One of the topics we love to teach at playschool is nursery rhymes. You may remember many of these rhymes from your childhood, or then again, you may not, since for a time they were considered somewhat outdated and frivolous. However, recent research has shown just how valuable the memorization of these rhymes can be to brain development, phonemic awareness and vocabulary enrichment, the primary building blocks of literacy. In fact, Mem Fox, author and literacy specialist, claims that those children who can recite eight nursery rhymes by the time they are four years old are typically the best readers by the time they are eight years old! Wow! Why is this? What is so magical about nursery rhymes? Here is what various experts have to say:
Neurobiologist Dr. Bruce Perry states that the type of repetition necessary for memorizing nursery rhymes is the KEY to developing the child’s brain. The resulting enhanced memory capability can benefit the child not only in literacy, but all other areas.
According to Tony Stead, senior national literacy consultant for Mondo Publishing, research shows that in 1945, the average elementary school student had a vocabulary of 10,000 words. Today, he says, children that age have an average vocabulary of only 2,500 words. He attributes a lot of the problem to the fact that children no longer routinely memorize nursery rhymes, which he calls “the bread-and-butter of traditional early children’s literature.” Think of words like “nimble,” “contrary,” and “tuffett,” rich vocabulary words not likely to come up in everyday conversation, but quickly learned by studying common nursery rhymes. Children need to be able to comprehend spoken language in order to comprehend written language. They may be able to “sound out” the written word, but if they do not understand what the word means, there is no comprehension. The broader their vocabulary, the better their comprehension.
Professor Hallie Yopp Slowick, from California State University Fullerton, whose areas of expertise include early literacy and academic language, believes there is overwhelming evidence that learning nursery rhymes encourages phonemic awareness, and that phonemic awareness is a good predictor of a child’s reading success. Recent studies of reading acquisition support this.
So what is phonemic awareness? It is an understanding that speech is made up of individual sounds, called phonemes. For example, a child with this awareness can tell you the beginning, middle, and ending sounds in a word such as /h/- /a/- /t/. They are able to hear and recognize rhymes and alliteration (words that begin with the same sound). They are able to substitute one phoneme for another, for example changing the first sound in /h/- /a/- /t / to make the word /s/-/a/-/t/. And that, my friends, leads to reading! It almost is magic, isn’t it?
Of course, there is another reason we teach nursery rhymes – they’re FUN, and when things are fun, children learn faster and remember longer. We hope you will join us in celebrating the magic and joy of nursery rhymes.