The Importance of Using Nursery Rhymes to Learn Language

By Erica Loop
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Nursery rhymes are more than simple sing-song baby tales. These rhythmic stories are like lyrical poetry to young children. From helping them to learn new vocabulary words to understanding concepts such as sound matching and syllables, you can use nursery rhymes to help your little one gain the language skills that she’ll need as she develops and moves on into the grade school years.

Later Literacy

Reading nursery rhymes to your baby or young child doesn’t just help him develop language skills right now, but could benefit him in the long-term, according to the journal, "CELLreviews." Early exposure to rhymes may later help your child distinguish sounds and letters in print, and encourage him to become an emergent reader. If you don’t see an immediate benefit while reading or singing rhymes with your child, don’t give up right away. What he’s hearing and repeating now is preparing him for the day when he’s ready to read, write and construct sentences on his own.

Disabilities and Rhymes

Nursery rhymes have a positive effect on the average child's literacy level, but they also have been shown to help children who have disabilities. When used as an educational intervention, children with a variety of developmental disorders were better able to build language skills, according to a meta-analysis in the journal "CELLreviews." For example, reading a sing-song rhyme such as Jack and Jill or Little Miss Muffet can make it easier for a child who is struggling to speak, read or use basic linguistic skills to overcome some of the barriers to literacy.

Phonological Awareness

The abilities to hear distinct sounds, blend them and understand the parts of words are all part of the child's developing phonological awareness. Listening to and reciting nursery rhymes can help children preschool age and younger to build phonological abilities. In a 2011 study in the "Journal of Language and Literacy Education," preschoolers who were exposed to an intervention using rhymes showed a greater awareness of sound patterns and an increased ability to pick out parts of words.

Vocabulary Builder

Reciting nursery rhymes with your little learner can help to build her vocabulary, according to early childhood consultant Pam Schiller in her article "Songs and Rhymes as a Springboard to Literacy" in Earlychildhood News. Your child learns to say and comprehend new words through the use of rhymes. Schiller also notes that parents and educators can change words in traditional rhymes, replacing them with different and more advanced vocabulary. For example, instead of just saying that Jack and Jill "went" up the hill, swap out "went" for "sprang," "sprinted" or "journeyed."

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.