Does your little one enjoy nursery rhymes? The benefits of your child listening to, singing along and following actions with nursery rhymes are greater than you may have ever realised.
Research shows children who know at least eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they are four years old have stronger literacy skills later in primary school than those who don’t. But, apart from memorization, how do nursery rhymes help develop a strong foundation for a child’s literacy skills?
Listening to and singing along with nursery rhymes support children’s language development. A child hears a wide variety of vocabulary, including many words they otherwise may not hear very often these days – when was the last time you used the words tuffet or stout? Singing along to the lyrics is not only an opportunity to develop oral speech and articulation, but it uses both the left and right sides of the brain. The left side of the brain is used to decode the lyrics whilst the right side focuses on the melody.
Listening to nursery rhymes sparks a child’s imagination and encourages them to paint a picture in their mind. This skill of making a mental image is important for later literacy. Good readers make a mental image, as do good writers. Other skills a child gains from nursery rhymes which help them with further reading and writing include an understanding of phonics and rhymes. Many nursery rhymes also contain more advanced language convention, such as repetition, alliteration (repetition of the same sound, for example “baa baa black sheep”) and onomatopoeia (words which mimic the sound of an object or action, such as the animal noises in Old MacDonald).
Nursery rhymes encourage children to predict or anticipate what is coming next, another essential literacy skill which you can encourage when singing. They are often one of the first experiences a child has with short stories with a ‘beginning, middle and end’, an important concept when reading and comprehending texts or when writing a text themselves.
But nursery rhymes are not only supportive of literacy development. Many nursery rhymes include short counting sequences – think “one, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive”. Nursery rhymes with backwards counting sequences (“five little ducks went out one day…”) are the basics of subtraction.
Singing along together supports your child’s social interaction skills, and following along with actions supports this further. But joining in the actions is also more than simply fun and socialisation. Encouraging your child to dance along or follow the actions develops gross motor skills, balance, rhythm, coordination and spatial awareness.
Want your child to gain these skills and benefits but don’t know where to start? Here are some ideas…
I don’t know any nursery rhymes! Where can I find ideas?
- Look online for lyrics and melodies. You can find lots of nursery rhyme videos on YouTube and there are countless websites out there too. Baby Karaoke is a free app with a combination of traditional nursery rhymes as well as Australian songs for infants and toddlers. This app not only sings the songs, but shows the lyrics across the bottom and plays colorful engaging cartoons to match.
- Visit your local library and borrow some nursery rhyme books. Many of these tell you the melody and actions to match, but your baby won’t know if you’ve made it up on the spot!
- Television shows such as Playschool and The Wiggles sing nursery rhymes and other fun songs. They often sing the same song in deferent episodes, so you and your child will get to know them in no time! Then you can sing them any time you like!
How can I engage my child further?
- Clap along as you sing, this will encourage an understanding of rhythm and musicality.
- Trying to keep your infants attention as they wriggle around when you’re changing them? Trying to keep your child happy in the car? Sing along any time!
- Sing the first part of the line and have your toddler finish it off. This encourages prediction and anticipation as well as rhyme and rhythm skills.
- Dance around and have your child follow the actions, developing motor skills, balance, rhythm, coordination and spatial awareness.
- Dress up as the characters in the nursery rhymes and then sing and dance around.
- Change the words to suit your family. Use your child’s name instead of the name in the nursery rhyme. We love to change the words of ‘This Little Piggy’ to match where we are going and what we are eating that day!
- Have your older child write the lyrics and draw a picture to match.
- Talk about what the words mean, or find out what they mean!
- Encourage your child to make a mental image of the story. “What animals can you see on Old MacDonald’s farm?”, “What is Miss Muffet wearing?”
- Count on your fingers as you count with the song.
How do you share nursery rhymes at home? Comment below to share your ideas.