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Rhythm and Rhyme as Elements of Pre-Reading June 12, 2018

Contributed by Julie Strahan, MA, elementary school music teacher


**This is the second post in a series on essential building blocks of reading**


The Basics

Children of all cultures and languages spontaneously participate in rhythm activities including dancing, jumping rope, and bouncing balls. Reading experts think these movements are essential for development and are strongly associated with literacy.


Children who are able to line up their movements with external sounds and movements show better pre-reading skills than students who can’t match beat patterns. Rap, games, songs, and rhyming books (especially those with even phrases and rhyme pairs) can help build a child’s rhythm awareness.



Breaking it Down

In music education, the beat is the underlying pulse of a song or poem. Rhythm is the way the words or instruments lay on top of the beat. Often, these words are used interchangeably, but they are indeed different. Rhyme is achieved by using phrases of equal length that end with the same phonemes, or word parts. For example, /at/ might come at the end of the second and fourth line of text.



Like many of the books from Cantata Learning, the Classic Fables in Rhythm and Rhyme series helps young children experience rhyme while singing and reading along. The familiar stories from Aesop, which have a teaching “moral” to the story, include new songs and rhyming to increase understanding, engagement, and retention of the song.


The rhythm can be found in the song itself, a catchy tune that makes placement of the words clear. This song, like rap or other poetry, helps children place the word parts into the song in a rhythmic way. I call this using the words in a “pointy” way.


In order to have the word parts fall into the right rhythm, I say they have edges that are pointy and you need to get those words parts out—the words are “sharp” like glass. This description often helps students better understand very specific articulation of words—a key component of rap or spoken word poetry!


Songs, rhymes, a steady beat, and intentional placement of words all help build necessary pre-reading skills for early readers and provide support to emerging and advanced reading.


The moral of the story? Rhythm and rhyme help grow readers!


About the author: Julie Strahan is a mother to 3 young adult children. She and her husband, Frank, live in Minneapolis, MN with their yellow lab, Scout. She now teaches K-5 music in a public school.

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness May 27, 2018

Contributed by Julie Strahan, MA, elementary school music teacher

Phonics and phonemic awareness are related and both are important building blocks for emerging readers – but how do they work? And what can you do to help develop these skills?


The Basics

Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made up of sounds. For example, cat is composed of three sounds: /k/, /a/, /t/. With practice, children learn to assemble phonemes into words and to break words into phonemes.


Phonics is connecting sounds to the letters of the alphabet. Parents, teachers, and librarians can help teach these basic components using songs, instruments, singing games, fingerplays, poems, and stories filled with rhyme.



Breaking it Down

To practice Phonemic Awareness (PA), take a listening walk or a listening rest. Have children listen to all of the sounds around them and note the subtle differences between a fan and a light buzz, a car or a truck. The better they can differentiate sounds, the better they will make distinctions between similar letter sounds.


Make a list of what you heard. A group of kids can hear so many more sounds than you might expect! Then, take a letter sound, like M, and have a “scavenger hunt” looking for items that start with the same sound – microwave, milk, mailbox, Millie the dog, etc. In this phonemic awareness phase, children begin connecting like sounds but don’t actually name the letter used quite yet.


Isolating the end sounds of words is how you create rhymes – think of words that “end the same” as the word “hat”, or another common short word. Encourage young children to come up with a list of words that sound the same – many books and songs by Raffi give predictive rhymes that kids love to be able to guess what will come next based on the sounds!


Cantata Learning books ALWAYS use rhythm, rhyme, and repetition to support emerging reading skills!


Using Music!

The traditional song “Apples and Bananas” can be used at several stages of language development, but in PA, it can be the way to hear the different vowel sounds when inserted into the middle of a word. If you substitute /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/ in the place of the vowel sounds, it creates greater awareness of that middle space.


Phonemes can be easier to identify by repeatedly singing songs like “Frog in the Meadow”, and “Che Che Kooley” (the Ghanaian version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”). Preschoolers love singing about animals and their sounds. Children not yet able to write are able to speak a string of animal sounds, or nonsense sounds, correctly. This, again, helps children understand small parts of words and sounds.


Final Thoughts

Developing phonics is the next step in the reading process. This directly connects the sounds of letter to the physical letter shape. Alphabet books and refrigerator magnets, as well as the ABC song are great reinforcements of the letters. There are many songs and books that connect the letter and the sound, including this one from the Learning Station.


The Alphabet Song from Cantata Learning – part of the Sing-along Songs set


For home practice, help children learn the names of letters. Play the “alphabet game” when on errands or in the car. Have the little ones point out the letter O or E, for example, on signs or license plates as you drive. Once the kids do this well, point out letters in the order of the alphabet!


There is no wrong way to teach children about words and sounds and patterns! Read to them often and provide many opportunities to sing, write, rhyme, and experience WORDS!


I will continue to explore the building blocks of reading in the months to come. If you are interested in my research and sources, please visit my site here.


About the author: Julie Strahan is a mother to 3 young adult children. She and her husband, Frank, live in Minneapolis, MN with their yellow lab, Scout. She now teaches K-5 music in a public school.

5 Summer Strategies for Families to Rock & Read May 27, 2018


Contributed by Shannon McClintock Miller


As we are getting ready for the summer months ahead, we have the opportunity to arm our students with wonderful resources and tools that will prevent the summer slide and keep them reading, learning, and creating. Here are five meaningful and engaging ways to use your favorite Cantata Learning stories and songs… and a little PebbleGo, too!  



• Learn and practice coding together

Students love to code, and this is one skill that we want to make sure our students keep learning about and practicing all year long. With Cantata Learning’s Code It! series, this is something they can learn with their families as they sing along to these four amazing songs. You can sing them at home, outside, on the way to summer camp or a ballgame, and even on vacation.



• Investigate the weather

During the school year, classrooms and libraries track the weather and discuss it every day. Weather is important to talk about at home as well. We want our children to be knowledgeable about the different types of weather, storms, and temperatures, and to become aware of weather around the world.  


Two important weather topics for our younger students are clouds and precipitation. Cantata Learning has a beautiful series called Water All Around Us that includes titles What Kind of Clouds and Types of Precipitation. Not only can families sing and read about the various clouds and precipitation, but they could keep a weather journal, observe the weather and discuss it each day, or even compare similarities and differences with family and friends living in different parts of the country or world.



With its extensive topics about all kinds of weather, the PebbleGo Science database will help kids do their research and discover even more about weather. Parents can even print off the Activity Sheets that come along with each PebbleGo article to create a journal as they learn about lots of different weather topics throughout the summer.  


• Make a story after visiting a zoo or farm

Children love animals. There are wonderful opportunities for learning when visiting zoos and farms. The Classic Fables in Rhyme and Rhythm stories and songs brings different animals to life through graphic style action-packed illustrations telling the stories’ important morals.



The Lion and the Mouse and The Fox and the Grapes are two that children will love singing this summer while finding a lion or fox at the zoo. They can even learn more about them while researching lion, fox and other animals in PebbleGo Animals or Animales.  


After the visit, have them create their own story with paper and art supplies or in the digital storytelling tool, Buncee. They can use the animal stickers and zoo, farm or wildlife backgrounds to create a wonderful digital story to enjoy, read and share. They can even record themselves singing and reading one of the Cantata Learning stories right inside of their Buncee.


• Celebrate special events

It is fun to focus on special events with children. There are two big events each summer, not to mention lots of town and state celebrations. The Holidays in Rhythm and Rhyme series includes stories and songs about the two summer holidays, Memorial Day and Fourth of July. They can sing along to the songs on these special days and share them with family and friends. The songs and stories can become part of these annual events.



Fourth of July and Memorial Day can also be found on PebbleGo.  


• Access Capstone Interactive for FREE All Summer Long

Our friends at Capstone have a very special summer reading opportunity for all students and families. They have made thousands of their eBooks free in Capstone Interactive, including all Cantata Learning titles. Students will be able to read and sing along at home and on-the-go.




You can sign up for this wonderful summer reading opportunity here.  


Enjoy the summer, friends.  I can’t wait to hear stories about your students singing along as they learn, create, and read all summer long!  


Five Ways to Beat the Summer Slide April 17, 2018

Contributed by Julie Strahan, MA, elementary school music teacher

As the days get longer and the spring sports begin, we all know summer is approaching quickly. And with it, the dreaded “summer slide” where children lose important information learned in school during the summer months.

It is hard to imagine a slide when your elated 6-10 year old gets off the bus on the last day of school. With intentional decisions, this time of relaxation and respite can still produce students who are ready to succeed in the fall without delays.




When my children were small, we knew many homeschooling families, and many who sent their children to private schools. I felt I had to justify my selection of an inner-city public school. However, “schooling” for the Strahan kids didn’t end at the doors of our inner-city magnet. Rather, I “all-schooled” my kids, especially in the summer! In addition to our weekly library visits and our read-aloud books at dinner, we went on “field trips” to museums, zoos, and historical sites—as intentional learning experiences.

Most importantly, our summers included the “20/20/20.” This was a daily calendar Monday–Thursday (Friday was field trip day) of 20 minutes of reading, 20 minutes of math, and 20 minutes of instrument playing. While anecdotal, I rarely saw a slip in scores from spring to fall for my children—and I did watch. My children performed well on standardized testing and in academic writing because they had many experiences and gained first hand knowledge of many different things.


Here are five things parents can do all the time, but especially during the summer, to augment learning:


1. Visit the library often, but be prepared.
Read reviews of children’s books that your children might enjoy and either request them or ask the library to order them. Get kids hooked on historical fiction that they love. Use the library’s interlibrary loan system to receive additional books.


While you’re there, sign up for the summer reading program at the library AND at local bookstores. Barnes & Noble gives away free books each year in their reading program.

2. Join the local zoo, or science museum, or history society.
Most of these memberships are reciprocal and will work in other cities and states – providing a free experience when you’re at the baseball tournament out of town. Free passes to some locations are available at the children’s library table—ask!

3. Find a favorite recipe from scratch.
Double or half the recipe and write out the math so the ingredients are correct. Figure out how much it costs to make a boxed cake mix (including 1/12 of a dozen eggs, etc.) versus buying something pre-made or baking without a box. Or make glurch or slime—make more than one variety and compare and contrast the consistency. Revise and try again!

4. Download free educational apps that kids can play as a reward for completing their jobs.
See if your school has a summer subscription to Dreambox or other game-based math and reading practice.

5. Invest in the print variety of a local newspaper, at least on Sundays.
There are comics to read and recreate, word puzzles, crosswords, book reviews, recipes, stories about travel, sports box scores, blueprints of houses, the exchange rates in other countries, and calendars of free and interesting events for the coming week.

We did a lot of cool stuff that we learned this way —the day there was a GI Joe drop from the top of the Federal Reserve bank was certainly memorable. If you read, discussed, and researched all of the items in the Sunday edition, it would take you at least a week to finish!


If you still feel like you don’t have good ideas for what to do, or you have limited resources where you live, why not give Cantata Learning a try? Here’s how ONE Cantata Learning book can provide A WEEK’S WORTH of summer learning adventures:

First, read Engineers Solve Problems: A Song for Budding Scientists out loud and sing the song. Then, read the glossary and talk about the guided reading activities. Now you’re ready to try out the following five ideas:

1. Research what engineers do and what kinds of engineers there are.
Do you know any engineers? Have your children interview them and write a “Breaking News” story about what they do. Make a green screen and read the interview like you are a reporter on the news. Video record the interview so you can watch it again later!


2. Think of all of the ways you could use the word “improve” and find a way to work it into conversation.
That word is in advertising often—make sure to point it out and talk about what the “improvement” is in the product. Think of what the opposite of “improve” would be and find ways to use that word too.

3. Draw a picture of something you would like to build.
What will it do? Does it solve a problem we would have if it weren’t around? Go through the recycling bin and find materials that can be used to create something. Revise and improve your drawing so that your building could be recreated by someone else. Measure your creation and decide the “scale” it would need to be in order to work in real life.

4. Drive through a city or farm and look at the buildings that have been designed and built.
Sketch one or more of these buildings and recreate it at home using Legos or K’nex or wood blocks. Compare your final product with the actual building.


5. Listen to the book’s song many times until you can sing it without reading the words.
Think of how you could “improve” the song to talk about your own design process. Change the words and write them down. Sing or rap them along with the instrumental accompaniment. Once you have practiced a few times, record your new words with the instrumental to show your new song. You could even send it to the author and publisher!


Good luck, and don’t worry! Even small efforts help to grow your precious children in new and exciting ways!


About the author: Julie Strahan is a mother to 3 young adult children. She and her husband, Frank, live in Minneapolis, MN with their yellow lab, Scout. She now teaches K-5 music in a public school.


Cultural Expression Through Music March 20, 2018


Contributed by Elizabeth Draper, Cantata Learning Music Director


Music is a huge component of cultural expression and cultural identity. People and music have been intertwined since the dawn of human evolution. There is evidence that suggests even neanderthals played early forms of musical instruments such as flutes—not just drums and sticks as one might assume. Music serves many functions and needs. It provides various forms of communication, religious and spiritual worship, artistic expression, and community celebration.



When creating music for Cantata Learning books, we strive to represent many different genres, feels, and sounds that stem from a variety of different cultures. And it is important that our producers and recording artists are knowledgeable and authentic in the sound they are creating. I work with a team of extremely talented producers and engineers, who each have their own specialties, as well as a network of recording artists who each have their own strengths and musical and cultural backgrounds.


If I want a song to have a Hip Hop feel, I know I will reach out to a producer who is involved in that culture and community. If I want something with a Central American rhythm, I will reach out to someone with that background. You get the idea.


Even though basically nothing exists within an isolated bubble, there is still a wormhole of knowledge and history associated with any genre or style of music. By making sure the producers we work with have spent time educating and surrounding themselves within the context of the genre they are composing, I am able to ensure a more authentic sound to each Cantata song.


Exposure to a variety of musical styles and genres is an important element of any child’s education and upbringing. Cantata’s songs can be an excellent way to introduce cultural and geographical topics for discussion.



A song with flavors of North and West African influences such as The Swift Gazelle Can Run Quite Well: Grassland Animals, can introduce a discussion about the people who live in various grassland regions all over the globe. An Americana song such as Earth Day features a fiddle player whose style was heavily influenced by Appalachian musical traditions. Music that evolved in Appalachia stemmed from a combination of West African and European (primarily Irish) music evolving together. The song Earth’s Record Breakers has a strong Afro-Caribbean influence. This is a broad term used for musical styles in the Caribbean originating from West and Central African people who were brought to the Caribbean as slaves. More specifically, there are elements of Garifuna music in this song which can lead to many different topics of cultural and geographical discussion.


Music is constantly evolving, and these days, probably more than ever before. Living in the communication age, it’s almost impossible to live within complete isolation without external influence. This became very apparent to me when visiting a remote Karen village in northwestern Thailand. I met a young boy there who was playing a Western guitar and singing a Pink Floyd song in English although he barely spoke English.


You need not even leave your seat to hear a Norwegian band playing Hawaiian music on African/Asian marimbas. Although it pales in comparison to travel and real life experiences, the sounds from around the whole world are just a few clicks away.


With a book in hand, it doesn’t take much to discover more about the musical and cultural roots of a song. Start by Googling the genre. Read articles about key musicians, instruments, and songs. Watch YouTube videos. Talk about the history. Visit the library and check out more books on the topics you discovered.



I always strive to be relevant and honest when creating new music for Cantata. I believe this musical integrity will serve as a window to a variety of different sounds and cultural influence for students who explore our books. It’s my hope that in this way, Cantata Learning will not only support kids’ interest in reading, but toward further musical and cultural exploration as well.