As a Speech and Language Therapist that focuses on Early Intervention, I am often asked what are some of the best songs for developing early language skills. Singing songs and rhymes with young children has so many benefits. And it is a great way to coach parents and caregivers to use language facilitation strategies with their child too. Here’s a list of 6 of the best songs for developing early language that you can use with your little ones today!
How does singing songs support early language skills?
There are so many benefits for singing songs and rhymes in your Early Intervention sessions (and in coaching parents/caregivers to sing songs and rhymes at home) such as:
- Songs and rhymes are naturally repetitive, which is crucial for language learning.
- Singing songs and rhymes is fun and enjoyable for little ones. It provides an opportunity for connecting and bonding, particularly when you sit face-to-face while singing.
- You can embed a variety of language facilitation strategies while singing. I talk more about the early language strategies you can use while singing songs and rhymes in my blog post here.
- When you sing songs and rhymes with young children, you help to develop a range of vital skills, such as attention and listening skills, understanding of rhyme and rhythm, turn taking, and language skills.
- Many songs and rhymes are accompanied by actions and gestures, so singing songs and rhymes is a great way to work on imitation skills.
6 of the best songs for early language
There are so many songs and rhymes to choose from. It can be hard to choose the best ones as different songs are good for different skills. But with so many songs to pick from, it can be hard to remember them all sometimes too! That is why I made a free printable for you. This free songs and rhymes resource is perfect for your Early Intervention sessions. It includes visuals for 60 popular songs and rhymes, a parent handout, and a choice board. (If you’re a member of my email newsletter, you can access this resource from the Freebie Library too. Want to join the list and get access to free Early Intervention materials? Sign up here.).
In no particular order, here are what I think are 6 of the best songs to support early language skills:
- Itsy Bitsy Spider (Incy Wincy Spider)
This song is great for imitating actions.
Idea: You can sing this song at any time, but during diaper (nappy) changes is good, as the child is laying down and you can make it very interactive.
Use your hand as the spider. If the child likes tickling/light touch, make your hand crawl up their arm/body as if climbing up the drainpipe. For the rain, hold both hands above the child’s head and make them “flutter” down like raindrops, tapping them lightly on their head/arms/legs like the rain washing the spider out. Put your hands together, palms facing outwards, and open away from each other, to show the sunshine coming out again. Turn your hands flat, palms facing upwards and flutter fingers to show the rain drying up. Then, make your hand the spider again and make the spider climb the drainpipe again at the end.
Tip: While singing, pause and wait expectantly for the child to indicate that they want you to continue. They may say the word, imitate the action, or make another type of gesture/sound to show that they want you to keep singing.
- Old MacDonald
This song is perfect for imitating animal sounds and learning farm animal names. It is also a great strategy for parents/caregivers to practise the pausing strategy.
Idea: Put different farm animal toys inside a bag. As you sing each verse let the child take an animal out of the bag; this animal will be the one you sing about in that verse.
Tip: Pause while singing this song, look expectantly at the child to fill in the gap. For example, “E, I, E, I…..” and wait for them to say “O!”. Or “with a…..” and wait for them to make the animal sound.
- Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
This is song is great for imitating actions and learning body parts.
Idea: This song can be sung anytime, but you could try singing this song when getting dressed, or when drying the child after bath time.
Tip: As you sing the song, you could pause before you say the word, to see if the child fills in the blank. So you could hold your hands above your head, and wait; look at them expectantly to say “head”.
- Five Little Peas
This song is good for targeting first words, and for imitating actions. It is also a great song to help parents/caregivers to practise the pausing strategy.
Idea: This fun and engaging song can be sung at any time. It is highly interactive and very engaging for little ones.
At the start of the song, show the five little peas by making your hands into an ‘o’ five times. Then push your hands together to show the pea pod pressed. Move your hands apart each time you say that they grew, e.g., “one grew” (move apart), “two grew” (move apart), “and so did all the rest”, (move apart), “they grew” (move apart), etc. Shake your head when you say “they did not stop”. At the end, have your hands wide apart, and pause before you say “pop” to see if the child will fill in the blank.
Tip: Pause and wait while singing this song, to see if the child will say the word or do the action. For example, as the peas are growing, you could hold your hands apart and wait to see if they say “grew” (may sound like “goo” or “doo”). And at the end, pause before you say “pop” to see if they say it, or clap their hands together to show the peas popping.
- Hickory Dickory Dock
This another song which is great for imitating actions. It is also good for encouraging early sounds and words.
Idea: This is a good rhyme to sing during play time or diaper (nappy) changes.
As you sing “Hickory dickory dock”, gently bounce the child on your knee to the beat (if singing at diaper change, you can skip the action on this part). When you sing “the mouse ran up the clock”, make your fingers “run” from the child’s toes to their chin. Clap once when you sing “the clock struck one”. When you sing “the mouse ran down”, “run” your fingers back down from the child’s head to their toes.
You can repeat the same actions for the next three verses:
When the clock strikes ‘two’, clap your hands twice, and sing “the mouse went “boo!””, then cover the child’s eyes with your hands and move them away when you say boo.
Clock strikes ‘three’, clap three times and sing “the mouse went whee”, lift the child up in the air.
Clock strikes ‘four’, clap four times and sing “the mouse said “no more!”, then wag your finger for ‘no more’.
Tip: As the child becomes more familiar with the rhyme, you can pause before you do the actions to see if the child will gesture or move to indicate that they want you to do it. You can also pause before saying the last word at the end of each line, to see if the child fills in the blank.
- Wind the Bobbin Up
This classic nursery rhyme is perfect for imitating actions and learning early verbs.
Idea: Sit face-to-face while singing this rhyme with the child. Model the actions and provide lots of opportunities for them to copy the actions.
Tip: Provide a lot of “wait time” to give the child time to process the instruction and carry out the action. So you would sing “point to the ceiling” and wait. You can model this, and wait. Be animated and excited, and look expectantly at them to copy the action.
What if I don't know the words or actions to the songs and rhymes?
Young children don’t care what you sound like, and don’t care if you get the words wrong. But if don’t know the words to the songs and rhymes, here are some things you can do:
If you don’t know the words or actions to the songs or rhymes you can:
- Watch videos on YouTube of the song and copy those.
- Make up your own words to fit the child’s name or the things they are doing.
- Make up your own actions or use toys as props and visuals to go with the song.
Get 60 free songs and rhymes for Early Intervention
Check out this post if you want to learn more about using songs and rhymes to develop early language skills.
Do you have a favourite song/rhyme that I’ve not included on this list? Share them in the comments below.