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Researchers studied a group of 64 children when they were 3 years old, and the more rhymes they knew then, the better they were able to read 3 years later. They have concluded that this is the case because rhymes train children to be more sensitive to the speech sounds within words. (Read the study.)
What a fun way to encourage early literacy!
Here are 8 tips to help you along your way:
- Introduce nursery rhymes and songs early. Brain plasticity quickly declines with age during the first years of life. (Read here.) So, reciting rhymes to a 6 year old doesn’t have nearly as big an impact on his brain architecture as it has on that of the brain of a 6 month old baby. Ironically, the reverse will seem to be the case. Your 6 year old will remember the words much more quickly, while you will have to wait for about a year to hear them from your 6 month old.
- Choose 5-10 rhymes. You’ll find a selection of English and Afrikaans ones here. Then repeat 1 or 2 of them when the opportunity arises. Aim to say each one at least once a day.
- Turn songs into rhymes if you cannot bear the thought of your child having to listen to your singing voice. Then ask other members of the family to perform the musical versions.
- Add hand movements. They emphasize meaning and help to focus your child’s attention. You can, for instance let your fingers do the climbing in “Itsy Bitsy Spider” before showing the rain falling, the water washing and the sun coming out. See here. Create your own movements if you like, but stick with what you’ve chosen so that your child can learn to expect a familiar experience.
- Involve older children and all the caregivers. Hearing the same rhymes from different caregivers fosters a sense of continuity and aids the learning process – especially if everyone uses the same hand movements.
- Leave out rhyme words at the end of sentences when your child is familiar with a rhyme and able to say the words, typically after 18 months, e.g.: “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you …” (He says: “are!”)
- Repetition is key. Expect to repeat a rhyme thousands of times before your toddler starts filling in words.
- Have fun and trust the process. Your child’s brain is craving this kind of phonological stimulation. The results of your commitment will only be visible later, but this doesn’t mean nothing is happening in the interim.