The importance of nursery rhymes

The Importance of Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes may seem like catchy tunes we sing with young children; however, the origins and importance of the nursery rhyme should not be overlooked.

Phonics Shed are a proud sponsor of World Nursery Rhyme Week 2023. This fantastic week runs from the 13th to 17th November. Our nursery rhyme planning and resources are based on the Moonbug nursery rhyme videos who are official video sponsors of World Nursery Rhyme week.

At Phonics Shed, we are passionate about developing early literacy skills through stories and rhyme. Many of the Phonics Shed characters have their own songs based on common nursery rhymes. These characters are included throughout Phonics Shed’s DfE validated SSP programme. They also feature in many of the decodable reading scheme books.

World Nursery Rhyme Week promotes the importance of nursery rhymes in early childhood development and education. Each year, five nursery rhymes are chosen to focus on and children are encouraged to take part in the ‘Rhyme a Day’ challenge by singing the nursery rhymes and taking part in activities.

The 5 official rhymes for 2023 are:

  1. Jack & Jill – focuses on initial sounds
  2. Hickory Dickory Dock – focuses on songs and rhymes
  3. Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes – focuses on our bodies
  4. Row Row Row Your Boat – focuses on rhyming
  5. Wheels On The Bus – focuses on environmental sounds

As well as a special edition ‘Wheels on the Bus’ eBook, Phonics Shed have created planning, resources and video quizzes for each nursery rhyme, which can be downloaded for FREE.

Why are Nursery Rhymes appealing to children?

The importance of nursery rhymes comes partially from the seemingly intrinsic love of small children for these rhymes. Nursery rhymes offer bite-sized learning segments for young children. This encourages children to become interested in language patterns and rhythm.

“Nursery rhymes, which appeal to students due to their entertaining properties, significantly contributed to the improvement of the reading fluency.” (International Electronic Journal of Education, Tekşan and p Yılmaz-Alkan 2020).

The rhythmic patterns in many nursery rhymes paired with their repetitive phrases help to develop phonemic awareness in young children. Repeated exposure is necessary for phonetic awareness to develop. Nursery rhymes are the ideal vehicle for this.

“Nursery rhymes and jingles could have a positive effect on students’ phonemic awareness. These effects include the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken language and letter-sound relationships to blend sounds and decode words.” (Zuniga and Moore, 2021).

Often children find nursery rhymes are relatable to their own experiences. ‘Pat-a-cake’ is reminiscent of baking with a caregiver. ‘Five Little Ducks’ of trips to feed the ducks, and ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ of family breakfasts sharing boiled eggs.

Conversely, the rhymes which are not immediately relatable to their own experiences provide comic value and stimulate children’s imaginations. Children are excited to learn about a cow who can jump over the moon or aliens zooming around the world in a flying saucer.

Why are Nursery Rhymes Important?

Beyond their entertainment value for children, nursery rhymes provide a plethora of learning opportunities for children, all hidden behind a catchy melody. This makes them the perfect vehicle for educating young children.

Nursery Rhymes and Cognitive Development

nursery rhyme cognition
  1. The repetitive structure of nursery rhymes teaches children how language works and how narratives are formed. As the narratives are made up of patterns, they are simple to memorise. Similar sounds jump out to the listener making them easier to remember than everyday speech. This encourages children to identify syllables and notice rhyming words. This is turn solidifies their understanding of the narrative and begins to develop their phonemic awareness.

“The melodious structure of nursery rhymes allows for the acquisition of prosodic reading, which is a fluency-related reading skill. By offering activities that involve nursery rhymes, the aim is to make students eager for reading and help them acquire fluent reading skills.” (Çer, 2016).

Nursery Rhymes and Language Development

nursery rhyme language

2. Nursery rhymes offer an opportunity to hear and master new vocabulary. They also encourage children to mimic differing pitch, inflection, and volume. The repetitive nature of nursery rhymes helps children to become aware of the individual phonemes that make up each word.

“Students acquire the correct articulation of sounds and words and fluent speaking with nursery rhymes.” (Sever, Kaya, & Aslan, 2017).

Nursery Rhymes and Physical Development

nursery rhyme physical development

3. Nursery rhymes are the ideal catalyst for imaginative play. Children can begin by simply acting out the nursery rhyme. They are then able to move on to adapting the narrative. When actions are linked to words, we are far more likely to remember them. Learning actions and words in tandem boosts comprehension when encountering unfamiliar words. The more actions we use when singing nursery rhymes, the easier it is for the child to visualise the words.

Nursery Rhymes and Social and Emotional Development

nursery rhyme social and emotional

4. Emotional awareness and humour are vital social skills which are easily developed through nursery rhymes as children listen to the adventures the characters get up to. Nursery rhymes also serve to connect children to history. Children learn rhymes which have been passed down orally from generation to generation or by recounting significant periods in history such as ‘Ring a Ring O’Roses’ and the Great Plague.

Nursery Rhymes and Mathematical Development

5. The patterns found in nursery rhymes provide great scaffolding when searching for mathematical patterns in later years. Many nursery rhymes use counting as the basis of their narrative which helps very young children with ordering and sequencing.

nursery rhyme maths

Phonics and Nursery Rhymes

The repetitive nature of nursery rhymes helps teach children to pronounce words. These words may contain unfamiliar digraphs or trigraphs. By introducing these sounds through nursery rhymes, children begin to hear syllables and are able to group words by their rhyme or the sounds they contain. Singing nursery rhymes daily can really help to embed these patterns for your children.

Bonus Resources

Literacy Shed also has many fantastic nursery rhyme related resources related to the VIPERS method. The VIPERS method, an acronym used to aid the recall of the six reading domains listed in the UK reading curriculum. The six domains: vocabulary, infer, predict, explain, retrieve, and sequence focus on comprehension. They allow educators to track the types of questions asked and the learner’s responses to these.

Nursery Rhyme Narratives – Five Narratives based on famous nursery rhymes. 

Humpty Dumpty
  • Little Miss Muffet – Vocabulary focus
  • Little Bo Peep – Retrieval focus
  • Jack and Jill – inference focus
  • Incy Wincy – Summary focus
  • Humpty Dumpty – Summary Focus

MicroVipers Nursery Rhymes


Nursery Rhymes Grammar Pack

Phonics Shed Resources

The first chapter of the Phonics Shed programme is designed to lay the foundations for future chapters. It encourages the development of the fundamental skills and phonemic awareness needed for progression in reading and writing in English. Some of these resources have also been made free.

  • ‘Rhyming Words’ – Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Element 6.
Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Element 6 Rhyming Words
  • ‘Guess the Nursery Rhyme’ – Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Introduction.
Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Introduction
  • ‘The Gingerbread Man’ – Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Traditional Tales.
Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Traditional Tales 'The Gingerbread Man'
  • ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ – Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Traditional Tales.
Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Traditional Tales 'Incy Wincy Spider'
  • ‘Humpty Dumpty’ – Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Traditional Tales.
Phonics Shed Chapter 1 Traditional Tales 'Humpty Dumpty'

Click on the image below to access our free Phonics Shed resources created for World Nursery Rhyme Week.

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