How to use rhyme and song for social skills and language - tips from a speech therapist

How can rhyme and song help?

We know how much young children enjoy rhyme and song (especially silly ones), and it's a lovely way to bond and share time with your baby or child.  But did you know you are also helping your child learn social skills, language, and even giving them the foundations of reading skills?

When you sing or do a fun action rhyme together, you and your child are both focusing on the same activity.  This is great for developing joint attention skills (link to baby and young child theory of mind blog post).  As this gorgeous video shows, even young babies enjoy sharing a song with you (

Use pauses like this mum does to see whether your baby or child will ask you to start again, or they may even start singing themselves!  Many rhymes and songs also help develop turn taking skills, by giving toddlers or children a chance to join in with a repeated phrase or an action.  Pause before you say the repeated phrase/action to prompt your child to join in (e.g. ‘we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go…’ ‘through it!’).

Rhyme and song - vary the speed, volume or pitch

Other ways to keep your baby’s interest are to vary your speed, volume or pitch.  Try:

  • slowing down or speeding up part of the song (e.g. you can ‘row your boat’ quickly or slowly)
  • making your voice louder or quieter than normal (e.g. by starting really quietly with ‘dingle dangle scarecrow’, then getting louder when the scarecrow jumps up!)
  • singing higher or lower than normal (e.g. when the grand old duke of york’s men march up, you can sing in a high voice, and when they march down, you can sing with a low voice)
  • using funny voices – older children also love singing songs ‘like a tiny mouse/a hippopotamus/Donald Duck might’!

Rhyme and song - using actions

Using actions alongside spoken words helps children to learn new words, another great bonus of action songs and rhymes.  Here are some of our favourites: If your baby is too young to do the actions themselves, you can help them by doing the actions for them, such as in ‘Ride a cock-horse to Banbury cross’ (   If you don’t know the actions to your child's favourite rhyme or song, you could look on YouTube to see if someone else has made some up, or make your own up!

  • This is the way we brush our hair/read a book/drink our milk (to the tune of 'here we go round the mulberry bush, miming the action you are singing about)
  • Heads shoulders knees and toes
  • Dingle dangle scarecrow (
  • I’m a little teapot

To learn new words, children need to hear them a number of times in different situations.  Singing the same songs and rhymes regularly is a fun way for your child to hear the same words again and again.  Once your child is familiar with the rhyme or song, you could try missing out a word at the end of each line, and see whether your child can remember the word, e.g. 'Humpty Dumpty sat on the ..., Humpty Dumpty had a great ...'

Rhyming helps children learn about the sound structure of words.  To know that 'wall' and 'fall' rhyme, a child has to break up the word into parts and know that they both end with 'all'.  Breaking up words into sounds and noticing when words have similar sounds (or sequences of sounds) in them is a crucial skill in reading and spelling (Goswami, 1986, 1988).  Bryant, MacLean and Crossland (1990) found that children who were better rhymes at age 4 1/2 were better readers and spellers at age 6 1/2. For more information about the benefits of rhyme on reading, look at

I hope this has encouraged you to share songs and rhymes with your child.  Many libraries and children’s centres have rhyme or singing sessions for young children you can join, and has more songs and rhymes if you’re looking to add to your repertoire.  Remember, whatever your singing voice, your child will love to share songs and rhymes with you!

Fridge tips

For superb songs and rockin’ rhymes: Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

  • Add actions
  • Repeat the same rhymes and songs to help your child get to know them and join in
  • Vary your pitch, volume and speed to keep the song interesting
  • Pause to see if your child can join in with repetitive actions, phrases, or fill in a gap

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