The Power of Nursery Rhymes


We all want our children to read but, as parents, we aren’t thinking about teaching them to read when they are newborns. However, this is when and where it all starts. I think we can all agree literacy is important, but do we truly realize the astounding impact silly little rhymes by Mother Goose can have on children?

power of nursery rhymes for reading in Birmingham, Alabama
Image courtesy of Crystal Sing from corelens

“Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.” — Reading Magic, Mem Fox (2001)

After teaching kindergarten for nine years, I find that reciting and singing nursery rhymes is one of the earliest and simplest things you can do with your little one. Nursery rhymes are short – short enough to memorize. Even some of the youngest kiddos (I mean little bitty!) can recite and sing them. Just because your baby or toddler doesn’t have the oral language to recite them with you yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t learning and gaining skills.

Babies have what Dr. Montessori calls an absorbent mind. Children from birth to six years old have an absorbent mind where they take in information effortlessly. Children from birth to three years old take in information unconsciously. Wow, no pressure though, right?

In honor of National Reading Month and the importance of encouraging daily reading for children of all ages, let’s look at the benefits of nursery rhymes.

Nursery rhymes begin a love of reading

A reader isn’t made in kindergarten or in school. A reader is made in the lap of a parent. Parents are a child’s first teacher, and nursery rhymes open the door to avid reading. There are so many ways to foster a love of reading in children, but nursery rhymes are a great place to start. If you are looking for easy ways promote reading at home try having your child see you read (magazines, newspapers, books – literally anything!), make reading active and kinesthetic, read in the car (an audiobook is reading), or simply just read to them. The biggest predictor of reading success in hearing a fluent reader read.

Nursery rhymes help to build early oral language and speech development

Nursery rhymes help children to hear the different sounds of language. By singing nursery rhymes, parents teach children to articulate words, and practice pitch, volume, and rhythm. In addition, you can try starting the rhyme and having them finish, like this: “Twinkle twinkle little _____, how I wonder what you _____.”

Nursery rhymes help to develop the ear

Nursery rhymes establish pitch memory and intervals. This helps the development of the ear. Interestingly enough, researchers believe that ear development has the most to do with pitch and the ability to sing. And pitch doesn’t necessarily correlate to music. Pitch is the ability to hear the highness or lowness of sound, which we need for spoken words, not just singing.

Nursery rhymes build vocabulary

Does anyone call a bucket a “pail” anymore? Would my daughter know the word “caper” if we didn’t sing “Jack and Jill?” I highly doubt it! The rich vocabulary in nursery rhymes exposes children to words they don’t come across in everyday life. Therefore, children can gain a robust vocabulary from little miss Mother Goose herself.

Nursery rhymes foster creativity

The sing-songy tune of nursery rhymes lends itself to making your own rhymes, poems, or songs. In our house, we love to make up rhymes and songs to what we are doing. As we are going down the stairs, we will sing, “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s down the stairs we go!” Furthermore, you can also add in sign language or motions to the words. Movement can help with memory recall and is a great strategy to use for little one’s memorization.

And lastly, nursery rhymes are FUN! 

Just have fun singing and playing with your child. After all, play is the work of childhood! It is NEVER too early (or too late) to start reading nursery rhymes with your little (or big!) one. Download a free nursery rhyme pack to get you started.

Happy Reading!

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Kelsey F
Kelsey has lived in Birmingham for more than a decade. She attended the University of Montevallo and graduated with a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 2013. She taught kindergarten for nine years, received her master's degree in library science from Jacksonville State University in 2019, and is now currently an elementary librarian in the greater Birmingham area serving students preschool through sixth grade. Kelsey lives in Hoover with her husband of seven years and rambunctious (but oh so sweet) two-year-old daughter. In her free time, Kelsey's hobbies include reading, writing, teaching, learning, and creating educational resources for parents and teachers. Educating parents on how to teach their little ones, specifically through play and hands-on learning, is a passion near and dear to Kelsey. She is a lover of life-long learning, and she enjoys sharing her education expertise and craft with others on social media. Connect with her on Instagram at @thegoldenthumbprint.


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