Tag Archives: nursery rhymes

What’s choral reading?

Choral reading is reading aloud as a group, much like a choir reads the words and sings them together aloud. It is commonly done in lower grades and in ESL classes for several reasons:group of students reading together from a single book

  • Children who are less skilled readers can listen to the more skilled readers beside them, and can model their reading after their classmates’ reading. In particular, less skilled readers can hear fluency (emphasis of certain words or syllables, pauses for punctuation, speeding up and slowing down) which less skilled readers might read too slowly to use correctly.
  • Children who stumble over sight words can hear them pronounced and can say them aloud without drawing attention to themselves. ESL students can hear correct inflections and can practice copying them.
  • Less skilled readers can practice aloud with anonymity, their mistakes or hesitancies masked by the reading of the larger group.
  • Children who are poky readers, who stumble while trying to decode words, will gain comprehension which they sometimes miss.
  • Choral reading is fun for children.

Certain kinds of books or readings work well for choral reading.

  • If a book has a rhyme pattern, or a predictable rhythm, it can be a good choice. A poem or nursery rhyme makes a good choral reading selection.
  • If the book is short, so that it can be repeated several times in a few minutes, it can be a good choice.
  • If the book is at the reading level of the less skilled students, it can be a good choice.
  • If less skilled readers are familiar with the rhyme or story, it can be a good choice.

Working one-on-one with a student, the parent and student can read aloud together from the same page. If the choral reading happens in a classroom, each student should have a copy of the text or be able to see a Big Book which everyone can use. Usually the adult reads first while the students follow along, pointing their fingers at the spoken words. Then the student joins in. The student might feel more comfortable if the adult reads with gusto, drowning out the mistakes of the beginning reader. As the selection is reread, the adult can read less loudly, allowing the child’s voice to be heard. Rereading the selection several times over several days is a good way to help the less skilled reader to remember the words or to figure them out quickly.

Is there any way to know ahead of time if my child will do well in reading?

Yes. According to Prof. Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, the two best predictors of later reading achievement are

  • an awareness of separate sounds (42 in English) and
  • the ability to rapidly name objects.

Today we’ll discuss sound awareness.

When I was a high school student studying French, I used to lie in bed listening to a Montreal radio station. I would try to figure out where one word ended and the next word began.  This same skill is what babies do when they listen to adults talk to them although they don’t realize it. Luckily for most babies, their mothers or caretakers speak slowly and distinctly and repeat words over and over.

With time toddlers begin to hear parts of words and realize that some words have one part (for example, Mom) while other words have more than one part (for example, Grandma).

Still later, usually around age four, children learn their ABC’s, not understanding what they are all about. But with instruction, they learn that each sound in English corresponds to a letter or a pair of letters in the ABC’s.

How can you enhance your child’s success in reading?

Make your child aware of words, syllables and individual sounds.

  • Encourage prereaders to write using invented spelling, advises Dr. Wolf. When the child writes, he sounds out a word and uses the letter symbols which seem appropriate. The “words” might not conform to proper spelling, but that is not the point. The child is working to figure out sounds, a skill he will need in order to read.Girl reading "inventive" writing of younger sister.
  • Encourage the child to listen to someone reading nursery rhymes. Then encourage the child to say the rhymes herself, advises Dr. Wolf.  Take “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” for example.

The itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the waterspout.

Down came the rain
And washed the spider out.

Out came the sun
And dried up all the rain.

So the itsy-bitsy spider
Climbed up the spout again!

  • Notice how “itsy bitsy,” “waterspout” and “out,” and “rain” and “again” rhyme. Notice the repetition of the word “rain” and the emphasis on the words “down” and “out.” Other nursery rhymes show alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds). When children listen to these sounds they learn to discriminate among similar sounds, figuring out what sounds the same and what sounds different.
  • Research shows that exposure to rhymes and alliteration helps children to figure out sounds and later, to read.

In our next blog we will discuss the other predictor of reading achievement, the ability to name.

How do I read to my two-year-old? Is he even ready?

Some one-year-olds are ready to be read to, and some two-year-olds are not yet ready. But most are. Reading to a two-year-old can be fun and educational for the child, and subconsciously, prepare the child for more sophisticated reading.

Two-year-olds are all about physical motion, so reading to them should include movement. You could start with board books, and ask the child to tell you what he sees. He might say, “Baby.” Probe a bit. “What is the baby doing? Show me.” Even if he can’t put into words the baby’s actions, he might be able to act them out.  Helen Oxenbury’s books are great for children who cannot speak yet.

baby reading a bookHis physical needs might include holding the book and turning the pages. He will learn to turn pages correctly if you help him. But he will want to go back and forth. He might see a dog on page eight and remember seeing the dog on an earlier page, and he might flip the pages to find the dog. Don’t expect formal sequencing of pages with a two-year-old.

Some books for young children have textured parts for the child to touch. Others have flaps that open and close, or they offer pop-up parts that unfold. Little children love these books, but roddlers tend to rip the pages. Beware. They love to move things in a trial-or-error way to see what happens. Yet their touch is usually not delicate.

You might start reading a picture book and the child might interrupt, pointing to a picture and talking about it. He might not care for the story yet, but he might be fascinated by the pictures. Don’t think that just because there are words you must read them. Let the child guide you.  If he doesn’t want you to read, look for some wordless books or just discuss the pictures.  Most wordless books are intended for toddlers.  They are also great for older ESL students new to English.

Two-year-olds are acquiring language rapidly. If you point to a picture and say “bug” or “triangle,” the child might remember the new word. Two-year-olds are also picking up grammar, so be sure you use grammar correctly, even if the child doesn’t. You don’t need to correct him most of the time.  By hearing you say grammar correctly, he will eventually say sentences correctly.

I remember my preschoolers choosing the same books over and over. I was bored reading them repeatedly, but they weren’t. Children find it comforting to hear, day after day, how the little bird found its mother or how Sylvester returned to his family.

father reading Old McDonald to childNursery rhymes are great for the littlest readers.  Some, like “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider” and “This Little Piggy,” encourage finger or toe play. You can tell the child enjoys nursery rhymes when he starts doing the finger play himself.  Plus, children love rhymes, anticipate them, and race to complete the rhyme.  Rhymes teach children about word families (spout, out; rain, again), too.

You might use reading to a toddler to establish routines, such as what you and your child do before or after a nap.

If there are older children, you might want to read to them at a different time, since a two-year-old’s abilities are quite different from a four- or five-year-old’s.  On the other hand, a patient toddler might pick up reading skills and vocabulary by listening to his older sibling read with you.

So should you read to a two-year-old? Definitely, but keep in mind the abilities of a child that age.


Are nursery rhymes still important?

Yes, they are, but sadly, more and more children come to school today with little knowledge of them.

boy pretending to be Humpty

There are many reasons—busy parents without time to read the rhymes, foreign-born parents unfamiliar with the rhymes, and competition from TV and electronics for children’s time.  Yet, for many reasons, nursery rhymes should be part of a child’s education, and the earlier the better.

  • Children—even one-year-old children—can appreciate nursery rhymes, often their first encounter with books, verses and rhythmical sentences.  If they are being read to, they learn what a book is, what side goes up, how to turn a page, what words look like in print and how to get meaning from pictures.  This experience is the beginning of getting meaning from printed words, a start to reading comprehension.
  • They learn that reading books can be fun, social occasions with Grandma cuddling as she sounds out the rhymes.
  • Children can learn what English sounds like.  They hear their mother’s voice rising and falling, speeding up and slowing down, getting softer and louder, and sounding scared or full of laughter.  This can be particularly important for ESL children who might hear these rhymes from preschool teachers.
  • They develop an ear for fluency, and when they are ready to repeat the rhymes themselves, they are likely to add the inflection of a good reader.
  • Kids naturally like rhythm which nursery rhymes offer in abundance.  If Dad claps out the rhythm to “Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake, Baker Man,” soon the child will mimic him, picking up the cadence of English.
  • Because nursery rhymes are so rhythmical, children become aware of units of sound (called phonemes) from which words are made.  They learn to progress through the sounds in a word in a particular order (called phonemic segmentation), a necessary prereading skill.
  • Children also love rhyme (one reason Dr. Seuss is so popular).  They begin to learn patterns, expecting a rhyme every so often in the rhythm, and are rewarded when that word comes.  They begin to share in the reading of nursery rhymes aloud.
  • Because nursery rhymes are short, children need only a short attention span for a single nursery rhyme.
  • Also because the rhymes are short, children can memorize them and recite them aloud.
  • Nursery rhymes contain words the child doesn’t hear every day or in a familiar context.  “Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch,” “eating her curds and whey,” and “Jack, be nimble” are examples.
  • Many nursery rhymes tell simple stories with beginnings, middles and ends.  The children hear of problems they might encounter—falling down and getting lost—and hear how those problems are resolved, or in Humpty Dumpty’s case, not resolved.
  • Nursery rhymes are great for group chanting and singing, sometimes called choral reading.  Think of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and “London Bridge is Falling Down.”  Can you think about “Mary Had a Little Lamb” without singing it in your head?  The tune makes the rhyme easier to remember and makes reading fun.
  • Reading nursery rhymes to children preserves an older American culture and a connection with past generations.  Many of today’s grandmothers, as children, were read the same rhymes by their grandmothers.
  • Later on in life, the child will encounter many allusions to nursery rhymes (and allusions to Greek mythology, Shakespeare and the Bible).  But the child will only make connections—and have a richer experience—if he is familiar with the original rhymes.  For example, Agatha Christie called one of her mysteries One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.  Why?
  • Reading nursery rhymes online is a way to connect a child’s use of a tablet, phone or computer with literature from an early age.

    Father reading to child and child asks, 'How old is Old McDonald?"

    To enlarge, click on the picture.

The history of nursery rhymes in English goes back hundreds of years to a time when most people could not read or write.  Part of an oral culture, they reported events of their time for adults and children alike.  For example,

  • “Ring around the Rosy” is believed to have originated in 1347 during the Black Death in Europe.  The ring referred to a round mark on the skin which was the first sign of the bubonic plague.  The last line, “And we all fall down,” was no laughing matter.
  • “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” refers to Mary, Queen of Scots, who was beheaded for her religious beliefs.
  • “Little Miss Muffett” refers to the daughter of a bug expert in Shakespeare’s day.
  • “Thirty Days Hath September” is believed to come from the 13th century, based on a similar rhyme in French to help remember how many days are in a month.

So are nursery rhymes important?  What do you think?  Did someone read nursery rhymes to you?  Can you recite any from memory?  Have you enjoyed passing along this tradition to your children and grandchildren?  Let our readers know.