Why You Should Use Nursery Rhymes in Speech Therapy

Nursery Rhymes for Speech Therapy

Nursery Rhymes

One of the best ways to predictors for success in reading and success is Phonological Awareness.  

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds in spoken language. 

A great way to increase phonological awareness is reading repetitive books.  One of the best sources of this repetition is likely already on your shelf or in your bag: Nursery Rhymes!  These are ideally introduced in toddler and preschool ages.

Nursery Rhymes are a great way to teach young children, children
with developmental disorders, and even adults with global delays. They
often incorporate core language words, basic concepts (spatial
positions, number and letter recognition, etc.).  They are repetitive.
Studies show that repetition is helpful for developing vocabulary.  The
repetition is what allowed us to carry these folktales down for
generations.  It’s easier to memorize things that are repetitive; this
also makes vocabulary “stick” for our learners.  When we model reading for our young children, they grow into independent readers as they get older. 


Core Language Words

These are the “building blocks” of language. They occur frequently and
are important for learning communication.  Therapists and teachers often
use these in communication boards, classroom materials, and in their
Here is an example of a visual that has core language words embedded.  Adding visuals helps increase attention, memory, and learning. 

Some of my favorite Nursery Rhymes include: 

  • Hey Diddle Diddle
  • ABC
  • 5 Little Ducks
  • Hickory Dickory Dock
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Old MacDonald
  • Row Row Row Your Boat
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Baa Baa Black Sheep
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star…What a Wonderful Boy/Girl You Are (Mental Health)
  • B-I-N-G-O
  • Mary had a Little Lamb

How can I use Nursery Rhymes in virtual learning? 

more and more resources are being created to help with this!  I have
found that using a combination of digital and paper materials can be
very engaging for most children.  I’ve had even more success when I
dressed up in a silly costume or brought props to tie it all together
(Old MacDonald could wear overalls…the itsy bitsy spider could appear
on a string, etc.  Make it fun…this will probably help both you and
the child on the other side of the screen).
You can dress up or just use Nursery Rhymes “on the fly” to have fun with reading and learning!

This image shows how you can incorporate real toys, AAC materials, and digital
resources at the same time.  Throw in a farmer costume and you’ve got
the perfect virtual learning (or face to face) setup!

Online Music for Nursery Rhymes
Amazon music has streamable music, including the Nursery Rhyme Parade. If you have Prime, this is free!  Little Baby Bum also has videos on YouTube that provide nursery rhymes at no cost.  
What Can I Target Using Nursery Rhymes? 
Vocabulary: Spatial Positions (up, down, in, out, etc), Core Language Words (most common words used), animal names
Articulation: The repetition and ability to emphasize parts of these song-like stories is a great way to incorporate speech sound targets. 
Language: vocabulary, requesting, taking turns, filling in words (practice pausing and see if your child or student fills in the blank), gesturing
Apraxia: the repetition and simple words are a great opportunity to target apraxia of speech
MLU or Expansion of Utterances:  You can work on sentence length by leaving off parts of familiar phrases and songs.  Combine the story with these sentence strips to increase the length of the child’s phrases and to encourage them to make choices. 

Free Handout for Parents:
Free Handy Handout from Super Duper: Songs and Nursery Rhymes Help Children Develop Early Sounds
Videos of Using a Nursery Rhyme and Pausing (The Cloze Procedure):  

Scholarly Information on Nursery Rhymes & the Development of Reading, Speech, and Language

Nursery rhymes, phonological skills and reading P. E. Bryant ,L. Bradley ,M. Maclean  and J. Crossland, Cambridge.org, 2009

More Than Words: Using Nursery Rhymes and Songs to Support Domains of Child Development, Gingerj Mullen, Journal of Childhood Studies 2017

The repetition and song-like intonation in these stories increases phonological awareness, which leads to better reading and spelling skills down the road!  I like to use these in my speech therapy sessions for my whole caseload.  Older children can use these as a starting point for their own reading.  While they are clear choices for language targets, the familiar repertoire makes them great activities for articulation and fluency too.   

You can include these at home throughout the day: during diaper changes, while getting dressed, during household routines and transitions, in the car, and more!  

Research also suggests that adding visuals and/or interactive pieces to books increases attention.  I have worked to create visual boards that go along with the nursery rhymes mentioned above.  I’ve also created e-book versions for each of them.  Combining Print and electronic resources can increase engagement and interaction. 

This set includes an AAC song selection board (“I want” and “I choose” and includes pieces for each of the nursery rhymes listed); it also includes coloring pages, dot art for articulation reinforcement, one page visual cues, and digital Boom Cards for no prep, no print access. 

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My name is Elizabeth Hepler and I’ve been a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist since 2005.  I am the mother of four great kids. Our household is neurodiverse: ADHD, Autism, Gifted, and more!

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