Monday, June 9, 2014

Are Nursery Rhymes Still Important?

Our lives are incredibly busy. Parents of young children certainly feel the pressure to prioritize the factors most critical to their child's development. Nursery Rhymes seem to be one of the things falling by the wayside. Certainly kindergarten and first grade children are arriving at school without being familiar with the old ditties. Is this a big deal? Is there a reason we should prioritize these silly little songs? The answer is yes! Let's take a look at why these traditional childhood rhymes need to make a resurgence.

A concept known as 'phonemic awareness' is a huge predictor of a child's success in learning to read, and nursery rhymes are a critical piece in supporting the development of this skill in young children. What is phonemic awareness? It is the ability to hear the discrete and individual sounds within a word and having the skills to combine and manipulate these sounds. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in the English language and there are 44 phonemes. For example, the word cat is made up of three phonemes: the /c/ sound, the /a/ sound, and the /t/ sound.

Study after study has shown that a strong ability to hear these sounds within words is the best predictor of future reading ability. In her book, Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print, Marilyn Jager Adams points out that a lack of phonemic awareness is the most likely factor in the failure to read proficiently (Adams,1990). "The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units"(Lyon, 1995).

If you think phonemic awareness should just occur naturally throughout the early years as children learn to speak, think again. Though acquiring phonemic awareness is a "natural" phenomenon, this acquisition is based on the belief children will be exposed to language rich with phonemic repetition. As more and more children and adults spend time with electronic devices, language development can take a back seat.
So... how do we help children develop this awareness of language and sounds? Nursery rhymes are one good way. Results from a recent study demonstrated that working with nursery rhymes improved children's phonological awareness and enhanced their sensitivity to individual phonemes and rhyme, increasing the development of phonemic skills (Harper, 2011).

Consider the nursery rhyme Pat-a-Cake:
Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can,
Pat it and prick it and mark it with a B,
And bake it in the oven for baby and me.

When singing this rhyme, draw out the sounds of the words and punctuate the sounds with more emphasis.

Here is a few more you'll remember:

Hickory, dickory, dock
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one
The mouse ran down
Hickory, dickory, dock.
Hickory, dickory, dock
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck two
And down he flew
Hickory, dickory, dock.

Add the little toe movements with this one:

This little piggy went to market
This little piggy stayed home
This little piggy had roast beef
This little piggy had none
And this little piggy went "Wee, wee, wee" all the way home!

Later, add songs in which children have an opportunity to invent their own rhyming pairs. This is sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It". Help your child think of words to insert (cat/mat, dog/hog, mouse/house, snake/lake, rat/hat, goat/boat, fish/dish).

Did you ever see a (bear) on a (chair)?
Did you ever see a (bear) on a (chair)?
No, I never, no, I never, no, I never, no, I never,
No, I never saw a (bear) on a (chair).

So let's start bringing those nursery rhymes back. Sing these songs and rhymes while bathing your toddler, diving in the car, cuddling on the couch. Grandmas and Grandpas, make nursery rhymes a fun part of the time the kiddos spend with you. More classic nursery rhymes can be found with a simple web search and on YouTube.

Let me know what you think!

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