Do you remember hearing and singing nursery rhymes as a young child? It’s no coincidence that many adults can still recite “Five little monkeys jumping on the bed” on demand. Rhyming with young children is not only a great way to get a good case of the sillies, it can set them up with stronger language skills as they get older. Here are some creative ways to use rhyming to help children strengthen their language skills.
- Rhyming helps build listening skills. The first stage in rhyming for a baby, toddler, or preschooler is auditory. When they are specifically engaged in rhyming activities, they are intentionally listening, which builds this skill they’ll use in other areas of life, like listening to take in information, to respond to instructions, or to share their ideas and opinions.
- Rhyming teaches how language works. Rhyming is a great way to help your child learn common sounds and sound patterns in their native language. It also helps kids experience the cadences and rhythm of language.
- Rhyming shows that words have shared letter sequences. Rhyming words helps expose children to simple spelling patterns (In English rhymes, we have words that end with -at such as: bat, sat, flat, pat), which builds a foundation in phonics — or the relationship between letters and sounds — as they become readers and writers.
- Rhyming prepares kids to make predictions in stories. When looking for a rhyming pattern, children can make predictions about a missing word that completes a rhyming sequence. (Example: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great __ ___ ___ ______ __ ___ ___ ______.”) Later, this skill will be helpful when making predictions about what happens next in a story.
- Rhyming builds vocabulary and exposes learners to new words. Rhyming picture books and nursery rhymes give your children opportunities to hear words that aren’t necessarily in their everyday vocabulary. Even though some words may seem old-fashioned, it’s still helpful to learn them and see how words have changed over time.
How can you help your child build their rhyming skills?
- Sing songs with rhyming words. These can be children’s songs, worship songs, or songs you hear on the radio. My preschoolers are really into music, so we like to have fun with it. Sometimes I like to veer away from the lyrics and personalize songs with my children by putting their names into the songs. They think it’s hilarious, and they have no idea that we are covertly practicing rhyming.
- Read, recite and repeat nursery rhymes. Start with some of the simple classics, like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “The Wheels on the Bus” for your littlest learners. As they grow, do this with more advanced rhymes, such as “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater” and “Diddle, Diddle, Dumpling, My Son John.” You can find these online or at your local library. You can even take nursery rhymes to the next level by acting them out with your child while reciting them.
- Play games. There are many oral rhyming games you can play with your child, and the great part about them is that they can be played any time,any place. For example, say a word or show your child a picture and see if they can come up with a word that rhymes. Another easy and fun game (that gets you moving!) is to go on a walk in nature, at the mall, or around the house and point to objects. Then, have your child come up with a word that rhymes.
- Picture books with rhyming words. You may have noticed that rhyming is a common feature of children’s picture books. One of my favorites for the younger ones is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Not only are there catchy rhymes, but it’s also an alphabet book. Another great book is The Gruffalo: This engaging story has rhyming, repetition, and clever characters.
- Invent and experiment with making “silly” words that rhyme. Silliness abounds with children at this age, so why not join in? Make a string of “silly” words mixed with real words that rhyme and see if your child can jump in with some more words. For example: at, bat, cat, rat, that, flat, splat, grat, plat, blat, zat.
When you support your child in hearing, recognizing, and producing rhymes, you’re setting them up for reading success. So integrate these simple activities into your daily routines, and bring on the giggles — and the learning!
By Caitlin Hardeman, former third through sixth grade teacher specializing in English Language Arts.