Early literacy skills: why are nursery rhymes so important?

Literacy skills begin at birth. From the moment you start to chatter to your baby, sing nursery rhymes to them and read with them, you are developing your child’s literacy skills.

Research evidences a correlation between reading ability and nursery rhymes. The best readers at the age of 8 are not those children who started to read at an early age but those who knew the most nursery rhymes by heart at 4 years old! This is because these children develop a sound and deep understanding of the sounds in words, an ability to hear and differentiate all the different sounds in words and an ability to decode words – all these skills without even knowing it!

Experts in literacy and child development discovered that if a child knows eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they are four years old, they are usually among the best readers and spellers in their class by the time they are in Year 3. This is due to repeatedly hearing the sounds that make up familiar words and the impact this has on phonological awareness and understanding – in simple terms the ability to hear all the different sounds that make up a word. For example singing ‘Baa-Baa Black Sheep’ enables children to understand that the word sheep is made by combining the sounds sh – ee – p. This ability to ‘decode’ the sounds in a word is an essential pre-reading and pre-writing skill.

In order to make a good start to reading and writing, children need to be listened to and talked with. Portland Nurseries use the ‘Letters and Sounds Phase One in Action’ government guidelines to develop early phonological skills. Letters and Sounds is a national strategy that was introduced in 2007 to “build and develop children’s speaking and listening skills.” Letters and Sounds has proven to be a highly effective way of developing early literacy skills and, most importantly, it’s all the learning is through fun play activities.

The Phase one activities in Letters and Sounds start by concentrating on developing children’s speaking and listening skills and phonological awareness. These activities are intended to be used “as part of a broad and rich language curriculum that has speaking and listening at its centre, links language with physical and practical experiences, and provides an environment rich in print and abundant in opportunities to engage with books.”

So when you are singing your little ones favourite nursery rhyme with them for the hundredth time, just remember you’re playing an important role in developing their literacy skills!

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