Who could believe that common, everyday nursery rhymes can play such an important role in your child's language development? I guess there's a reason why these gems have been perenial favorites in families with young children. Some of the rhymes date back hundreds of years and are still commonly recited to this day. Only something with true value would stick around so long and become such a huge part of our culture.
Nursery rhymes can be a big part of any child's life. From birth, the rhymes soothe and entertain baby. Newborns love just to hear their parents' voices, and the rhymes give you something to say on a moment's notice, long before your child is ready to truly converse. They are quick and easy to recite, and nearly everyone knows at least a few. Many have simple motions that seem designed for adults to help babies enjoy. The gentle jouncing of "Ride a Cock Horse" and "This is the Way the Ladies Ride" is perfect for small infants. It seems to give them a bit of a thrill while building muscle control of the head and neck. "Forebumper, Eye Winker, Tom Tinker, Nose Dropper, Mouth Eater, Chin Chopper, Gully-gully-gully" and "This Little Piggie" build anticipation and prediction skills as baby learns that the rhymes lead invariably to the tickling ritual.
As baby grows, so do the reasons to use nursery rhymes with them. Toddlers are concentrating on learning to talk, and the rhymes support that activity with new vocabulary, discussion of common and everyday activities, and vivid descriptions. Now is the time to get a quality Mother Goose volume with beautiful illustrations and heavy pages that will withstand your little one's rough handling. Baby will enjoy the rhymes that talk about everyday life, such as "Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush" and "Wee Willie Winkie."
Older children will start to enjoy the rhymes with built in jokes, like "Simple Simon." This is also a great age to start working with rhyming words. Kids need to be able to hear and identify and create rhymes, so the rhyming words in these poems will help them to master this skill. Nursery rhymes are also full of alliterations, where many words start with the same beginning sounds. This helps children learn the sounds of the letters and how to segment and blend the sounds. Check out rhymes such as "Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater" and "Pease Porridge Hot." Now is also the time for clapping games. These will build coordination and rhythm.
Play some games with the nursery rhymes to maximize their value. Try saying lines with the last word left off. Try having your child count the words in a line, the syllables within the words, or even sounds within a word. Change the last word in a rhyme and see if your child can catch you. For example, you could say, "Mary had a little bam" or "Hey diddle diddle the cat and the griddle." When that's no longer a challenge, try changing a word somewhere in the middle. For example, try "Tree blind mice" or "Jack and Jill meant up the hill." Sort out the real words from the nonsense words, too.
Nursery rhymes will afford you and your child hours of fun, and they are very educational, too. Be sure to share this wealth with your baby as he or she grows. You will be laying the groundwork for later school success while you are having a great deal of fun with your child.