A recent Small Talk survey showed that many people today are not really aware of nursery rhymes. People over 40 were more likely to recall one or two, whereas, an entire class of 17 year olds studying child care, could not think of even one. May be nursery rhymes have had their day, are old fashioned, out dated, even boring?
Does this matter if they are dying out and parents are not singing to their children?
Nursery rhymes are important for many reasons:
1. Most importantly (to me as a speech and language therapist) is that they help develop spoken language skills. They are a powerful tool in the repertoire of language developers. They show the child the rhythm and flow of language, help connect words to actions and help a child to understand and remember words. They also help attention and listening. A room full of noisy babies will still and quieten when I start singing (No, that's not my awful voice!!) and to add action keeps their attention for longer.
2. Bonding: Singing together helps language development but also interaction between parent and child or carer and child.
3. A recent Swedish study published in the journal Integrative Physiological and Behavioural Science suggested that singing, not only increases oxygen levels in the blood but triggers the release of “happy” hormones such as oxytocin, which is thought to help lower stress levels and blood pressure. As other studies show the increased levels of both parental and child stress levels in the 21st century, this must surely help.
4. They can be used in conjunction with other communication enhancers e.g. choice making. The ability to be able to make choices is fundamental to human communication. Choosing which song to sing from a variety of props or choosing the next behaviour for action rhymes such as 'if you are happy and you know it'. These are non-verbal behaviours so do not require a verbal response.
5. Increases confidence. Even if they haven't got the necessary expressive skills to join in verbally, they can take part with the actions.
6. There is overwhelming evidence that early learning of nursery rhymes and rhythmic poems, songs, and chants significantly enhances early reading skills and phonemic awareness. In fact research highlights phonemic awareness as a strong predictor of a child's reading success. It helps them:
- to hear rhymes or alliteration
- to blend sounds to make a word (e.g., /a/-/t/ = at)
- to count phonemes in words ( how many sounds do you hear in "is"?)
- to identify the beginning, middle, and final sounds in words
- to substitute one phoneme for another (e.g., change the /h/ in "hot" to /p/
- to delete phonemes from words (e.g., omit the /c/ from "cat")"
Does it matter if they are not the traditional nursery rhymes? I would say that singing anything with your baby and toddler is better than not singing at all but the latest Adele or Beyonce track is not designed to assist phonological awareness skills which will give all the benefits above.
Does it matter if you can't sing? Definitely not. A parent's voice is the best in the world to a baby or a toddler. They are no X factor judge, likely to shoot you down in flames. They will just enjoy the interaction and see it as great fun.... and whats more it's free!
The next blog post will look at which nursery rhymes we use in the Smart Talkers Pre-School Communication groups www.smarttalkers.org.uk