The importance of nursery rhymes

Have you heard the old Woody Guthrie song “Grassy Grass Grass”? It starts off “Grassy grass grass, Tree tree tree, Leafy leaf, leaf, One two three.”

You can hear Pickles doing that line here:


Yes, Pickles has started reciting the poem. A lot. Whenever we go outside, eating breakfast, in the car. Sometimes I’ll hear him just singing it to himself in bed. He has it stuck in his head and so consequently it is also stuck in the heads of the rest of the family.

When he was learning to speak, Pickles’ emerging language came in rhyme patterns.

“Cat” “That”
“Duck” “Truck”

I don’t know enough about typical language development to know if this is what usually happens, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Kids seem to have that ability to pick up rhythm and rhyme. They are naturally drawn to it. So many children’s books are written in rhyme. You can read about some of our favourites in The Reading Corner.

And then there are nursery rhymes.

Knowledge of nursery rhymes in very young children has been shown to be a predictor of success in a whole range of skills that are developed later on, such as reading and spelling.

If you think about it, if you can have an even basic understanding that duck rhymes with truck, you also have a basic understanding that words are made up of different sounds. Tr-uck. D-uck. So two completely different words might have similarities in their component parts.

Of course, your two year old reciting Humpty Dumpty is not going to be considering any of this. Nor should they. Two is a time for play. But you are laying these foundations for later.

In a 1989 study, Bryant, Bradley, Maclean and Crossland wrote:

“All in all, our results have shown a powerful and lasting connection between the children’s early knowledge of nursery rhymes and aspects of their linguistic development later on. The nursery rhyme scores are connected to the development of phonological sensitivity over the next two to three years and, through that sensitivity, are linked to the children’s success in learning to read and spell as well.” (pp. 426-427)

So, you may have noticed that I’ve done a bit of reading on this topic. I know, I’m a big nerd, but I find it so interesting!

Here are some things I have learned:

1. A fun way to introduce your child to rhymes is to invent your own. Use words that your child already knows so they can join in even for parts. So, when Pickles was saying “Duck, duck, duck, truck truck, truck” I used to say this rhyme to him in the car when we saw a truck. He loved it.

Duck truck

2. When you are reading a rhyming book that you have read a few times, leave space for your child to complete the end of the rhyme. This will become their favourite part of the book! The more you can involve your child in reading, the better.

3. Add music to your nursery rhymes. Try this one.

Hickory dickory dock

4. Play around with rhymes. When we arrive home, I’ll often say some variant of the “To market, to market to buy a fat pig, home again, home again jiggety jig” rhyme. Today for instance I said “Home again, home again sniggety snig”. Pickles immediately picked it up. “Silly old Mummy! You said the wrong words!” Despite being called silly and old, I loved it. This is exactly what I want him to start being able to pick up.

5. Add movement to your nursery rhymes. Try this one.

humpty dumpty
As with any activities you are doing with your kids, only persevere if they’re enjoying it. Childhood is about fun! The best thing about music, books, and nursery rhymes is that they can be a lot of fun too.

If you’re a nerd too, you can find these journal articles (and many more!) online:

PE Bryant, L Bradley, M. Maclean and J Crossland, “Nursery Rhymes, Phonological Skills and Reading” Journal of Child LanguageΒ (1989) July, p.p. 407-428.

Jonathan Bolduc and Pascal Lefebvre, “Using Nursery Rhymes to Foster Phonological and Musical Processing Skills in Kindergarteners” Creative Education (2012) Vol 3 No. 4, 495-502.

Advice From The Heart
Little Hearts, Big Love

11 thoughts on “The importance of nursery rhymes

  1. This is brilliant. My son has very few words but something he says is, ‘tick tock’ from the rhyme. I also love the sometimes gruesome history behind the rhymes #fromtheheart

    1. Yes! I love it too! It’s funny that you say them over and over as a kid without really thinking about them and then there comes a point in your life when you realise exactly what you’re saying!

    1. There are so many rhymes it’s easy to forget them. I had a new nursery rhyme cd playing in my car today and I kept thinking “oh yeah! I forgot about that one!” πŸ™‚

  2. I love all of these tips. Nursery rhymes are a firm favourite here and we love singing them together. I also make up different words and songs for doing various activities – the girls especially love their own individual drying off songs going through all the different areas we are drying off and they finish off the lines when I leave pauses. So lovely to hear Pickles reading the Grass Grass Grass poem – thank you for sharing it with #ftmob πŸ™‚
    Louise (Little Hearts, Big Love) recently posted…How Christmas on the cardiac ward taught me to be thankfulMy Profile

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