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Silly Songs, Fun Activities Lead to Reading Success in Young Learners

Have you ever had a silly children’s song stuck in your head?  While they can be completely irksome to adults and often are the most insidious of earworms, many of them actually serve an important purpose for our littlest learners.

I like to eat, eat, eat, apples and bananas!

I like to ate, ate, ate, ay-ples and bay-nay-nays!

I like to eat, eat, eat, eeples and bee-nee-nees!

I like to ite, ite, ite, eye-ples and bi-nye-nyes!

I like to oat, oat, oat, oh-ples and bo-no-nos!

In this example, students aren’t just singing about eating a healthy snack, they’re actually practicing an important skill called phonemic awareness — the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds that make up words.  Phonemic awareness is a subskill of phonological awareness, which is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate sounds and chunks of sounds in words.  In the song, the students are changing the individual vowel sounds in the words eat, apples, and bananas.

There’s a good reason why parents should tolerate and even encourage this type of activity in their young learners, from preschool to first grade. Research indicates that students who have strong phonological awareness (and therefore, phonemic awareness) are less likely to struggle with learning to read.

So, back to the song, students who are changing the short a in apples to a long o sound are demonstrating phonemic awareness. And the song helped them to do that.

Sounds, Words and Reading

Identifying rhyming words, counting syllables, changing the first sound of a word to make a new word are all examples of phonological awareness.

For instance, students who can answer the following questions are demonstrating phonemic awareness:

  • Say the word dog. What is the first sound in dog?
  • What is the middle sound in dog?
  • What is the last sound in dog?
  • Change the middle sound to ug, and what is the new word?

Here’s another activity:

  • Say the words dog, frog, cat, and hog. Which word doesn’t belong?
  • Put the words butter and fly together- what’s the new word?
  • How many syllables are in the word refrigerator?
  • What is the first sound in the word bread?
  • How many sounds are in the word fish?


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Kristen Kinney-Haines

Kristen Kinney-Haines is director of primary literacy for K12. She has worked with the company's Phonics and Language Arts programs since 2001. Dr. Kinney-Haines is responsible for the creation and development of MARK12 Reading, K12's first remedial product, as well the second generation of K-2 Language Arts and Phonics. Previously, she taught kindergarten and first grade in Upstate New York and Special Education in Northern Virginia. Dr. Kinney-Haines holds a bachelor of science degree in Education from the State University of New York at Geneseo, a master's degree in Reading from Nazareth College, and a doctorate of education in Curriculum and Instruction from The George Washington University.

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