Without signposts and clues to meaning, the brain shuts down. With help along the way, the brain can do amazing things as it learns to organize and acquire language.
Music and literacy are two of my favorite topics, and today I am proud to feature a new video and interview by a Grammy nominated Kindie rock veteran who just released an album that reinforces the link between the two.
A new Illinois Reading Ambassador, Ralph Covert of Ralph’s World has been rockin’ kids’ (and parents’) worlds for over 10 years. Throughout his career, he has produced 10 original records, authored 4 children’s books (he is currently working on his first chapter book!) and has been featured on Disney TV.
While so much of Ralph’s World’s material has an educational component, his latest release, Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads!, focuses on literacy. Specifically, the significant role rhythm and music plays in the development of language and skills that lead to a child’s ability to read. Our family first learned about Ralph’s World while listening to his rendition of “The Ants Go Marching” on the Old Town School of Folk Music compilation, Songs for Wiggleworms, and proceeded to completely wear out his first record, Ralph’s World, among many others.
The following video premiere for “Follow the Leader and Dance” offers kids an opportunity to get their bodies moving while they are learning. In true Ralph’s World fashion, it’s fun!
Be sure to read on for some insightful thoughts Ralph shares about the role music plays in the development of language, how literacy is integrated into Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads!, and how his son inspired the creation of the album’s special packaging.
Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads! delivers twelve songs from his Ralph’s World Rocks! album, three from his published children’s books, and three new, original songs. The album’s special packaging also includes a 15-page picture book version of his song “Do the Math.”
You can find Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads! through the Ralph’s World store.
KCG: What was your inspiration for this album?
RC: I’ve always been a big believer in how music can help earlier readers. I was very excited when the Ralph’s World Rocks book came out, because I saw how it could help kids who loved Ralph’s World songs bridge the gap to decoding the written word since they would know the songs already by heart. The Ralph’s World Rocks & Reads! CD was the fulfillment of that vision — those songs, plus all the others embodied in books based on my songs, all gathered together for the benefit of the kids and their parents with a specific focus on helping parents work with their young readers.
KCG: Have you always factored literacy into your creative/songwriting process?
RC: I have incorporated literacy in my songs, but usually in an oblique manner. I’ve always been a fan of what I term “subversive learning,” that is, lessons that are masked by the fun. “Tickle The Tiger” off the very first Ralph’s World album is based on alliteration, and we published lessons plans about how to capitalize on the song in the classroom, for example. “The Rhyming Circus” utilizes many different acrobatic uses of rhyme. Is it fun? Is it silly? Is it poetically informative? Yes, on all counts, but, more importantly, can you dance and sing along? Absolutely, and so the lessons follow subconsciously.
KCG: How do you feel music aids in literacy?
RC: In many ways. Familiarity with the words one is reading (whether from knowing a song, having heard the words read out loud many times, or anticipating them because of meter and rhyme) all help earlier readers more easily decode the written word. I know from my own experience learning foreign languages that without signposts and clues to meaning, the brain shuts down. With help along the way, the brain can do amazing things as it learns to organize and acquire language.
KCG: Does rhythm factor into aiding children’s ability to pick up on language, i.e. the beat sets the pace for example?
RC: Yes, also even more importantly, the ability to understand the rhythms in music aids in the ability to decipher where one word ends and the next begins. That is a fundamental building block of rhythm in language.
KCG: You have written picture books. Does that creative process differ from your songwriting process?
RC: It is very different. Songs are much more driven by the constraints of the melody and the song structure. Picture books are constrained by the what can be communicated conceptually within the images contained on a given page, and even more by the need to condense the written word to the most precise words needed to tell the story. An early reader (and their adult companion reading a given book) are not well served by too many words cluttering the page and slowing down the experience of reading a book. “Quick, clean, and clear” are the essential guide words for the writer of a picture book.
KCG: What were some of your early learning experiences with regard to reading and music?
RC: I was a passionate reader and a passionate lover of music from as early as I remember. That said, I have no memory of my pre-school experiences with either. Somehow, whatever my parents provided must have worked! Given the era, I’m sure it was far more happenstance and random than the opportunities forced upon children today. Kids are resilient, so I’m sure they’ll survive anything — even Ralph’s World!
KCG: What are some ways for parents to enjoy music with their children while reinforcing literacy/reading?
RC: Read, read, read! Sing, sing, sing! Dance, dance, dance! If your kids see you’re having fun and engaging with them, they’ll crave more. So… have fun with it! Don’t read boring books, read fun books. Share it and celebrate it! One of the things I’m most proud about with Ralph’s World is that the parents seem to love it as much as the kids do — that’s awesome, because it means the parents are modeling fun. How cool is that? Well… cooler than cool. The end becomes the means. Victory in parenthood! Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-dum-dum-da! Victory march!! (Am I getting carried away here?) I can’t emphasize this enough.
KCG: The style of “Follow the Leader” is call-and-response. How does this format lend itself to learning, language development and literacy?
RC: Call and response is a primal musical form. It’s fundamental to the communication that music inspires. Learning is all about response and repetition, both of which help lay the groundwork for language development and literacy. (That being said, let’s be honest — that song is about dancing and having fun! And who are we kidding?! The real purpose behind the song is that it has the hidden message that it’s okay to be shy, but that by reaching out and participating you can find friends and have fun. But who’s keeping score here, anyway?) No, really, it helps reading, too!!!
KCG: Can you share some experiences you’ve had with your own children with regard to music and literacy?
RC: In our household, music is everywhere, so it’s hard to pick specific examples of what has influenced what. One specific experience definitely shaped the Ralph’s World Rocks & Reads CD — when Rita created the original prototype of the Do The Math book that is included in the CD packaging, our 6-year-old, Jude, read and re-read it until he had literally destroyed that first copy from overuse! He was familiar with the song, and as a result was very proud of how well he was able to read the book. He also loved doing all the math problems included later in the story. His positive reaction to the book confirmed our initial idea that including it would be a unique and positive addition to the CD, and also gave Rita the idea of binding it in with the CD packaging so that hopefully parents would have a sturdier and more book-like book that would last longer than the prototype! Also, we really enjoyed the meta-humor that a CD collection of songs which had been included in books was in and of itself designed not only to look like a book, but to include an actual book inside.
KCG: What was your inspiration for the production of this video?
RC: Regarding the “Follow The Leader And Dance” song, the inspiration for including a song like it featuring dancing kids goes back ten years or so to the Say Hello DVD released by our first kids label. I noticed every time kids put on the DVD that instead of watching TV passively, they would stand up and begin dancing along with and imitating the kids on the screen. This was one of the elements that was important for us to include in the pilot. Other key parts of each episode of the show are musical learning opportunities (both musical styles and music literacy), meeting historical figures (but in a conversational, human way), and social lessons (like learning team-work and sharing.)
KCG: Do you have any updates on your TV pilot Time Machine Guitar?
While we have not yet secured a network home for the show, we are continuing to pursue options both for creating a first season of full length episodes as well as exploring short form variations that can allow us to develop an audience and create the show independently. The entire first season has been written, and all of the puppets have been created and built. It will be an exciting journey either way, and we hope to have at least some short form pieces to share in 2016.