How to Engage and Enjoy Nursery Rhymes and Poetry with Your Children

How to Engage and Enjoy Poetry and Nursery Rhymes with Your Children

Classic Children's Books

nursery rhymes

Today on the blog I am thrilled to welcome reading specialist, Leighanne Scheuermann, of Written and Bound to give us a few tips on how to get our children to enjoy and engage with poetry and nursery rhymes. She’s also taking over my Instastories later on to show us how she read these to her children!

When my first daughter was born my husband and I were living in Connecticut and, like many new moms, I was very isolated. I didn’t have a mom or older mom friends there on a regular basis to show me how to do motherly things. (Yes, many things are instinctual, but some things were not for me!)

I’ll never forget when we visited my parents when our baby girl was a few months old and I watched in amazement as my mom talked to her and sung her lullabies and nursery rhymes all throughout the day. Now at this point, I was a very stressed new mom with an extremely fussy baby. I hardly talked to her at all! I thought she couldn’t understand me so why talk to her (and she was also screaming much of the day so there’s that…).

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It was after my second baby was born very premature – and I started researching everything and anything I could do to help her brain development – that I began seeing all the studies that show how impactful it is to read to our babies. And not just read. It’s really about talking to our babies and letting them hear as many words as possible. (Reading just give us more and richer words to say.)

I’ll never forget her NICU doctor telling us to talk to her all day long. On the changing table, in the car, point out everything we see. And, no, turning on the tv (ambient noise) did not have the same effect as an actual person talking to a baby.

It’s at this point that I started seeing the timeless motherly wisdom of nursery rhymes. They were not only a way to bond with your baby but an easy way to expose him or her to cadences, rhymes, sequencing, repetition – all things that are so good for developing brains. They come inso  handy when you need to redirect a fussy baby on a changing table or need to take away a toy they shouldn’t have or need to push through tummy time just a few more minutes. And nursery rhymes Little Piggy Went to the Market and Pat-A-Cake helped babies engage with their different body parts.

Now that I am once again knee deep in nursery rhymes with our fourth baby I thought it would be fun to bring in an expert to give us her perspective on nursery rhymes and poetry and share how they are not only good for our babies developing brains, but can lay the foundation for reading skills.

Below are some questions I asked Leighanne. Feel free to ask your questions in the comments section at the bottom and she will answer those, too!

Q. Why is singing lullabies and saying nursery rhymes good for babies in particular? We can sometimes feel silly singing to a baby!

A: You know how doctors always tell you that the baby can hear the voices of family members and their mom in the womb? Well, some studies show that babies can also identify rhymes even in the womb. This means that infants can start to recognize word patterns. We know that while all children learn to read differently, there is a definite sequence in which children should tackle reading, and rhyming is one of the first things we teach. So by reading and singing to your child, you have discovered a way to nurture your baby and bond with them while sneakily laying a strong foundation in reading and rhyming. Good job, Mom. 😉

Q: Do nursery rhymes and poetry actually serve a purpose in our children’s development or pre-reading skills?

A: They sure do! Nursery rhymes are often rich in repetition and rhyme, both of which are very beneficial to a child’s overall reading abilities and later reading success. The ability to rhyme is helpful when kids begin putting together and sounding out words. Also, these poems are great for developing early comprehension skills, which they will continue building on through young adulthood. For example, “Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water.” Many kids might ask for you to explain the meaning of the word ‘fetch’ and then explain why they would go up a hill to get water or the meaning of ‘crown.’

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Q: We are reading so many classic books in our DoSayGive’s Classic Children’s Book Club. How can we do to help our children “comprehend” the richer language in these books better?

A; One simple way is to first really match your tone of voice to the tone of the poem.
In these dense poems, kids don’t necessarily need to understand each Old English translation to gather the feeling or to comprehend it. Elementary aged students will focus on story structure and identify a beginning, middle, and end of books in school. So one way to help your child comprehend the poems is to retell the poem after reading it by using your own words and sequential words like, “First, then, and next …”

Also language model a little throughout the poem rather than stopping to ask
questions that might interrupt you too much. For example, “Where’s the little boy
tending the sheep? He’s under the haycock; a haycock is a heap of hay. He’s
under the haycock fast asleep.” So in these instances, it might be too disruptive
to say, “Do you know what a haycock is?” You might never get to bed. 😉 So
simply plugging in the definition and backing up a little to repeat the entire
sentence is a good practice.

Language modeling is a skill we can easily apply in everyday life that helps our
younger kids. For example, we all probably talk to ourselves often, and this is
helpful for our children to observe. We can extend this by adding a few definitions
into our self-talk. If you are driving, you might say, “Oh, his taillight is out! A
taillight or brake light is the light on the back of the car that tells me to slow down
when it lights up. I hope he can get it fixed soon.”

Another example is, “Oh, I forgot my directory at the school. A directory is a book with all of the student’s names in it and their phone numbers. I’ll need to pick it up tomorrow.” This practice might feel ridiculous or silly, but in those two sentences, you just expanded your child’s vocabulary by leaps and bounds without sitting down to
formally teach the word meanings.

Q: What are some fun and easy activities we can do with nursery rhymes or poetry to get them to think about sounds / phonemes / rhymes?

A: Rhyming games and word families are a fantastic way to extend nursery rhymes. I’m
going to walk you through three short activities so that hopefully you can use one that works best for your child’s age and development. There are of course the finger stories and songs like, “Where is Thumbkin?” Even if you think kids aren’t going to enjoy these or that they might feel too cool for them, they usually eat up this sort of activity or song.

You can take advantage of downtimes like commuting or bath time and sing rhyming songs like, “Anna, anna bo banna.” It will make them laugh while also practicing rhyming.When your child is able to identify all of the letter names and sounds, they are ready to sound out short words.

Thank you so much Leighanne! This was incredibly helpful and once again encourages me to talk to my baby all day long!

Be sure to visit Leighanne’s blog for more pre-reading and reading tips for children.

Leighanne is a Reading and Learning Specialist and a mom to two girls. She’s
passionate about helping parents feel supported in creating confident learners in
their children. She received a master’s degree in reading from Teachers College
Columbia University, and a master’s in social work from the University of
Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching and parenting, she runs the blog Written and Bound, which delivers simple solutions for parents that nurture the bond with their
child through engaging stories and activities.


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2 thoughts on “How to Engage and Enjoy Poetry and Nursery Rhymes with Your Children

  1. Great post! We also listened to music CD with traditional nursery rhymes and my kids loved them. My kids are now 10 and 13 and I miss those days. I am also an elementary teacher and so many kids come to school not knowing these poems and rhymes. I always suggest the book Reading Magic by Mem Fox as a great parent read for anyone with a newborn or toddler.