Dive into Nursery Rhymes

Nursery Rhymes are a perfect match for young children. I recommend reading nursery rhymes around age 3 on a semi-regular basis. Ages 3-5 really love them, although younger and older children do, too!

Nursery rhymes are often captivating because they are silly, funny, and surprisingly don’t make sense. Why would anyone bake four and twenty black birds in a pie? It’s great! I think the shock value of some of the rhymes help the children learn to pay attention to the rhyme. They want to pay close attention to “get” why it is funny. Nursery rhymes are delightful. Just tonight, my 3-year-old loved hearing Hey Diddle Diddle and exclaimed, “I think the dish and spoon got married!”

From a more academic perspective, nursery rhymes help build up a child’s receptive language, expressive language, and early literacy skills.

Children learn novel words when listening to nursery rhymes. With enough repetition, children can often recite their favorite nursery rhymes word for word.

Reading nursery rhymes with a 3- to 5-year-old works well because you can read for a short time, or a long time.  You can sit down and read several rhymes in a few minutes, or you can read many nursery rhymes in 15 minutes!


While reading nursery rhymes, children are exposed to rhyming. Rhyming is an important literacy skill. It helps children to learn how to predict what “the next” sound should be in a context. Over time, children expect and learn to predict when a rhyme should be made during a poem or nursery rhyme. They can start to pay attention to which sounds are similar and are not similar; they can pay attention to the endings of words, which is important for reading. They learn to get used to the patterns of spoken sounds when they rhyme and it become “natural” to expect a rhyme. Just as numbers have patterns, sounds do, too. In fact, there are many linguistic rules and patterns that we use in our everyday speech…but that is a whole other topic! Another good reason to read nursery rhymes is because it strengthens children’s phonological awareness, which is extremely important for future reading success.

Children who hear and learn nursery rhymes during early childhood very often turn into good readers. A literature review article by Dunst, Meter, and Hamby (2011), “Relationship between Young Children’s Nursery Rhyme Experience and Knowledge and Phonological Experiences and Print-Related Abilities,” summarized 12 research articles that looked at a total of 5,299 preschoolers. The authors concluded that exposure to nursery rhymes improved reading outcomes in two broad areas: phonological awareness and print-related outcomes. For “phonological awareness,” the authors found improvements in identification of rhymes and non-rhymes, division of sounds in words, alliteration awareness, and similar abilities. The “print-related” outcomes associated with nursery rhymes included better knowledge of the alphabet, more familiarity with the parts of books and the physical actions of reading, and better ability to retell stories.  Children with and without disabilities were more likely to have improved reading outcomes when they had been exposed to nursery rhymes.

If you have young children and have not started formal reading instruction, I recommend reading many nursery rhymes in preparation. If you are teaching your child to read now, and if you have not read many nursery rhymes together in the past, I would recommend adding in some nursery rhymes. Add them in during your formal “school time,” or during bedtime stories. Even if your child is 8 years old and is learning to read, he/she will likely enjoy them and be encouraged. Nursery rhymes have a lot of predictability. If your child is a struggling reader, let him/her choose a nursery rhyme from a book. Then you can read the nursery rhyme aloud a few times, and then let him/her read it aloud. The child will likely be able to read more than expected because he/she will have some of the words memorized and will read the ones that are not familiar.

By the way, if you are looking for a reading program, we LOVE The Reading Lesson. Hands down, it is the best $20 to teach your child to read, and it’s not an affiliate link–I don’t even know how to do affiliate stuff…just giving free advice.

If you want to add nursery rhymes into your homeschooling program for your children, I recommend finding one or two collections of nursery rhymes. A traditional Mother Goose anthology would be a good start. You can check out your library first; they likely will have man to choose from! Librarians have likely chosen good ones. Also, any large bookstore would have a selection.

Try to choose nursery rhyme books with beautiful, colorful pictures, but do try to avoid ones that have pictures that are too scary. If you are familiar with Sing a Song of Sixpence or Three Blind Mice, you know what I mean!

Little Bo Beep, from My Nursery Rhyme Collection

In addition to reading nursery rhymes aloud to your children, I highly recommend listening to nursery rhymes set to song. You can listen to them while you drive around town (doing car-schooling), or when you are around the house.

Here are some sources for finding nursery rhymes you can listen to:

  • Check out iTunes nursery rhymes and download them to your device.
  • Go to your public library and borrow CDs. They likely will have a good selection!
  • If your library has Freegal, you can download some nursery rhymes for free online, although there is a limit each week.
  • Check out Amazon for nursery rhymes CDs you can purchase or download. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can listen to some nursery rhymes for free through Amazon Music.

At home, listen to nursery rhymes while cleaning, coloring time, or free play time. The repetition will really help a child memorize nursery rhymes. Children are happy when they can recite a nursery rhyme!  It is an accomplishment. As an adult, I enjoy learning nursery rhymes I have not heard, too. This is such a special time in a child’s life and nursery rhymes can bring a child such delight!

And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon, Randolph Caldecott

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