Teaching and learning with nursery rhymes

  • Published on November 15, 2019

Teaching and learning with nursery rhymes

Nursery rhymes are often a child’s first introduction to our literary heritage. Parents sing nursery rhyme lullabies to soothe their babies to sleep and play nursery rhyme games to entertain them in their waking hours. All the while, children are learning the rhythms and tones of our language, developing vocabulary, ideas and imagination. When children learn the repetitive patterns of nursery rhymes, they are also developing their memories.

Australian author Mem Fox is often quoted as saying that

“Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.”

While I am aware that others question the existence of research to back up that statement, I think most teachers would agree that children who have been spoken to, sung to (including nursery rhymes) and read to before school will find literacy learning much easier in our classrooms. Success with literacy learning often correlates with success later in life.

Already on the readilearn website, there are resources to support your literacy teaching using the nursery rhymes Humpty Dumpty and Little Miss Muffet. More are in development. While some nursery rhymes may be considered to have questionable origins, those origins have no place when teaching them to children. The benefits flow from having fun with the rhythms and rhymes of language.

Teaching literacy skills & developing creative thinking with Humpty Dumpty

The Humpty Dumpty suite of resources includes:

the accident - a story about Humpty Dumpty's fall

The Accident — Humpty Dumpty’s Fall is an original story that innovates on the nursery rhyme by providing a scenario that might lead to Humpty’s falling from the wall. It is a digital estory which can be displayed and read on the interactive whiteboard. It can be read as a story on its own or as part of the writing unit Humpty Dumpty — a story in five sittings. (Note: if you wish to implement the writing unit, do so before reading the story.)

Teaching writing in lower primary classroom using Humpty Dumpty as stimulus

Humpty Dumpty — a story in five sittings is a series of five lessons in writing based upon the nursery rhyme. Each lesson provides opportunities for children to think creatively and imaginatively and to write using a basic narrative structure. It presupposes children already have an idea of sentence structure and some experience writing stories of their own.

In the first lesson, children generate questions and discuss possibilities about the wall; for example, where it was, why Humpty sat on it, how he got on it and if there was anything else he could have sat on. They consider how their own story might start and are given time to write the beginning of their stories.

In the second lesson, children generate questions and consider possibilities about what may have caused Humpty to fall and what happened when he fell. They write about this next exciting part of their story.

In the third lesson, children consider some alternate resolutions to the problem and how he might be repaired. In the nursery rhyme, Humpty couldn’t be put back together. Is that what they want to have happen in their story? Could Humpty be repaired? How? They discuss possibilities and write their own resolution.

In the fourth lesson, children consider the end of the story. In the nursery rhyme, Humpty dies. Does he have to die? Is there another possibility? Children discuss options and write the end of their story.

In the fifth lesson, children re-read, edit and share.

Of course, before attempting to read or write an alternative, it is important that children are familiar with the nursery rhyme. We have that covered too, with a printable copy of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty to download.

Humpty Dumpty the nursery rhyme - printable

The lovely illustrations used in these Humpty Dumpty resources were done exclusively for readilearn by Kari Rocha Jones.

Teaching reading and writing with Little Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet themed lessons for reading and writing

Let’s read and write with Little Miss Muffet is a series of lessons developing oral language, reading, writing and imagination, ready to teach on the interactive whiteboard. The lessons encourage children to contribute ideas to discussions that may lead to writing. Writing can occur at almost any point throughout the lessons and may involve modelled writing by the teacher, collaborative writing or independent writing.

Teacher notes included in the resource suggest ideas for discussing the nursery rhymes, considering different points of view (e.g. the spider’s) and alternate characters and events. Children are encouraged to write their own stories based on the rhyme and are presented with two other nursery rhymes with a similar structure to Little Miss Muffet — an innovation called Lazy Mr Jellybean and Little Jack Horner. A glossary of terms such as tuffet and curds and whey is also included.

The illustrations used in Little Miss Muffet are courtesy of WhimsyClips.com by Laura Strickland.


World Nursery Rhyme Week

If you are not already aware of it, you may wish to check out World Nursery Rhyme Week that begins next week on 18 November and continues until 22 November. The purpose of World Nursery Rhyme Week is to promote the importance of nursery rhymes in early education. Follow the link to find lots of free resources to join in the worldwide celebration of nursery rhymes.

readilearn teaching resources for the first three years of school

Remember to check out the readilearn collection of

teaching resources for the first three years of school
Resources beyond worksheets – lessons for teachers made by teachers.
Let readilearn lighten your workload.


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    An interesting post, Norah. You brought back memories of my Father reading us Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales and poems. My grandchildren can recite poems especially when they are in the form of songs. I agree with a key factor you mention, they are having fun. My grandchildren are still very young. Likely the best time to start.🙂

    Hi, Erica. Thank you for your lovely comment. I’m sorry you had difficulty posting it and that you had to wait for me to approve it. Hopefully, next time you comment, you will be recognised and approved immediately.
    I’m so pleased the post brought back memories of your father telling stories and poems. My dad used to do that too. I guess for me, it was in the days before television. I wonder do fathers still tell stories after dinner nowadays.
    Your grandchildren are off to a wonderful literary start, having fun with stories, songs and rhymes. Young is definitely the best time to start, but it’s never too late either.

    My grandson is 20 months old and I have sung row row row your boat to him and lots of nursery rhymes since he was about 6 months, he loves his books, he recognises things , his speech is really coming on and he can sing some of the nursery rhymes and we have him counting to 8. Determined to have him reading before school as my mum taught me.

    Your grandson is very fortunate to belong to such a literate and language-rich family environment. All those strategies are wonderful for encouraging young readers and he may well read before he starts school. But don’t be too disappointed if he doesn’t. We all come to reading in our own time and his foundations are strong for when he is ready. Thank you for your lovely comment.

    Fab post Norah. I have to think that rhyming poetry is one of the best ways to introduce children to books. Hey – Dr. Seuss had the right idea. 🙂

    Thanks, Debby. I agree with you about Dr. Seuss. His books have opened the doorway to reading for many young people.

    My friend, Kate, had taught her children nursery rhymes her grandmother had taught her. By the time she passed away, she was a grandmother and those nursery rhymes are a legacy her grandchildren now have, too. Plus, all the benefits of influencing early readers.

    Hi Charli, How lovely it is to hear of nursery rhymes, and stories and songs, passed down through the generations.It is a wonderful legacy to leave to future generations, having a positive impact upon the world for all of us. Kate’s star still shines brightly.

    Thank you, Jacqui. It’s not only the children’s chance to find out, but it’s also their chance to imagine and create, which is even more fun, I think. Just as you imagine and create in your wonderful stories.

    I get nostalgic too. My favorite (don’t ask me why, I have no idea) was/is “Jack Sprat would eat no fat, his wife would eat no lean, so between the two of them they licked the platter clean…”

    Interesting what our favourite nursery rhymes are. I wonder what that says about us. I’m not sure if I have a favourite. I’ll have to think about that. 🙂

    SO MUCH here, Norah. I totally believe in the power of nursery rhymes, and with my children and then grandchildren, I recited the good ole ones to them day and night when they were babies, and then they recited back when they learned to talk. But I must admit, we never discussed Humpty’s dilemma philosophically. :-0 🙂

    I knew you’d agree with me about nursery rhymes, Pamela. Thank you for your lovely comment. I’m sure you and your children and grandchildren found many things to discuss, philosophically or otherwise. 🙂

    I LOVE this concept. So relatable and relevant. I often have teachers describe how they use our pbs characters to promote questions about alternate outcomes and lateral thinking. So why not nursery rhymes! It’s a comfortable and familiar arena in which to explore and learn. Brava!

    Thank you for your lovely comment, Dimity. I’m so pleased you like this idea. I think innovation on what already exists is a great way of encouraging young writers. Thinking about characters and stories in different ways is what makes a writer a writer. After all, most are only innovations of existing human themes.

    Thank you so much for the enthusiasm of your comment, Dimity. I’m so pleased I was able to stretch the concept from picture books to nursery rhymes for you. 🙂

    Norah, an excellent teaching aid and the importance and joy of nursery rhymes should not be forgotten! A love of reading taught young that lasts forever. 😀😀

    Thank you for popping over to read and leave such a lovely comment, Annika. Of course, we totally agree with each other. 🙂

    I love nursery rhymes, Norah, and used to sing, read and play them to my boys. I feel a bit nostalgic after reading this and remembering. My favourite was The old woman who swallowed a fly.

    I think there’s a huge influence of nursery rhymes in your writing too, Robbie. It shows through. Maybe the influence of the Old Woman rhyme is coming through in your horror stories. 😁😂🤣

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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