Great rhymers, make great readers… The importance of nursery rhymes for children

Songs and rhymes are a cornerstone of language development, positive interaction and early learning in childhood. Some of your earliest memories may be of a family member or friend singing with you to ‘Round and Round the Garden’ or ‘Two Little Dickie Birds’. This is because from before we are born, our ears tune in to the rhythms and sounds of language. The sound of your mother’s heartbeat was the first rhythm you knew.

As young children hear and practice rhymes and songs, they tune in to the rhythm of language in sounds, words and phrases. They also hear and practice inflection, pitch and facial expression. Most importantly, this fundamental learning happens in a fun and positive way between children and adults.

In early infancy, nursery rhymes and songs pave the way for language, learning and communication. When we sing songs and rhymes with young children we are letting them hear repetitive lines and listen to the sounds of language. Babies are learning to look at faces and interpret meaning in facial expression. They are also learning to listen and begin to anticipate sounds and actions. Babies will often move their arms and legs in enjoyment, look intently at us or make sounds while we sing rhymes and songs. These are their signals to us, letting us know they are happy and keen to get involved.  By

  • Going slowly
  • Using actions
  • Getting face to face at a baby’s level

you can help your child to get involved in songs and rhymes.

As children grow, nursery rhymes continue to be a key source of interaction and learning between children and adults. Nursery rhymes have been proven to be hugely important from a variety of language development perspectives as they:

  • Expose children to vocabulary they might not usually hear e.g. ‘fetching a pail of water’
  • Often tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. This teaches children that events happen in sequence, and they begin to learn how to understand and follow stories.
  • They have familiar patterns and they help children to learn easy recall and memorisation.

Toddlers and young children continue to benefit from and enjoy nursery rhymes as they get bigger.

Nursery rhymes use patterns and repetitive structures, so children begin to learn simple maths skills as they recite them. Many rhymes also use numbers, counting, and other maths words that children need to learn, such as size and weight.

Research has shown that awareness of rhyme and the ability to sing songs and rhymes positively supports children’s language development and early literacy and reading skills. The saying ‘great rhymers, make great readers’ holds true considering the range of essential communication and language skills children learn through rhymes and song. 

Article provided by: Eibhlin Walsh, Speech and Language Therapist, Little Voices – ABC Start Right & HSE Mid-West Speech and Language Therapy Department.