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Dear Elizabeth,
My 4-year-old asks me to sing him little rhymes like Twinkle, Twinkle & Humpty Dumpty over & over again. Is he learning anything when we sing these nursery rhymes together?
Samantha Fonseca
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
Host
  • Rhymes & songs help children develop oral language skills
  • Poetry helps children pay attention to the sounds & patterns of language & encourages vocabulary
  • Poetry is easy to incorporate into everyday activities
Expert Advice
Ambika Gopal, Ph.D.
Ambika Gopal, Ph.D.
Professor of education
Children are natural poetry lovers. If you hear the blabber of very young kids, they usually start of by practicing particular sounds. Once they are proficient in certain sounds they venture into others. Poetry is a natural extension of this because it encourages certain sounds and rhythms. For example, my 11-month-old began saying “mmmmamma” then moved onto “babababa” then “lalala,” which is more complicated. Now he is experimenting with “jama tama lama,” etc. So you can see how he is building from the sound that he was most comfortable with – “mamma” – to other consonant sounds like “la,” “ja” and “ta.”

Why Poetry Is Effective
Poetry is an effective way to encourage language development because of its simplicity and brevity of thought. You can convey a lot with a few words. It is closest to music and encouraging musical ability in children, especially very young children, is known to encourage complex thinking patterns in the brain.

In order to scaffold the various sounds in a language and help children make the connection that these sounds actually make meaning, rhymes are helpful. Children learn the form of a language through the rhymes and patterns that they can repeat. Through rhymes they begin to recognize and transfer these meanings into language use in other areas.

Poetry for Kids
Poetry for young children is very rhythmic, has a lot of words that rhyme, has a simple form and may tell a simple story. Mainly poetry for young children is words put together in a somewhat meaningful string so the patterns in the sentence will help children develop and remember the oral language. Poetry for young children is meant to be read – aloud, sung-along, and repeated often. They are, simply put, exercises for the tongue, that later connect to complex patterns of meaning-making in the brain.

Children like hearing rhymes and songs repeated often because it is a re-affirmation of their newly learned skills of language and it offers a familiarity with the culture that they identify and find security in.

Multiple Languages
All languages have characteristic sounds. We all recognize certain languages by the sounds that we hear in them, even if we don’t know the language. Therefore, every language has unique sound patterns and cadence patterns that encourage development. Poetry is essentially a “sound” medium.

Therefore, if we want the child to be equally proficient in more than one language, it is important to expose them to poetry from those languages. As we know, languages are intricately combined with cultural aspects. The best way to encourage poetry in various languages is to look at the folk poetry in those languages.
Child Care Provider Comments
Devon Rios
Devon Rios
Mother of two
My daughter loves anything that incorporates movement. She loves songs like “Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes,” “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Even though my daughter is still learning to speak, the rhymes and songs help her. She babbles with us. She tries to sing along with me. I noticed that she is watching how our mouths move. Having my son around seems to really help. She sits and moves her mouth, mimicking us.
Patsi Simon
Patsi Simon
We recently had “Hamburger Night” and we started singing about the pickles. We even tried the tongue twister, “Peter Piper.” We talked about how “pickle” rhymes with “nickel” and “tickle.” Kids really love repetition.
Verdis Ferraro
Verdis Ferraro
Child care provider for 23 years
I try to incorporate poetry in my daily routine with kids through silly songs and rhymes. They like to say them over and over. They like the melodies. Books that rhyme are fun and you can even feel the beat. The kids can almost predict what word is next. As I am reading stories to the kids, I will often stop and see if they can guess the next word. It makes them think.

Picture Poems Featured Activity:
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Poetry & Language
Topic: Early Learning Areas
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