. Census Bureau. “Population Estimates: National Sex, Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin:

2008.” (cited

December 09, 2009).

Wiggins, Donna Gwyn. “Pre-K Music and the Emergent Reader: Promoting Preliteracy in a Music-

Enhanced Environment.” Early Childhood Education Journal 35, no. 1 (August 2007):


Yopp, Hallie Kay and Ruth Helen Yopp. “Phonological Awareness Is Child’s Play!” Young

Children 64, no. 1 (January 2009): 12-18.

[1] As the focus of this textbook is on serving Latino children, the term ELL (English Language Learner) will refer to Latinos learning English.


[2] For the sake of clarity throughout this chapter, the term bilingual will be defined as the ability to speak both English and Spanish.

[3] For the sake of clarity in this chapter, the term monolingual will refer to those that only speak English.

[4] It is presumed that the musical tale will be performed bilingually whenever possible.