Reasons why songs & rhymes work well when teaching children

Teaching young children English through rhymes and songs can change their learning experience from a challenging one to one where they are engaged in a relaxed and positive way.

My goal when teaching English to young children is to help them develop a positive disposition for learning. Rhymes and songs can certainly contribute to this goal in a big way. Think back to the time when you were a child and the memories you have of hearing, listening to and joining in with rhymes and songs. This will help you begin to understand how important rhymes are and why they are such a powerful learning tool.

I have heard some teachers say that they can’t teach children English through rhymes and songs because they can’t sing. The truth is, you don’t need to be a singer! Many rhymes can be spoken, not sung, and others have a very simple tune. The children honestly don’t mind whether or not you are singing in tune! Like we say to the children we’re teaching, just “have a try”!
Here are ten reasons to use rhymes and songs in your classes with Young Learners or Kindergarten.

1. Songs and rhymes build confidence

Rhymes and songs help build children’s confidence in English. The language they hear is natural and flows – and this is what they will be repeating and producing. There is no fear of failure when saying a rhyme together or singing, and you will often see or hear a child attempt to join in where they might not otherwise. In addition, children will say and sing rhymes and songs again and again without getting bored, and repetition is another important factor in confidence building. (Plus, of course, there is often repetition within the individual rhyme or song itself).

2. Songs and rhymes can give a feeling of belonging

Singing in the classroom together enables children to feel part of a group. This can help them feel settled more quickly. Even shy children will enjoy feeling part of the class – without the stress of being asked to speak in front of everyone, singing is both fun and relaxing.

3. Songs and rhymes are memorable

The rhythm and pattern of rhymes makes them memorable. Children often go home singing them! This reinforces what they are learning and is, of course, wonderful for their parents to hear. I once taught a song about a bicycle to a class of Very Young Learners and the parents told me their little boy sang the song as he rode his bicycle at the weekend!

4. Songs and rhymes are in context

If rhymes and songs are in context, they have a bigger impact. That’s why it’s important to find out what interests the children you are teaching have and, where possible, try to plan around this. For example, the boy who rode his bicycle also loved other forms of transport, including buses, and many children came to school on the bus. I therefore introduced a song about buses and we even made a creative, interactive wall display with pictures of the children on the bus. These pictures of the children could be taken off and put on again. In this way, we introduced many learning experiences holistically. The children even sang the song in English on the bus! Language is easier to learn and remember when it is in context.

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5. Songs and rhymes can be reinforced with resources

Have an area in the classroom where you leave out all the resources used for each rhyme or song, as well as the written rhyme itself. Each collection of resources could be put in a basket or box which you could invite the children to decorate so that it becomes their own. Even if the children cannot read they will still very likely use everything in their roleplay. This means that they are seeing written English and beginning to understand that print carries meaning. Once the children become familiar with the rhymes and songs, it will be possible to observe these items being used independently… singing for pleasure!

Often, a less confident child who doesn’t choose to speak during a lesson will surprise you when materials like these are left out for free play, perhaps at the end of a lesson. They also might feel less shy because nobody is watching or listening. It can really make you smile to hear these children become the “teacher”, as in you hear them imitating you saying the rhymes or singing the songs.

6. Songs and rhymes encourage active learning

When teaching Young Learners it’s important to approach your lessons in a holistic way, ensuring that all areas of development are covered. Teaching through rhymes and songs enables you to do this, as often the children are able to be active and do all the different actions to whichever rhyme or song you are singing together. Active learning helps develop both gross and fine motor skills and children will respond very positively if given any opportunity to move.

Action songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” work well, as you are introducing the grammar and structure of the language without any stress for the children. Learning songs with actions also helps the children remember. It’s both a fun and effective way to learn. Ensure that the children don’t get over-excited – always just remind them of the signal for “stop”.

7. Songs and rhymes help develop pre-reading skills

Teaching through rhymes and songs supports pre-reading skills. As the children hear the sounds and syllables of English, they are fine-tuning with their ears. This in turn develops speaking and listening skills. They are also developing phonological awareness simply by being exposed to the language.

8. Songs and rhymes make language come alive!

Saying rhymes and singing ensures that the children hear and speak English in a natural way. There are no stilted sentences they are trying to repeat after the teacher and phrases that have no meaning. Rhymes and songs bring the language to life!

9. Songs and rhymes help with cross-curricular learning

Rhymes and songs can have a positive impact on other areas of learning, not just English. For example, if you teach “My Minibeast Friends” the children will be exposed to different minibeasts and how they move. This therefore covers the curriculum area “Understanding of The World”. Similarly, greeting songs will support the curriculum areas of “Personal, Social and Emotional Development” and “Expressive Arts”.

10. Songs and rhymes show children how English works

They teach children how language works in a fun way, allowing them to notice stress and intonation patterns, vocabulary, grammar structures and rhythm, all of which are embedded in rhymes and songs.

Final thoughts

Using rhymes and songs in your English lessons with children gives them such a positive introduction to learning a new language. You can easily fit them in during a class at any time, and you can even make them the main focus of a lesson. Teaching young children English through rhymes and songs can honestly change their learning experience from a challenging one to one where they are engaged in a relaxed and positive way.

Why not simply give it a try… and see for yourself!

Susan Brown
Susan is an Early Years specialist teacher with a passion for teaching Young Learners for whom English is an additional language. Since gaining a distinction in her Education degree, she has taught both teachers and children in countries including Spain, the UK and the UAE, and has also volunteered in Mexico, Bangladesh and Nepal.

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