I Believe in Music
By Pam Leo, Family Literacy Activist

Literacy begins at birth. Talking, reading and singing are three things that strengthen the parent-child bond. They are also the very things that babies need to one day learn to read.

Today, 60% of America’s children are arriving at kindergarten lacking critical language and reading readiness skills. In response to this crisis, Portland’s Starting Strong, funded by a grant from the United Way and supported by community partners, is empowering parents and caregivers of babies and young children by implementing the Too Small To Fail initiative, Talking is Teaching,Talk, Read, Sing.This initiative is a public awareness and action campaign that seeks to raise awareness about the vital importance of fostering early brain and vocabulary development through talking, reading and singing with babies and young children. The campaign provides information and resources to help parents and caregivers “to make small moments big by creating opportunities for meaningful interactions anytime, anywhere.”

We are truly our children’s first and most important teachers. It’s the songs we sing with our children, conversations we have with them and the books we read with them that create the literacy rich environment that grows them into readers. The more music we listen to, songs we sing, books we read and conversations we have in our every day interactions with babies and young children, the more we create the fertile ground needed to grow their capacity to learn.
Next to getting books into the homes of all children, the mission of Book Fairy Pantry Project is to share early literacy resources with parents, caregivers and teachers. Not every parent, caregiver or teacher feels confident singing with children. Singing used to be part of every school day in kindergarten, now many children only get to sing once a week, in music class. Singing is such a joyful, easy way for children to get the rhythm, rhyme and repetition they need to learn to read. Our babies and young children need us to bring singing back into their daily lives.

To help us do that, I offer three resources to help us with Talk, Read, Sing: a book, a website and a creatress. The book resource is, Bookworm Babies, by Kimberly Zimmer Aulenback and Dawn Ohanisn Tringas.
These authors combine Talk with Read by introducing us to “conversational” reading, or having conversations about what we are reading. They cite 20 popular children’s books with ideas for how to have conversations about each book. I’ve always said that reading books to babies gives us something to talk to them about and this book shows us how.
The website resource is the best early childhood, free music and literacy resource I know of, meet my friend and literacy-through-music colleague, Nancy Stewart (https://singwithourkids.com). Nancy is on the West Coast, but we have access to all her amazing music resources. They are free to download from her website. It is a goldmine for early childhood and kindergarten teachers.
The creatress resource is Maine’s own, Amanda Parkhurst. She is best known to children in the Greater Portland area as, Amanda Panda. Amanda created Music and Magic Maine to provide instruments and creative opportunities to children in Maine. Amanda has vast experience as a performer, a creatress of festival events and as an early childhood music educator. She even teaches children (and grownups) how to create their own songs!
When fate put Amanda Panda next to the Book Fairy at an event and I heard her music and saw the way children and parents responded to her music magic, I knew we needed to collaborate. I call Amanda Maine’s female Raffi. Those of you who know what a Raffi fan I am, know that is high praise indeed! Why do I call her that? Because of the Raffi-like respect she gives to every child in her audience, the way she delights in sharing her music and the brilliance with which she puts new words to familiar tunes. This approach makes it so easy for parents and grandparents to join in the singing. I always leave Amanda’s events singing her songs and enjoying her CD on the ride home. Check out Amanda Panda Music here https://amandapandamusic.com and on Facebook for upcoming classes and family music events.

We have the resources to bring music back into our children’s daily lives, at home, at childcare and at school. When children are happy they spontaneously sing. I don’t know any young children who think they can’t sing. I can barely carry a tune, I mostly sing in the car and I’ve still only learned 2 chords on my ukulele, but singing makes me happy and the children don’t mind at all; in fact, they love it. Let’s do this!

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new poem, Please Read To Me. Her enduring love of children's books, her passion for literacy, and her commitment to empowering parents, are combined in her new role as the founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project, whose mission is "No Child With No Books," because "Books change children's lives... For good."