Literacy Focus – Nursery Rhymes

Why should I read nursery rhymes with my child? Why recite these nonsense songs together?

Fundamentally nursery rhymes help children to experience and appreciate rhythm and rhyme and thus developing an understanding of the sounds, words and structure of the English language.

Its importance and a few top tips can be read below taken from Letters and Sounds Primary National Strategy 2007.

It is important for children to experience a rich repertoire of poems, rhymes and songs. They need to build a stock of rhymes through hearing them repeated in different contexts. Parents and carers play a valuable role in developing this repertoire of rhymes. For EAL children, hearing rhymes in their home language, as well as English, is highly important. For my own children who hear both English and French at home it has supported their vocabulary, sentence structure and enjoyment of both languages.

For children learning EAL, songs and rhymes are a particularly effective way to remember whole sentences and phrases by tuning into the rhythm that accompanies them. This in itself is good practice for developing the speech patterns of the language; it is also important to attach meaning and ensure that contexts are understood. Children learning EAL often internalise chunks of language and may not hear where one word starts and another ends.  They may continue to use many of these chunks of language for some time before they begin to segment the speech stream in order to use the constituent words in new contexts. This is definitely true of my youngest son. He sings the sounds patterns of rhymes as he hasn’t yet singled out the specific words but it is a recognisable tune.

Encouraging nonsense rhymes is a good way for children to begin to generate and produce rhyme. While a child is developing speech sounds the normal immaturities in their speech may mean their version of a word is different from that of the adults in the setting (e.g. the adult prompts with You shall have a fish on a little…and the child joins in with dit). The adult then repeats back the correct articulation, ‘dish’. 

When children experiment with nonsense rhymes they are not confined by their own learned versions of words and so can tune into and produce rhyming patterns. We play the “Rhyming Soup” game in the car on long journeys – it is amazing what real and nonsense words you can come up with and helps pass the time stuck on the motorway! 

Collecting a set of objects or producing pictures of objects with rhyming names can be time-consuming but is valuable in building the experience of rhyme into children’s play. A set of cards from a commercially available rhyming lotto set can prove to be a versatile resource for many different activities. Lots of items you will have around the house, most probably items such as a animals, crockery, cutlery, small world people and dolls.

 Generating rhymes is a difficult skill to master. Where the children do manage to fill in with the target rhyming word, congratulate them on having done so and draw attention to the rhyming pattern. When children can supply a list of rhyming words and non-words, after being given a start, they can be considered to be well on the way to grasping rhyme (e.g. adult says cat, mat, sat…and the child continues fat, pat, mat, rat). 

How to share rhymes with your child

  • Sing the song in a rhythmic pattern – don’t worry about your singing voice, it is your voice they want to hear.
  • Keep the songs slow so you can emphasise the rhyming patterns.
  • If looking at a book or pictures, point to specific vocabulary as you are reading, for example in “Incy Wincy Spider” point to the ‘spout’, model the direction of ‘out’.
  • Use actions and gestures to accompany the rhymes – the movement and actions help children remember and internalise the rhymes even before they can speak.
  • Link rhymes to everyday routines and actions  for example you could sing “Twinkle Twinkle” at night time, “Jack and Jill” when walking up the hills in Watton, “Hickory Dickory Dock” when you talk about time, see the clock on the church tower or “Here we go round the mulberry bush” when getting dressed in the morning or evening.

Playing with Nursery Rhymes at home

Row, Row Your Boat

Row, row, row your boat Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream. 

Row, row, row your boat Gently down the stream. If you see a crocodile, don’t forget to scream

Row, row, row your boat Gently to the shore. If you see a lion,

Don’t forget to roar. 

Row, row, row your boat Gently down the river. If you see a polar bear,

Don’t forget to shiver.

Use a toy boat, a blue piece of paper or fabric and a selection of toy animals to sing along with (lion, polar bear, and crocodile)

Pat a cake 

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man, Bake me a cake as fast as you can. Roll it, and prick it, and mark it with a “B” And put it in the oven for Baby and me!

Provide dough, cake cases, cutters and candles to make cakes with – you could put on magnetic letters such /B/ or have a go and mark making the letter sound. You can always change the letter to match your own name or others.

Old MacDonald Had a Farm

Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O. And on his farm he had a cow, E-I-E-I-O. With a moo, moo here and a moo, moo there,

Here a moo, there a moo,

Everywhere a moo-moo, Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O. 

Repeat with other animals – pigs, goats, ducks, sheep etc

A great song to sing when playing with small world farm animals or on a visit to a farm.

Little Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet Eating her curds and whey;

Along came a spider,

Who sat down beside her And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Sing this when playing with a doll, bowls and spoons. Supplement with a toy spider – you can always draw or make a spider if you don’t have a toy one.

If your child has a particular interest you may find an associated rhyme in a book or online. I found some non-traditional fire engine rhymes in English and French for my 2 year old son who loves fire engines at the moment, by doing a google search.

Useful links to take things further

An A to Z of nursery rhymes

Nursery Rhyme Birthday Party Ideas

Nursery Rhyme crafts

If you want to make something a bit different – Poetry in a Box

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