Mothers find it difficult when their babies want to grab and put everything into their mouth;  they report that they like to keep short nursery rhymes books on hand. It is just that the bouncy  rhythm catches their attention. A lot of parents these days think that nursery rhymes can boost  early language development. So does that mean if nursery rhymes are read to children from a  very early stage of their development, do they turn out to be an early talker? Not necessarily! 

A lot of children who are seen by developmental paediatricians of late come with complaints  that they can recite many nursery rhymes but they do not reply back when parents ask them a  question or they do not repeat/recognise words; as a matter of fact they sometimes do not utter  even a single word! But still parents continue to expose their children to rhymes in the  assumption that they can pick up language.

A development of several cognitive abilities like joint attention between a parent and child and  association of pictures with actions improves recognition of language better. An ideal and  simplified pictures that have rhythmic, rhyming and repetitive features of the text supports  pattern abstraction, memory storage, recognition and naming. A nursery rhyme fosters  imaginary play and it introduces to the idea of storytelling. Researchers have documented that  kids who know and learn nursery rhymes are equipped to be better readers when they grow up. 

It also enhances the idea of reading!!! 

When it is sung in group in a classroom situation it helps in better social development,  cohesiveness and improves their social interaction.

However, nursery rhymes have a flip side to it as well which is the major concern for most  parents these days. They see their children reciting ‘n’ number of rhymes yet doctors referring  their children for intensive speech therapy.

Puzzling, isn’t it? 

When this issue was looked deeply, a lot of factors that may be acting as influencing factors, in  fact was unleashed by professionals. Doctors and professionals understood that nursery rhymes  are just being sounds of words which could mean that children are not actually picking up  language. Of late, in any household with a young child, there is gadget dependency commonly  reported by parents. Watching nursery rhymes hours together on mobile phones/tablets has  become an integral part of a child’s life. There is a tendency that is widely seen among parents  to play nursery rhymes on gadgets as a solution when their children throws tantrums, gets fussy,  cries for something etc.

The unfortunate of calming the child through nursery rhymes only teaches the child to mask  their feelings rather than expressing them. Reciting nursery rhymes is a platform to only teach  them a few words but on the contrary decreases the actual development of language skills. It  does not help young children develop  

  • Empathy
  • Social skills 
  • Problem solving skills that are typically acquired by unstructured, explorative and  interactive play

Parents need to understand that nursery rhymes are important for their children as long as they  are interactive and gadget-free. The rhyme and rhythm helps children learn sounds and syllables  in words; to an extent where it promotes rote learning but it is better if it is used as required. It  comes with several other side effects that strengthen the roots of speech delays, cognitive deficits and disturbance in the development of social and emotional skills. It is very essential that  the social environment of children is a complex composition of interactive learning, parental  involvement with exclusion of teaching nursery rhymes or words through any gadgets.  

by Shonalli Ponnappa, Special Educator and Ashwini HJ, Psychologist