Learning with Nursery Rhymes

By Eleanor Johnson, Early Years Teacher, Creator of StoryPhones

Not Just a Nursery Rhyme!

We all have memories of singing nursery rhymes. Our first experiences will probably have been with our family and then with our teacher at school or nursery. I grew up in the North East of England and was lucky enough to have a grandmother who sang with us and taught us local traditional nursery rhymes. When my own children came along, I sang these nursery rhymes with them too.

It seems almost instinctive to sing and clap with a child. Adults and children have probably been participating in this sort of activity for millennia. However, singing and rhyming with a child has much broader implications than fun and amusement. When you sing and rhyme with a child they are actually gaining a whole raft of important skills without even realising it.
Rhythm and Steady Beat.

Spoken Language consists of patterns and sounds, and songs with a strong rhythm emphasis these. In turn, these songs help to tune a child’s brain into the patterns of spoken language. Favourite rhymes such as ‘Pat a cake, pat a cake baker’s man’ and ‘Rub a dub dub’ have a pronounced beat. Research by educationalists such as Phyllis Weikert have shown that the ability to keep a steady beat is an indication of how well a child will develop future reading skills. You will be able to tap, clap or drum along to many of Storynory’s nursery rhymes.

Makeshift Drums

You can easily turn buckets, plastic plates, and upturned plant pots into makeshift drums so your children can tap along with the nursery rhymes.


Reading and writing build on the foundations of good speech and language skills. Before a child begins to learn letter sounds or read words they need to develop a good sense of sound or phonological awareness. Sound awareness enables children to hear the elements in a word such as syllables, for example ‘el/e/phant’ and letter sounds or phonemes such as ‘c’ at the beginning of cat. The ability to hear these sounds eventually allow a child to work out that c-a-t becomes cat.

Words often come in families such as bat, cat and sat. Once children are aware of these word patterns, it makes it easier for a child to read an unfamiliar word. Joining in with nursery rhymes naturally tunes children’s brains into rhyming patterns.

Finish the Line

When your child becomes familiar with some of the nursery rhymes, you can pause the track just before the end of a line and ask your child to finish the sentence with the correct rhyming word. Once your child understands the concept of rhyming, you can encourage them to find alternative rhyming words.

Finger Action and Motor Skills

Singing nursery rhymes can help children to develop pencil control and movement. Holding a pencil and forming a letter is quite a complex process. Pencil control requires whole body movements as well as fine hand and finger control and hand-eye coordination.

Most nursery rhymes require children to move, jump up and down, swing their arms or march. Fine finger movements are needed to control the pencil and the pressure put on the paper. All of the finger actions which accompany many nursery rhymes encourage this development. Just think of the actions for Incey Wincey Spider climbing up the spout, or the mouse running up the clock. These are the motor skills that children need to practice to gain good pencil control.

Marching Rhythm

Instead of clapping or tapping along to a rhyme, ask your children to march or stamp around the room in time to the rhythm. This will involve whole body movements and encourage important motor development. You can emphasise these movements by using ribbon sticks and scarves.

Maths and Concepts

Nursery rhymes are a marvelous way for children to gain an understanding of mathematical concepts. Storynory’s nursery rhymes cover many positional concepts such as in, down, over, on and out. By singing these nursery rhymes and joining in with some of the simple actions, children will be exploring these concepts and learning positional vocabulary. Singing ‘Rub a dub dub’ and ‘Two little dickie birds’ introduces young children to early counting skills.

Make Some Puppets

Draw some of the characters and creatures from the nursery rhymes. These can be cut out, attached to drinking straws to make simple puppets. Children can use these puppets to join in with actions to the nursery rhyme and make their own.

Social Interaction

As young children grow, they become aware that there are others in the world apart from themselves. They realise that there is a need to take turns, share and interact with other children. Sharing nursery rhymes in a group give children the opportunity to take turns, share and interact and talk with other children.

Joining in with nursery rhymes is such a lovely way to share a fun activity with your child. It’s fun, it’s free and you can do this anywhere, in the car, on the way to school, even going round the supermarket.

An Acting Game

With your children, discuss who the main characters in the rhyme are. Your children can then take turns to act out the nursery rhyme.

One of my favourites

I’d like to finish by sharing a nursery rhyme my grandmother taught me. It has a strong steady beat and ideal for clapping, tapping or bouncing along to. It goes like this...

Clap hands for daddy coming down the wagon way.
He’s got a pocket full of money and a wagon load of hay.

My grandmother used to slow the beat down then speed it up again and we would clap along with her. She would substitute my name or my sisters and put all sorts of silly objects in daddy’s pocket which would set us off into fits of laughter.

So... next time you sing a nursery rhyme with your child you are helping them to take part in an amazing learning activity without even knowing it. Have fun and happy rhyming!

By Eleanor Johnson, Early Years Teacher, Creator of StoryPhones

For Storynory's Nursery Rhymes please see: