How action rhymes and songs help children learn

By Heather Welford. Action rhymes may just seem like simple fun to us, but they really can help children learn.

Man outdoors with three children


Action rhythms such as Incy Wincy Spider or the Hokey Cokey may just seem like simple fun to us grown-ups, but sharing action rhymes with your child really can enhance their language and communication skills.

The repetition within many rhymes helps children learn, and the playful way movements echo the meaning of the words can help to develop their physical coordination skills.

Plus, many popular rhymes (e.g. 1,2,3,4,5 - Once I Caught A Fish Alive) can help your child with counting and also extend their understanding of the world around them.

How CBeebies can help

Many songs and rhymes shown on CBeebies or which are featured on the website have actions to copy.

Or if your child prefers, they can make up their own movements to the ones they like.

A great one to try is Bob The Builder's 'Big Fish Music Video'; You'll find it hard not to join in with your little one!

Alternatively, why not have a go at singing and dancing to some of the Boogie Beebies songs? There are lots to choose from and each one is pretty much guaranteed to get your child off the sofa and wiggling and jiggling along to the music.

Another new show which can introduce your little ones to poetry is Rhyme Rocket. It aims to present poems and rhymes in a fresh and fun way, and has been proven to aid early years literacy development.

How to make a magic moment

Action rhymes can be energetic or gently soothing - so Twinkle Twinkle Little Star has a simple action (the hand above the head with fingers 'twinkling') accompanied by a sweet, slow tune, while something more boisterous like The Hokey Cokey has big, sweeping movements to match its more raucous melody.

But you can swap moods around for fun. Try doing tiny movements with The Hokey Cokey while whispering the words - and then do bigger, faster hand movements for Twinkle Twinkle while you see how hard you can yell the words! Be creative. With your child, think up new verses and actions that go with them for 'The Wheels on the Bus' what other things has your child seen happen on a bus that you can mime? What other things does a bus do, apart from the horn going beep-beep-beep and the wipers going swish-swish-swish? Try personalising the action rhymes you choose. So, when doing 'Incy Wincy Spider' - with fingers and hands moving upwards, just like the spider travelling up the spout - put your child's name in, replacing 'Incy Wincy'. Go through all the family. Children often find this very funny - the incongruity of it appeals to their sense of humour. Fingerplay rhymes are excellent for manual dexterity - try 'Tommy Thumb' or 'Two little Blackbirds'.

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Top tips

  • If you're stuck for rhymes, ask your child's nursery for some ideas.Don't be a perfectionist. Lots of number rhymes have actions that need the right number of fingers up at any one time (eg Five Little Ducks, There were 10 in the Bed). Most children won't be able to show the correct number - that's fine. It's the taking part and the trying that's the most important thing. Be dramatic and uninhibited when you recite or sing action rhymes with your child. Use lots of facial expression and if you want to dance and hop around, do so!Use rhymes at any time - they're a great way of keeping your child happy in the supermarket queue and a great trick up your sleeve when boredom strikes!

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