Nursery Rhymes and Finger Plays

Jun 18th, 2020

Smiley Riley

Do you find yourself often singing the same songs, reading the same books, and sharing the same nursery rhymes over and over again? Are you starting to get sick of it? Thomas asked for new books for Riley as a Father’s Day gift because he is ready for some variety! Nothing wrong with that! Just like there is nothing wrong with rereading familiar stories and singing those familiar songs. In fact, repetition is good for your little one’s vocabulary, sequencing, and memory skills. As your child gets older, they may ask for the same story to be read over and over again. They may ask you many questions, and sometimes they will even ask the same question repeatedly. Though it’s easy to be frustrated by this repetition, its actually important for their language development because children don’t learn language all at once, but in increments. Each time you read a book over again, your child understands and takes in a little bit more of the story.

Nursery rhymes are great for your child’s language development because they help your child develop an ear for sound and an appreciation for importance of cadence in language. There are so many different nursery rhymes out there that you can share with your little one. Here are a few ways you might add to the experience.


  • Recite or sing nursery rhymes daily. Let your child become familiar with the different rhymes. You may stick to introducing one at a time to allow older toddlers the chance to learn the words. Don’t forget to use inflection in your voice too! This is important for your child’s language development as well as keeps their attention. As your child becomes familiar with the rhyme, pause throughout the rhyme and let your child fill in the blank. Example: “Twinkle, Twinkle, little ___

Smiley Riley

  • Add gestures! As you sing familiar songs, add gestures to the song. Make up the gestures if the song doesn’t have any. This is a great way to encourage your child to join in especially if they aren’t talking yet. They can imitate your movements. We add gestures to “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Wheels on the Bus”, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, “I’m a little Teapot” to name a few.

Smiley Riley

  • Finger Plays! Finger Plays are another great way to involve your child through gestures, repetition, and rhymes. Riley is a big fan of “This little piggy…”. We also like “Where is Thumbkin”, and “Open, Shut Them”. There are so many out there! You can model the gestures yourself, use hand over hand modeling to help your child with the gestures, and invite your child to join you as they become familiar with the gestures. Again, you can leave out words throughout the finger play and pause to let your older toddlers fill in the missing words.

Smiley Riley

  • Hum! Take those songs you were singing before and hum them instead. Most infants can hum much sooner than they can sing them so you may be surprised to hear your little one humming along with you! I was humming a random tune today and Riley started humming with me. I immediately switched to humming “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to see if she would join in and she did!
  • Read rhyming books! Here are some great ones!

    • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
    • Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough
    • Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino
    • Moose on the Loose by Kathy-Jo Wargin
    • Silly Sally by Audrey Wood
    • Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw (We love this one! She has other great ones too)
    • The Itsy Bitsy Bunny by Jeffrey Burton
    • The Itsy Bitsy Spider Finger Puppet Book by Parragon Books

Smiley Riley


  • Receptive language: what your child is hearing
  • Expressive language: your child attempting speech or joining you in reciting and singing the rhymes
  • Cognitive development: Your child is learning so much from you by watching, imitating, attempting to speak, speaking with you, using gestures that their neural pathways are making stronger connections.
  • Attention: As you use gestures and inflection to entertain your child, you are also helping them to focus their attention on you for longer periods of time.
  • Memory: Repetition helps with memory! Your child is not only memorizing the language but also the gestures you use.
  • Socialization: You are interacting and socializing with your baby. This is teaching them proper socialization.
  • Imitation: Invite your child to imitate your gestures.
  • Motor Planning: It takes motor planning to make the gestures happen. This is also working on fine motor skills!
  • Identification: For songs such as “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” your child is identifying body parts.

Information from this post came from:

  • The Encyclopedia of Infant and Toddler Activities for Children Birth to 3 edited by Donna Wittmer
  • The Complete Resource Book for Infants by Pam Schiller

Links to the rhyming books