When I was a small child, listening to Mother Goose rhymes on my mother’s lap was a part of our daily life. Even now, my mother remembers how amazed friends and family were to hear my eighteen month old self reciting Baa, Baa Black Sheep, Little Miss Muffet and Jack Be Nimble!
We all know the critical importance of reading books to our children, but the importance of reading and teaching rhymes to them has faded into the background over the last few decades. Learning rhymes as young children is more than just a pastime; the ability to rhyme is a reading readiness skill. Rhyming helps teach both the sound and letter patterns necessary for reading and spelling; hot, Spot, pot…fan, can, ran etc.
Rhyming is a part of what is called phonological awareness; the awareness of the sound structure of language in general (Yopp, 2000). It includes recognition of the sounds in words (phonemes) and their placement within the words. This is not to be confused with letter recognition. It also encompasses larger units of sound such as syllables and rhymes. It is the ability to generate and recognize rhyming words, to count syllables, to separate the beginning of a word from it’s ending, and to identify each of the phonemes in a word. (A Balanced Literacy Approach, Linehan, Julie L.) My experience as a speech pathologist in an elementary school is that many children lack this skill, and I am called upon to help them acquire it.
Memorizing poems and songs also provides another very important benefit. The act of memorizing itself helps build the memory pathways in the brain that are necessary for learning. My daughter, who is a first grade teacher, works with her students on a “poem of the week.” The children memorize the poem, as well as look for sight words and patterns. By National Poetry Month in April, they can easily memorize a several stanza poem and recite it for parents during an assembly. An added benefit is that they enjoy composing their own poetry.
Engaging our children with rhymes and rhyming songs is also fun. In addition to the time worn Mother Goose, there are many great and humorous children’s poetry books by authors like Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. And don’t forget Dr. Seuss!
So have fun rhyming and singing with your children while teaching them reading readiness skills and exercising those wonderful young brains! Below is an example of poetry I wrote for first grade students:
To Bee or not to Bee