If you've ever recited a nursery rhyme, read poems, or sung children's songs together, you've been preparing your child for learning to read. Familiar songs and poems can strengthen their ability to hear the sounds of our language — a skill that will serve them well when they learn to connect sounds with letters (phonics) in kindergarten and 1st grade.
Nursery rhymes — such as classic Mother Goose — as well as poems and songs are especially powerful because they are so memorable. Research has found that children who are familiar with nursery rhymes when they enter kindergarten often have an easier time learning to read. This is because rhyming helps them discover many common word patterns (such as those in quick/stick or down/crown). The more familiar these patterns become in oral language, the more easily children will recognize them when they begin to encounter them in print.
Here are some more fun ways to use rhymes to further strengthen your child's language and reading skills:
- Find many opportunities to sing to and with your child. Create songs in the spur of the moment about whatever you are doing. Try "This is the way we wash our hands . . . " Remember that you don't need to have a good singing voice; your child will love it because it's yours.
- Seek out high-quality rhyming books. Most children love silly songbooks, such as The Wheels on the Bus or stories that encourage rhythm, such as Helen Oxenbury's We're Going on a Bear Hunt. Rhyming books introduce the idea of playing with language, which pays off in several ways: They build phonemic awareness in addition to introducing the idea that reading time is playful and fun. Playing with rhymes trains your child's ear to hear the differences and similarities in how words sound. The best part? These books will help your child associate the joy of spending time with you with the awesome task of learning to read.
- Combine rhyming with rhythmic clapping or movements. Songs with rhyming lyrics are also terrific devices for teaching your child about the patterns of sounds. They are especially helpful for an active child who needs to involve their entire body in the activity and can help your child follow directions as you sing the words. This kind of play involves your child's whole body in absorbing the sounds of speech, which may make it easier for them to connect the motion with the words you say.
- When you’re reading a book with rhymes, pause and give your child a chance to chime in. The rhyming structure itself provides a great cue for what guessing word is next, which allows your child to play with sound and also to participate in the reading process.
- Encourage wordplay using poems, rhymes, or songs. You might begin by saying, for example, "What rhymes with Matt [their name]?" Make up silly rhymes, such as, "Did Matt sit on the cat?" Or try working together to tell a little story about a cat chasing a rat. Write down the sentence you've thought up and have them illustrate the idea. Together, make your own rhyming book. As your child gets more adept at rhyming, you might try to play a riddle game. Try something like, "I'm thinking of a word that rhymes with fish. And it's something in the kitchen that you put your sandwich on." — "Fish rhymes with ... dish."
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