The Science Behind Nursery Rhymes

Why are nursery rhymes a good addition to bedtime routine?

One of the biggest challenges of parenting is getting kids to go to sleep peacefully at bedtime.  Ideally children have a consistent bedtime routine which starts about an hour before bedtime.  An ideal bedtime routine is such that children and parents spend time together doing things that don’t involve any bright lights in order to let children begin to relax and to give them time to wind down.  Good bedtimes routines include commonly known activities such as a bath, story and bed but often these things aren’t enough to send children into a peaceful slumber.  Reading stories is an important activity for bedtime but the problem is that the light required to read can keep children’s brains switched on.  Nursery rhymes allow parents to turn off the lights and recite rhymes with children peacefully until they fall asleep instead of struggling with children all night.

What is the benefit in teaching my children nursery rhymes?

When children are able to fall asleep peacefully, they are less likely to wake up in a frenzy later in the night.  Because children enjoy being close to their parents and hearing their voices, this activity has stood the test of time.  Nursery rhymes have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years and exist in every culture and in every language.  The mere longevity of the nursery rhyme is convincing as to its effectiveness; however, even better, nursery rhymes have been researched extensively and have been proven to be impressive early literacy teachers for young children.  Regardless of status as a stay at home parent or working, parents are often already exhausted at bedtime, making bedtime that much more frustrating for parents when it doesn’t go smoothly.  Teaching children nursery rhymes early in life makes your job as a parent much easier in the long run. 

Are there additional benefits to nursery rhyme knowledge?

If the benefits of early literacy skills and an easier bedtime routine aren’t enough, there is the added benefit of children being capable of entertaining themselves at anytime by reciting the rhymes to themselves.  Promoting self play in this way is a great way for children to learn how to engage themselves without being completely reliant on exterior forms of entertainment as well.  The tremendous entertaining effect that nursery rhymes have on children may baffle adults; however, as one researcher has suggested: “Stop and listen to the rhymes. See how they awaken responsiveness in boys and girls. They are short, fun-filled, dramatic, pleasing to the ear, easy to remember—and oh, so hard to forget” (Hopkins, 1998; Sadlier-Oxford, 2011).  Because of the nature of these age old rhymes, they are captivating and frankly irreplaceable as evident in their longevity.  Additionally, the good thing is that one can start teaching a child nursery rhymes at a very early age, if not while they are still in the womb.  The earlier the better. 

How do nursery rhymes contribute to literacy skills?

There are extreme amounts of research on the importance of nursery rhymes in a child’s life.  The connections between phonological awareness and early literacy skills are astounding.  In fact many researchers posit that any rhyming stories, songs, or finger plays are equally as enriching; however, children must find them entertaining and enjoyable in order for them to be beneficial so its important to stick to repeating rhymes that children particularly enjoy.  Dr Seuss books are equally as interesting and as engaging as nursery rhymes; however, they are longer and harder to memorize for use at bedtime or in self play activities. 

Why don’t more parents teach children nursery rhymes today?

Promoting awareness of the benefits of nursery rhymes is particularly important given the fact that, “fewer parents nowadays engage their children in nursery rhyme activities either because they do not consider them to have educational value or that they believe nursery rhymes are “old fashioned” or find them embarrassing to recite to  their children”. Additionally, “more disconcerting is the fact that only about 50% of the youngest generation of parents know all the words to traditional nursery rhymes” (Booktrust, 2009; Dunst, Meter, & Hamby, 2011).  Furthermore, is the fact that the importance of nursery rhymes in the lives of children exhibiting various disabilities is even more so than in those without. 

What are the levels of phonetic awareness?

Because reading is such an important milestone for children in many ways, it is essential to pave this road for them in the most simple and pleasant ways possible.  Researchers have identified five levels of phonetic awareness which are pertinent to being later able to read:

  • knowledge of nursery rhymes
  • oddity tasks
  • blending and syllable splitting
  • phonemic segmentation
  • phoneme manipulation. 

Nursery rhyme knowledge serves as the basis for these five levels but also contributes greatly to the other four levels.  Often without any additional instruction, once children are familiar enough with these rhymes and can repeat them for themselves, they begin to engage in the other four levels of phonemic awareness on their own; however, parents can also engage children in the other levels as an additional bedtime activity. 

How can I implement the levels of phonetic awareness with my children?

Oddity tasks involve recognizing differences within the rhymes such as what does not rhyme and how the various beginning, middle, and ending sounds vary; blending and syllable splitting entails saying the sounds of letters separate from the word from which it belongs; phonemic segmentation entails tapping or clapping each word throughout the rhymes in order to recognize syllables; and phonemic manipulation entails playing with the words in the rhymes by taking words out of the rhymes and replacing the beginning letters with new letters to see what new words can be created.  By reciting rhymes with children and/or playing these word games with children during bedtime with the rhymes learned, children are entertained, learning valuable skills, and peacefully falling to sleep.  In addition, these activities are such that require minimal effort from parents, are fully doable with eyes closed, and are conducive to relaxation for children due to the interaction with the parent, the sound of the parent’s voice, along with the presence of the parent in remaining close by. 


Dunst, C., Meter, D., & Hamby, D. (2011). Relationship Between Young Children’s Nursery Rhyme Experiences and Knowledge and Phonological and Print-Related Abilities. Retrieved February 14, 2017, from

Sadlier-Oxford. (2010). Nursery Rhymes and Phonemic Awareness. Retrieved February 14, 2017, from

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