Early Years · Language and literacy skills

A reason for rhyme

Via daily prompt: Rhyme

In these days of competitive academics, with small children expected to master basic literacy skills at ever younger ages, it is perhaps understandable that traditional nursery rhymes have taken a back seat.

I still remember the illustrated book of nursery rhymes my grandmother gave me when I visited her at the age of two. My mother was in hospital following my sister’s birth, and of course (in those days) my father was at work, so my grandmothers took turns caring for me for a week or so. I’m sure I must have heard certain of the rhymes in the book many times before that week, but family lore says that I had learnt them all by heart before my sister came home.

Today, many (if not all) children will be more familiar with the latest tablet apps than with those old nursery rhymes. I’m not knocking the tech – in recent decades our lives have changed in ways unimagined by all but the sci-fi greats and silicon valley gurus. Nevertheless, many nursery/reception/kindergarten teachers who began their careers before the millennium will agree: fewer children now arrive at school knowing lots of the previously common ditties and songs known collectively as nursery rhymes.

So what?

Well, for one thing, the ability to detect, copy and create rhyme and rhythm is hugely beneficial to the acquisition of early literacy skills. I won’t bore you with the specifics, there’s a whole collection of blogs on the subject here.

The act of chanting and singing rhymes can help with sound production (copying the sounds of language in a more sophisticated adaptation of babies’ natural babbling) and sound detection (making sense of the sounds as words and phrases in a context).

Joyfully sharing a book is like opening the door to a magical land. Few things can demystify the reading process better than familiarity.

Saying, singing and chanting rhymes with small children also encourages looking and listening skills – learning to watch the speaker’s face while listening from an early age can hugely improve listening comprehension skills as well as promoting better understanding of tone of voice or facial expressions.

Later, rhyme and rhythm come into their own for spelling – rhyming can help with learning spelling patterns for writing or decoding unfamiliar words for reading. Rhythm helps with syllabification, making innate the process of knowing all of the syllables for a word have been read or written. For more detail, check out the blogs.

I’m not suggesting that this will be every child’s favourite activity, that it will suit everyone or solve every difficulty, but it’s not hard to do, and if it can make the first steps to school, reading, and writing just a bit easier for most, then it’s certainly worth a try. And it doesn’t have to be those Victorian nursery rhymes, go with songs or raps that you love*, and your kids will love them too.

*and that you’re happy for them to recite at school or for Grandma!

This post is related to lectures designed and delivered to undergraduates studying a module on inclusive practice in early years and to online training sessions forming part of a BDA accredited learning support assistant online training programme.

A collection of posts and infographics related to supporting children’s early academic and physical development can be found here.
More blogs on reading and writing can be found here.
More posts related to early years are here.
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