In a world of apps, ebooks and streaming, it is hard to believe that something as simple as a few verses of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," could make much of a difference on your child's brain. Research has shown, however, that those simple songs and nursery rhymes can help your child learn language and literacy skills. But all music is not created equally when it comes to teaching your child. Here are some tips on how to use nursery rhymes and simple songs to help you and your child make the most from music.

Play it Again (and again, and again)

If you've ever been asked by your child to read the same bedtime story over and over again, you are well aware that children love repetition. Not only do they like singing the same song many times over, but they also enjoy the consistency inherent in music, such as a familiar tune and a predictable chorus. Children benefit from repetition and review of concepts, and the right kind of children's songs have the repetition necessary to really make developing language concepts stick. Through interactive fingerplay songs and chants, children can learn new words to grow their vocabulary and basic concepts, such as loud/quiet, up/down, in/out, as well as number concepts. They can also develop cognitive skills, such as memory, sequencing and attention by singing songs and chants that have many verses such as "The Ants Go Marching" and "Going on a Bear Hunt." As opposed to many commercially available children's songs that are too fast-paced, chants and finger plays are simple, interactive, predictable and said slowly enough for developing brains to process new concepts. Chants such as "Five Little Monkeys Swinging from the Tree" and "Patty-Cake" provide young children the perfect opportunity to not only connect and have fun while interacting with you, but also to practice early language skills.

Try these songs with little ones to encourage memory, sequencing, attention and language skills:

  • "Do You Know the Muffin Man?"

  • "Bringing Home a Baby Bumble Bee"

  • "Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich"

  • "Five Little Ducks"

  • "Round and Round the Garden"

  • "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt"

Move It!

Children learn best when they see it, hear it, say it and move it. Songs with movements and gestures are the perfect match for this learning style. Classics, such as "Itsy Bitsy Spider," with its accompanying finger movements, are perfect for keeping the attention of little minds and teaching important early skills such as imitation. Big movements can also be fun as children grow and develop their motor skills. Songs such as "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear Turn Around," "Grand Old Duke of York" and "A Little Bit Up, A Little Bit Down" are movement songs that get children involved and motivated to learn language because they are actively participating in the fun. Other songs to get your child engaged and moving with music include:

  • "Baby Shark"

  • "Hurry Hurry, Drive the Fire Truck"

  • "Five Little Ducks"

  • "Icky Sticky Bubble Gum"

  • "Open Shut Them"

  • "Where is Thumbkin?"

Rhyme Time

Rhyming is an essential reading readiness skill. Songs and chants that rhyme help your children learn to play with and to explore the sounds of language. Even before they know the alphabet, rhyming can teach them the pre-literacy skills they will need to sound out words and to identify sound patterns in words. Research has shown that children who are taught nursery rhymes at an early age have better reading skills than those who were not exposed to them. Here are some songs to help your children learn to rhyme and get started on the road to reading:

  • "Down By the Bay"

  • "Willoughby Wallaby Woo"

  • "The Name Game Song"

  • "I Like to Eat Apples and Bananas"

  • "This Old Man"

  • "Hickory Dickory Dock"

Chants, nursery rhymes and simple songs with repetitive tunes and verses have been shown to help children to learn language, reading and important cognitive skills. From bedtime to bathtime, and even while waiting in line at the store, integrating songs into your daily routine will help your child to develop a strong foundation upon which language and literacy skills can grow. So when you are singing your hundredth rendition of "London Bridge," remember the impact you are making in the brain of your child, because one day the sound of your child's first word or listening to a story she has learned to read, will be music to your ears.


Christina F. Morrissey, M.S. CCC-SLP, Director of Outpatient Speech-Language Pathology, The Treatment and Learning Centers (www.ttlc.org)