Can you remember how many blackbirds were baked in a pie? Or what the owl and the pussy cat used as wrapping paper? Many nursery rhymes have been around for years, but some statistics say that as many as 1 in 4 of us grown-ups can’t recall ANY nursery rhyme in full. Your child probably comes home from nursery reciting parts of new rhymes, and may even mash several different ones together. This is all part of their supported development and learning, but why are they so important for children?
Nursery rhymes have a number of benefits for your child. Firstly, they offer lots of repetition, where words are revisited several times, often with accompanying actions. This helps to widen children’s vocabulary, so that they are able to use these words in every day interactions. Think about ‘The Wheels on the Bus’; from the repetition, little ones are absorbing the concept of ‘round and round’ for the wheels, ‘open and shut’ for the doors, ‘up and down’ for the children. ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ encourages even the youngest of babblers to attempt the vowel pattern of e-i-e-i-o, or have a go at vocalising the animal sounds.
Nursery rhymes are also a great way for children to be introduced to the concept of rhythm and rhyming words. When listening to and joining in with nursery rhymes, children are developing their auditory discrimination skills; they are listening for words which have similar patterns to them. This then helps them later on at school, where they will use their knowledge of rhyme patterns in words to support their understanding of phonemes in reading and writing.
Many nursery rhymes are rooted in history as well, and may use words which are not as common in children’s everyday language. Think of ‘London’s Burning’, which is about the Great Fire of London, or ‘Ring a ring a roses’ which is about the plague, and introduces words like ‘posies’ to describe a bunch of flowers. The more nursery rhymes a child is exposed to in their life, the greater their vocabulary will be. Children’s early literacy skills are about oral mastery, rather than reading and writing, and research has shown that children who know 8 nursery rhymes off by heart at age 4, are amongst the best at spelling and reading by Year 3.
Nursery rhymes aren’t all about language development either. Many rich mathematical opportunities can be found in common nursery rhymes, with children learning first to count by rote with songs such as ‘1,2,3,4,5 once I caught a fish alive’, before moving on to more challenging concepts such as finding one or two less in songs such as ‘5 Currant Buns in a Bakers Shop’ or ’10 Fat Sausages Sizzling in a Pan’.
Nursery rhymes, therefore, are a huge part of a child’s time at nursery. But by also continuing activities at home, your child’s learning will be further complimented and extended. So what can you do at home? Simply ask your child’s keyperson for a list of nursery rhymes that the children learn in their room. They may even be able to provide you with a copy of the lyrics!
Children who may be more reluctant to join in can be encouraged through giving them choice. Find some objects or pictures which represent certain songs, such as a toy sheep for Baa Baa Black Sheep, or a paper star shape for ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, and allow your child to choose which one they want to listen or join in with.
Already mastered 8 rhymes? When reciting a song, try leaving the rhyming word in a couplet blank, and see if your child can predict a what word should fill it using their rhyming knowledge. Or, encourage their creativity by getting them to make up new nursery rhymes. Perhaps Old MacDonald had a zoo, not a farm. Or maybe instead of there being Wheels on a bus, there are Blades on a Helicopter?!
Aisling Armstrong, Nursery Manager at The Old Station Nursery Houlton