Rhyme Time

These catchy little songs and poems are more than just entertainment.

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    Baby Bounce

    The Grand Old Duke of York
    He had 10,000 men.
    He marched them up to the top of the hill
    Then he marched them down again.
    And when they were up, they were up
    And when they were down, they were down
    And when they were only halfway up, they were neither up nor down!

    Nursery rhymes and songs, like this one, are amazing teaching tools. They help children develop language skills by showcasing the different sounds of language. But, the social interaction is just as important. "It's a way to be close, particularly for new parents, who don't know what their role is yet; they can use the rhyme as a prop that enables play," says Mary Sinker, a children's museum consultant based in Glenview, Illinois. You can go to youtube.com and enter in the first line of most rhymes to learn the tunes and finger plays that go along with them.

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Old Favorite

    The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout.
    Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
    Up came the sun and dried up all the rain
    And the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.

    This classic song and finger play has the power to entice. "The cadence, the sing-songy pattern and higher pitch draw a child's attention," says Diane Paul, director of speech-language pathology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland. There's value in the repetitive sounds and movements, too, she explains, because they teach a child to predict what comes next.

  • Playing With Baby: Let the Music Play
    Playing With Baby: Let the Music Play
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    Grandma's Turn

    1, 2 Buckle my shoe.
    3, 4 Shut the door.
    5, 6 Pick up sticks.
    7, 8 Lay them straight.
    9, 10 A big, fat hen.

    Learning simple, memorable rhymes by heart has exponential value. "Knowledge of nursery rhymes at age 3, for example, is a strong predictor of later success with reading and spelling," says Paul. Rhymes help develop an understanding of the sounds of language, also known as phonemic awareness. There are 42 different sounds (also called phonemes) in the English language and learning to distinguish between "sh" and "st" is a pre-literacy skill at work, says Terri Swim, associate professor of early childhood education at Indiana University-Purdue University Ft. Wayne.

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    Bedtime Rhyme

    Come to the window
    My baby with me
    And look at the stars
    That shine on the sea.
    There are two little stars
    That play bo-peep
    With two little fish
    Far down in the deep
    And two little frogs cry, "Neap, neap, neap!"
    I see a dear baby that should be asleep.

    "The rhymes and alliteration of nursery rhymes and songs are different than daily language and provide children opportunities to hear similarities in words," says Shannon Ayers, assistant research professor at the National Institute for Early Education Research, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. And, there's no substitute for the face-to-face time, reminds Swim. "It's from interactions with people that children learn the meanings of words."

  • Kathryn Gamble Lozier

    Finger Exercise

    I have ten little fingers and they all belong to me.
    I can make them do things, would you like to see?
    I can shut them up tight
    Or open them wide.
    I can put them together
    Or make them all hide.
    I can make them jump high
    Or make them go low.
    I can fold them quietly and hold them just so.

    This interactive rhyme is a good choice for preschoolers. When kids practice and ultimately master finger plays, they develop the ability to coordinate their movements and strengthen their fine motor skills, which are absolutely critical for learning to write, says Rebecca Parlakian, senior writer at Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, a non-profit group in Washington, DC.

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    Imagination Builder

    The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round.
    The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town.
    The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish, swish, swish, swish,
    swish, swish, swish. The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish all through the town.
    The babies on the bus go waah, waah, waah...
    The parents on the bus go shh, shh, shh...

    This is your rainy day go-to song for toddlers. Grab a big box to decorate or line up the kitchen chairs to create your own bus, suggests Parlakian. Adding verses is also a vocabulary builder. "It's really the quantity of the talk that matters. The more you talk to your children, the bigger vocabulary they'll have," Paul points out.

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Little Honey

    Here is the beehive but where are the bees?
    (make fist and cover with other hand)
    Hidden away where nobody sees.
    Watch and you'll see them come out of the hive.

    (shake hands as if bees are inside)
    1,2, 3, 4, 5. (hold up hand and count with it)
    Bzzzzzz! (ends with buzzing bee finger touching child's nose or tickling belly)

    Finger plays for toddlers might only be 3-4 lines but they teach children how to sequence mini stories and understand what comes at the beginning, middle and end, explains Swim. And, she says, by acting out the rhyme, you add another level of teaching by taking something abstract and making it concrete.

  • Rhythm and Rhyme

    There was a crooked man
    Who walked a crooked mile.
    He found a crooked sixpence
    Against a crooked stile.
    He bought a crooked cat
    Which caught a crooked mouse
    And they all lived together in a
    Crooked little house.

    "Nursery rhymes allow children to hear the beat and rhythm of language which will link up with syllable separation as a later skill," says Ayers. With short rhymes like this one, you can build on the theme and either draw or use playdough to create crooked cats and houses. Both activities will help strengthen your little one's fine motor skills.

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    Conversation Starter

    Where is Thumbkin?
    Where is Thumbkin?
    Here I am. Here I am.
    How are you today sir? Very well I thank you.
    Run away. Run away.

    Rhymes match the melodic patterns we find in conversation so, by acting them out, children learn how a conversation works, explains Paul. As your thumbs become little characters in this story rhyme, it's also another opportunity to introduce the concept of symbolic thinking. Children need to understand symbols to understand letters, words and numbers, which are really just symbols for concepts and quantities, says Parlakian.

  • Tina Rupp

    Monkey Fun

    Five little monkeys swinging in the tree
    (hold up hand and swing it back and forth)
    Teasing Mr. Alligator, "Can't catch me."
    (point and shake finger)
    Along came Mr. Alligator quiet as can be...
    (put hands together and move in an alligator-like motion)
    And snapped that monkey right out of that tree.
    (clap hands together like an alligator's mouth)
    (repeat motions and words for...)
    Four little monkeys...
    Three little monkeys...
    Two little monkeys...
    One little monkey...

    This rhyme is all about the anticipation and the pattern that precedes the final chomp! "Pattern explorations are essential to building a foundation of mathematical thinking," says Judi Boyd, research project coordinator at the National Institute for Early Education Research, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "They will allow children to understand future patterns they encounter with numbers and symbols."

    Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.