Reading Time? Sing a Rhyme!
Imagine a world of words with no rhyme,
There would be no fun in the reading-years prime…
Grasping the sounds would take efforts and time,
Words would be distant, hidden in rime.
Rhymes help to speak, to remember, to spell,
A rhyme-happy child can read pretty well!
To give you the essence, wrapped in a nutshell,
In rhymes the heart of a reader does dwell.
Sense it may make, or make it may not,
But a rhyme is a way of learning sure shot,
O! Do start early, while the child is a tot,
Before, in complex words and phrases, it’s caught…
Well, this was only a modest effort to convey what this piece is all about! And if it has even partially succeeded in doing so, you will agree upon the role of rhymes in taking the first step towards reading — generating curiosity and interest — at the very least!
Rhyme — Its power sublime!
Quite simply put, a rhyme is ‘A repetition of sounds in two or more words, usually in the last syllables of consecutive lines’.
Metaphorically, it would be apt to say, a rhyme is ‘A powerful tool that can cut through a labyrinth of thoughts and sentences, to convey deep meanings in crisp words’.
Good ‘Rhymers’ are Good ‘Readers’
And here are some very good reasons why
In her book, ‘Reading Magic’, acclaimed Australian author, Mem Fox states that:
“Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that children who know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they are four years old, are usually among the best readers and spellers in their class by the time they are eight”
Let us evaluate the impact rhymes can have on children, in detail.
1. Open the doors to a world of Reading
Children love repetitive sounds. Little wonder then, that the world over, most children are introduced to rhymes in various languages, much before they are ready to start formal school, or even before they start to speak coherently. As children sing rhymes, they subconsciously start making connections with the phonetic pieces, or constituents, of words. They start searching for familiar sounds in words that they come across, and this is often their ‘first baby step’ in the journey of becoming readers!
For the sake of a practical endorsement, try asking a class of 3-year old children in pre-school to complete this sentence, ‘The Cat ate the ______’,and you have a very high probability that the entire class will echo ‘Rat’ and not ‘Mouse’! This is simply because even toddlers can begin to connect ‘cat’ with ‘rat’, ’mat’, ’hat’, ‘fat’ and so on — thereby detecting the sound segment ‘at’.
Thus, the more rhymes that children are exposed to, the more sound segments they become familiar with, creating sound phonemic awareness.
2. Vocabulary is born and nurtured here
As words in a rhyming sequence appeal more to young children, they are most likely to remember words that they come across, more so as they repeatedly recite rhymes.
Often, we use simple language to communicate with toddlers. But if you look through the popular nursery rhymes, they have a huge recall value with toddlers, despite the fact that a lot of words used therein may not be encountered by children in their daily routine conversations. Some of these words may be beyond the comprehension of little minds to start with, but since rhymes are usually accompanied by illustrations, children soon learn the words and understand what they mean, too.
For instance, we could assume that for a lot of children who are introduced to rhymes early on, ‘Here we go around the mulberry bush’ would be the rhyme where the child would taste ‘mulberries’ for the first time, ‘Rock-a-by-baby’ would introduce children to words such as ‘bough’, ‘hush’ and ‘cradle’, and ‘Little Miss Muffet’ would subtly teach words such as ‘tuffet’, ‘whey’ and ‘frightened’!
3. Spell Well!
Most words with common sound segments have similar spellings as well. For instance, words such as ‘down’, ‘crown’, ‘frown’, ‘clown’ and ‘town’, are very similarly spelt. Therefore, once a child knows how to spell one word in a group of words that share syllables, it becomes easier for him / her to extend that knowledge to decode spellings of the others.
Infact, children who have been trained through rhymes form a subconscious habit of guessing spellings of more complex words they encounter, based on their knowledge of spellings of easier words.
Take for example, the word ‘ate’. While a five-year old rhyme-happy child may prefix smaller syllables to spell out words such as ‘date’, ‘late’, ‘mate’ and ‘fate’, an eight-year old child, exposed early-on to rhymes, will be able to use knowledge derived from several such previously-learned sequences to spell words such as ‘articulate’, ‘translate’, ‘collaborate’ and ‘exaggerate’!
In this way, learning to read one new word is readily extended to learning several more!
4. Not rote, but emote
Another important aspect of recitation of rhymes is that there is always an element of enactment and expression involved. Children tend to pick these cues while learning to sing the rhymes themselves. This leads to a higher involvement with their reading material as they grow up too, and helps them to articulate correctly as well as to read with the right voice modulation, pitch and expression.
In other words, it helps the child to comprehend what he /she is reading, rather than reading in a rote manner, while also working on his / her oratory skills.
5. Imagination makes reading fun!
Rhymes help children build a better imagination. Children who are exposed to rhymes are usually also exposed to bright and colourful illustrations as they read the rhyme in print. This helps them to make connections of the words with images, and promotes a sense of imagination. These early skills of imagination and visualization are helpful in the long run as readers.
Furthermore, rhymes make the reading process come alive, so it is a fun way to get the child interested in reading.
6. The first ‘stories’
Rhymes are often short stories, so listening to various rhymes over a period of time helps children develop an early sense of prediction, sequencing and visualization. For instance, a popular nursery rhyme goes,
Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow!
And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go!
It followed her to school one day, which was against the rule,
It made the children laugh and play, to see a lamb at school!
In the subconscious, a child, who listens to this rhyme a few times, is listening to a story about a little lamb that Mary had, and its adventure to Mary’s school. This trait of being able to correlate and develop sequences in the stories in rhymes can nurture an innate habit of curiosity — to read stories and to guess and discover — what happens next!
7. Remember that rhyme?
Most of us who have read and sung rhymes as children can relate to this fact — we still remember many, if not all, of those rhymes that we sang years ago! It may not be possible to say that about a lot of books and stories that we may have read in the years that followed, however proficient we may have been in reading. The reason is simple. We connected to the rhymes in a way as to no other mode of learning.
Rhymes are often the first ‘learning tools’ deployed for young toddlers, and their impact is more long-lasting.
Clearly, now, children who have been sensitized to rhymes at a young age are better-equipped to develop into proficient readers at a later stage.
It is imperative then, to make the most of these formative years, by maximizing the learning experience through the already-loved rhymes. The good news is that rhymes have their own power of persuasion, leaving little requirement of effort on part of the parents! But with some creativity and systematic work, children can be given that starting edge.
Here are some fun ways to get there!
1. Take it easy!
While introducing rhymes to children for the first time, choose ones that are short and easier to remember, with more alliteration. Take for example, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, “Jack and Jill went up the hill”, or “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall” — these are all rhymes with easy-to-remember lyrics as well as certain action cues that are usually taught alongside for the child to recall them better.
2. Kids love action
Rhymes can be brought alive through the use of actions, clapping or tapping along, voice modulation and facial expressions. This is perhaps one of the most important points to remember. The impact of a rhyme on a child — the interest it generates, the extent of visual imagination, the comprehension as well as recall — can be made deeper and more long-lasting, if narrated in a lively manner. Your child is likely to have fun only if he/she can see you having fun singing it!
3.Anytime is a good time!
Sing rhymes with children as often as is possible, rather than setting aside an exclusive time for singing them. ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ and ‘Rock-a-by baby’ can be excellent lullaby-rhymes for bedtime. ‘The wheels of the bus go round and round’ makes a lovely sing-along rhyme on a trip or a picnic! ‘Hot Cross Buns’, ‘I’m a little teapot’ or ‘Little Jack Horner’ are sweet rhymes to sing to a child at mealtimes. The more rhymes a child is exposed to, the more it adds to the child’s experience and development.
4.Play observation games
Make impromptu use of visual cues as and where available. You might be out with your child on a shopping trip, where you may see a bus. Point the bus out to your child and prompt, ‘The wheels of the bus go_____________________’. Let your child add the ‘round and round’ to complete the line! This is not just a fun-way to recall and sing rhymes, it will also go a long way in developing a child’s sense of observation as well as linking what he / she reads with the world around him / her, both of which are crucial qualities in a sound reader.
5.Polish up your creative side
It would help if you could be creative too! Once the child is more familiar with the original rhymes, try substituting some words with other rhyming words and see how your child reacts to them. By doing so, you can smartly expand the child’s vocabulary further, and also use the opportunity to drive home some rules and inculcate good habits. Take, for example, the rhyme ‘I’m a little teapot’, and change it to:
‘I’m a little teddy, furry and nice, This is my nose and these are my eyes!
When I play with Myraa, we have lots of fun, She puts me in the right place when our play is done
London Bridge is falling down’ can be changed to:
Myraa eats her healthy food, wholesome food, healthy food,
Myraa eats her healthy food, She eats it on her plate!
Carrots, Peas and Pumpkins fresh, pumpkins fresh, pumpkins fresh,
Carrots, Peas and Pumpkins fresh, They make her feel just great!
This also drives home the point that rhymes are not just for toddlers. Children who are impressed and intrigued by rhymes in the early years can use them later as learning tools for creative writing too. As per your child’s age and creative inclination, you can give him / her short fun-assignments of substituting words in popular rhymes to create new ones, just like the samples above!
Pretend to forget at times! Leave out key words or pretend to be stuck in the middle of a line. Let your child feel the thrill of having helped you out, while your objective of establishing a stronger recall is subtly fulfilled.
Perhaps the most beautiful fact about rhymes is that it is never too early to start a child on them. Even a newborn can be calmed down with a soothing nursery rhyme for a lullaby! It is also never too late to continue picking rhymes for your child. As children grow up, they can be encouraged to follow more complex rhymes and sonnets by famous poets. Poems offer an excellent repertoire in vocabulary, stories and imagination for people across all ages.
The benefits towards making a better reader notwithstanding, rhymes are also a great way for a parent or a teacher to bond with a child. So, enjoy the goodness of a rhyme, and have a wonderful parenting time!