The Benefits of Nursery Rhymes on Preschool Development

If you’re the parent of a toddler or preschooler, then you probably learned early on that you can’t easily escape nursery rhymes.

These ditties seem fairly innocuous at first, but it doesn’t take long before you’re going bonkers from hearing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” for the 4,783rd time.

You start to wonder why you’re allowing these antiques into your house in the first place. After all, aren’t they just outdated (and often politically incorrect) collections of pseudo-history, most of which don’t even make sense in today’s society?

But before you try to rid yourself of these earworms by digging them out of your head with a spoon, read this list.

Believe it or not, nursery rhymes are incredibly powerful influencers in preschool development. Phonemic skill development gained from nursery rhymes has even been scientifically shown to significantly improve reading, spelling and other literacy skills (Harper, 2011)!

So try to grin and bear it (and start a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” while you’re at it!) as you learn all the ways nursery rhymes can positively affect your toddler or preschooler:

Cognitive development

  • Repetition of rhymes and stories is good for the brain, teaching how language works and building memory capabilities.
  • Nursery rhymes help develop inferencing skills, both with encountering new words and in reading comprehension.
  • Because these verses are made up of patterns, they are easy first memorization pieces.


  • Nursery rhymes are important for language acquisition and help with speech development.
  • They help children develop auditory skills such as discriminating between sounds and developing the ear for the music of words.
  • Rhymes like these help kids articulate words, modulate voices (practicing pitch, volume, and inflection) and enunciate clearly by saying them over and over without fear of criticism.
  • Nursery rhymes are excellent, the natural choice for a first recitation selection.
  • The mouth and tongue muscles are developed as children say these rhymes.
  • Listening comprehension is a foundational skill that is often skipped, but nursery rhymes can help ensure this crucial ability (that precedes reading comprehension) is covered.

Benefits of Nursery Rhymes on Preschool Development Pam Barnhill Homeschool SolutionsPinReading

  • Nursery rhyme knowledge provides an excellent foundation for later literary works.
  • They are a great introduction to stories since many contain a beginning, middle, and end (sequencing).
  • Familiarity with nursery rhymes makes good readers, even despite differences in social background (Bryant, Bradley, Maclean & Crossland, 1989).
  • Work with these verses helps children detect the phonetic segments of words.


  • Nursery rhymes increase vocabulary (like the word “fetch” in Jack & Jill).
  • They help children assimilate language.
  • They are a great, wonderful introduction to poetry.
  • They promote spelling skills.
  • Verses like these introduce literary devices like alliteration, onomatopoeia, and imagery.

Benefits of Nursery Rhymes on Preschool Development Pam Barnhill Homeschool SolutionsPin


  • Nursery rhymes expand children’s imagination.
  • They promote creative dramatization when kids act the scenarios out.


  • These classic verses preserve culture and provide something in common between multiple generations (a good way to bond with grandparents or when meeting new people!)
  • Nursery rhymes teach history and connect a child to the past.


  • Nursery rhymes are full of patterns, sequencing, numbers, and counting (forward and backward).
  • They also discuss size, weight and other important math vocabularies.


  • Since many nursery rhymes involve movement, coordination and physicality are integrated with their readings (Think “Ring Around the Rosey” or “London Bridge.”)
  • Coordinating fingerplays are helpful to fine motor skill development.

Social and emotional

  • Nursery rhymes develop humor.
  • Because of the connection between movement, rhythm, and words, singing these songs can be a great group activity.
  • Children can learn social skills from many of the rhymes.
  • Nursery rhymes are familiar and can thus provide comfort and support to youngsters in uncomfortable situations.

Finally, nursery rhymes are just plain fun to say!

So, put away that spoon and embrace Mother Goose with open arms! Every time you cringe from hearing “Humpty Dumpty” or “Hey Diddle Diddle,” just remember how important these classics are to your child’s growth!

Are you a fan of nursery rhymes, or do these ditties drive you batty? I’d love to hear!

Also, be sure to pop on over to Syncopated Mama and read 10 Ways to Make Nursery Rhymes More Fun for great ideas for wordplay and other coordinating activities!


Bryant, P.E., Bradley, L., Maclean, M., and Crossland, J. (1989). Nursery rhymes, phonological skills,
and reading. Journal of Child Language [Online], Jun; 16(2), 407-28.

Harper, L. J. (2011). Nursery rhyme knowledge and phonological awareness in preschool children. The Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 7(1), 65-78.




  • Awesome reasons to use nursery rhymes!! Such solid advice. Love it. 🙂

  • Korie says:

    This helps explains why our young kids were so enthralled with nursery rhyme CDs on our 16 hour drive to Florida a few months ago! I was about going crazy but our 4 year old was so happy so we kept them on 🙂

  • Jen says:

    We love Nursery Rhymes! I read them to my littlest ones at least once a day, usually with another book or two before naptime or bedtime. They’re a great precursor to children’s poetry for my early elementary kids!

  • Mama Rachael says:

    fun! I don’t know many nursery rhymes, but it makes me want to learn more. I might see about getting a book, I think if I read some a few times, I’d remember them….

    • I bet you’d remember them pretty quickly — they sort of imbed themselves in your brain! I would highly suggest one of the collections that I mentioned in my other post. That way you’d have them all in one spot!

  • Meg says:

    I was shocked to find myself the only woman who was familiar with nursery rhymes at all, at a baby shower game that used them, years ago. I had no idea that an entire generation was ignorant of songs and rhymes that had been passed from mother to child for many hundreds of years! I made it a point to have several nursery rhyme books, including one that was more a historical compilation than something for kids. Many of them are not something I would read, unedited, to my children –Oranges and Lemons, for instance, ends with “here comes a chopper to chop off your head!”– but I do appreciate some of the innovations I have come across, such as The Wiggles’ “here comes a teddy to guide you to bed!” instead.

    In fact, the video “Pop Go The Wiggles” is a very nice one that is basically made up of danced and acted-out versions of nursery rhymes, that I would highly recommend.

    The other thing to know about nursery rhymes, is that most of the versions we were taught, were truncated: for instance, most people don’t know the full version of Jack and Jill:

    Jack and Jill went up the hill,
    To fetch a pail of water;
    Jack fell down and broke his crown
    And Jill came tumbling after!

    Then up Jack got and off did trot,
    As fast as he could caper,
    To see Dame Dob, who patched his knob
    With vinegar and brown paper!

    and similarly don’t know that Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star has many, many verses, as does Little Bo Peep! Little Bo Peep in particular has a full comic story and punchline, that I didn’t know about until getting my book of historical nursery rhymes.

    I think it’s interesting to find get a glimpse into history, and glean what we can of how people spoke (the word ‘caper’ has all but disappeared from our lexicon, and ‘sport’ rarely means ‘to play; to caper; to gambol’ anymore), as well as continue our link in the chain of oral history that goes back many hundreds of years, to England and surrounding areas.

    • That’s crazy that you were the only one familiar with nursery rhymes at that shower! And I agree that it’s so neat to learn more about them, including all the extra verses — I’ve come across many in the past few years that I hadn’t realized were longer and it’s just so interesting to me!

  • Sharon Hrycewicz says:

    to say nothing about the great made up words in them: HIckory dickory, higglety pigglety.

    Being able to read made up words is a great way to understand phonemic awareness.

  • Andrea says:

    For a great book that uses pictures to modernize nuresry rhymes, check out Nina Crews’ The Neighborhood Mother Goose!

  • Veronica says:

    I know a Lit professor, my dad’s friend, who was oddly thrilled when I found out my kid knew the standard nursery rhymes. He said you can draw a line from Mother Goose to iambic pentameter.

  • Jenny says:

    When my daughter got to the local junior college, her English teacher couldn’t believe that she was the only one who knew nursery rhymes. It’s only because my brother and I loved the Richard Scarry book pictured above and I read it to our children. We still in our 40’s send texts quoting references to rhymes from it.

  • Sandy says:

    Love nursery rhymes. We act out several each year for our moving up ceremony. The kids enjoy them so much.

  • Nancy Kopman says:

    I love certain nursery rhymes for their rhythm, some for their tune, some for their content. As a music and movement specialist and educational music songwriter/composer, I keep my songs short, to the point, and design them to be a tool to teach, much like the nursery rhymes that have transcended generations.
    I enjoyed this article and will be scheduling it to share on my social media outlets. Great post!

  • P.S. – Great article!

  • kavi_udpt says:

    I recently saw one of the YouTube videos and it’s teaching rhymes and also teaching some interesting thing about the reason behind for the nursery rhyme. For example, Tax is main reason behind the Baa Baa Black Sheep song’s reason.
    Really liked it.

    • Lisa Healy says:

      I’ve read several “stories behind nursery rhymes” and have thought that even if they aren’t completely true (it seems some have a bit of controversy surrounding them), that it’s really interesting to consider!

  • Maureen says:

    I teach 2-3 year olds and I’m doing a unit on nursery rhymes the next 2 weeks. I write the newsletter so I wanted parents to know the benefits of nursery rhymes – hence I found this post. I am doing the rhymes using a creative angle. For instance I made or collected props to perform the rhymes in addition to learning the fingerplay and utilizing flannel board pieces to accompany the rhymes. I’ve been teaching preschool for three decades now and I can vouch for you that young children are not learning nursery rhymes at home especially in the past 10 years. I am usually lucky to have 2-3 children in class to know more then one or two rhymes.

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience and creative ways to incorporate nursery rhymes into learning, Maureen! And congratulations on three decades of working with the wee ones – I bet they just love you!

  • Appu Series says:

    Nursery rhymes are definitely a good way for pre-schoolers to learn…

  • Linda Davis says:

    I’m currently writing a post for my blog and reading nursery rhymes to your child is one of the top 10 ways to help develop a love of music for your child. You have a very well written article!

  • Donna Fields says:

    This is a really good summary of the benefits of nursery rhymes, Lisa. Thank you so much for this very well-written post. I’m preparing a webinar for pre-school teachers in Spain to encourage them to use more nursery rhymes in their classes and you’ve included so much very valuable information. Thank you again

  • leann says:

    hey when was this posted? i need the info for a class since im using this blog for my work! Thank you!

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