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The Role of Nursery Rhymes in Language Development

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  • Bambino Mio
  • 23 / 10 / 2023


As a child, you almost certainly enjoyed singing nursery rhymes at home and at school. Songs which involved actions and gestures, such as “Incy Wincy Spider” and "Wind the Bobbin Up" were probably firm favourites with everyone.


While you sat happily singing, you probably thought you were just having a good time, but you were also learning and developing your language skills (while having fun, of course).


There’s a reason why nursery rhymes are popular the world over - they help babies and young children to acquire the language and social skills they’ll need for life.


What are nursery rhymes?

Nursery rhymes are simple traditional songs, poems or counting songs aimed at younger children - hence the nursery part of the name.


These songs and poems have been handed down over many generations, although there are often newer ones coming into circulation to keep pace with modern life.


What’s so important about nursery rhymes?

Nursery rhymes, poems and lullabies are a sociable, relaxing and easy way to help children to acquire and develop language and literacy. Rhymes and songs with accompanying actions also help with physical development and coordination.


Rhymes are also useful because you can introduce them to your baby as soon as - or even before - they’re born. 


The role of nursery rhymes in language development

There are lots of benefits to using nursery rhymes with your child and here are just seven.


Nursery rhymes help with speech development

Singing and listening to nursery rhymes helps children to develop and hone their auditory skills. Listening to the same song over and over helps babies and children to recognise and learn the sounds involved in speech and, in time, start to repeat them.


The repetition involved in most nursery rhymes reinforces this development because each time they hear the song your child will have several chances to pick up each sound and word.


Nursery rhymes aid cognitive development

Repetition is vital for kids (1) to pick up language as many words have similar sounds and so repeating them helps your child to sort and remember them.


Nursery rhymes help to broaden your child’s vocabulary

Listening to and singing nursery rhymes introduces new words to your child, words they might not hear daily otherwise. This is important for their vocabulary as they grow and learning new words also helps their listening and comprehension skills.


Songs and rhymes also typically have a beginning, a middle and an end, which helps with learning sequencing and sequenced instructions.


Nursery rhymes help with reading

Although your child is listening to rhymes at first, they help with future reading. There’s a link between children’s early experience of and exposure to nursery rhymes and their phonological skills (2) later on in childhood. Strong phonological skills are important when it comes to learning to read - singing and listening to rhymes is priming your child’s brain for better reading and comprehension.


Nursery rhymes improve your child’s social and communication skills

Songs and rhymes help to develop your child’s social and communication skills because they can teach them simple lessons and scenarios. 


Rhymes involving actions and group participation are invaluable too because they encourage cooperation, turn taking and coordination, which in turn improves physical and social confidence.


Rhymes can help with physical development

Lots of songs and nursery rhymes involve dances, actions and gestures which all help to improve gross and fine motor skills as well as physical strength and coordination.


“Incy Wincy Spider”, for example, gets children putting their fingers together as Incy Wincy climbs up the spout. “If You’re Happy and You Know It” has the children clapping, stamping, touching their noses and lots of other actions.


Nursery Rhymes help to foster creativity

Nursery rhymes spark imagination as children picture Humpty Dumpty falling or the animals in Old MacDonald’s Farm. Learning rhymes also helps children to create their own songs, so it pays to go along with “Wind the gobbin up” for the hundredth time as it’s your child learning and developing!


Citations and References

(1) Journal Of Childhood Studies. ‘More Than Words: Using Nursery Rhymes and Songs to Support Domains of Child Development.’ 2017. Web. www.researchgate.net/publication/321639663_More_Than_Words_Using_Nursery_Rhymes_and_Songs_to_Support_Domains_of_Child_Development

(2) Cambridge University Press. ‘Nursery Rhymes, Phonological Skills and Reading.’ 2009. Web. www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-child-language/article/abs/nursery-rhymes-phonological-skills-and-reading