“But I can’t sing!!” The importance of nursery rhymes when working with children

Date 9 November 2023

For World Nursery Rhyme week, lecturers and students on the Early Childhood Studies course share their thoughts on why we need nursery rhymes and how these can be used to support children’s development. This blog explores the importance of singing and nursery rhymes in our work with children.

Dr Tanya Richardson

“But I can’t sing” is often a phrase that can be heard when asked to lead a singing session with children. Before my career in academia I spent some time as a music and movement teacher for pre-school aged children and their parents, and my biggest fear and concern was….. “but I can’t sing!” I was so worried about this I signed myself up for singing lessons – learning how to use my body properly when singing, how to breathe properly and how to project my voice etc. Looking back now I realise that this was never really needed. When working with children they did not need me to be the next Adele (insert any other name here if you prefer!!!) All children wanted from me was that I was fun, engaging, I made sense and they could have a good time.

In hindsight, what these singing lessons did give me though was the confidence to sing out loud in front of a large group. I knew I had to overcome my concerns if I wanted the music group to be a success. I was acutely aware that using nursery rhymes and singing with children provides so many benefits – for the children, for their parents and for the leaders of the activity. As noted above, children want to have fun and are much more likely to engage when the activity is exciting and stimulating. At the same time as being entertaining though, singing can support children’s development and wellbeing.

This is something we explore within the Early Childhood Studies (ECS) course and Amelia Allsopp, a first year ECS student, when asked what she thought to be the benefits from singing said “Children can best benefit from learning and singing nursery rhymes, especially from a young age, as it can be helpful with the child’s learning and motor skills as they develop. Even when we adults sing the nursery rhymes with each other or with the young children we work with, there is always something that can be learned and taught that helps development or understanding at any age.” Maddie Erswell-Fox, again a year one ECS student, agreed with Amelia, saying “I think that singing nursery rhymes with children is critically important to their individual development …. this can help them in their speech development as they are able to recognise sounds and words through singing these nursery rhymes which helps them string together their own sentences.”

Senior Lecturer Candiece Spencer supports this in her reflections:

“Despite all the benefits to children’s development including:

  • communication and language: learning new language and creative storytelling
  • physical development:  ‘moving’ your mind and bodies
  • personal, social and emotional development: opportunities to explore and regulate emotions,

the most joyous thing about nursery rhymes is the collaboration and connection with others. Singing and dancing with others provides a shared learning experience for all involved! Nursery rhymes provide children with the opportunity to play with words and movement. Sharing this experience with others enables children and grownups alike to feel safe and comfortable to experiment all through fun, laughter and excitement. The nature of this connection is powerful. What’s not to love?!”

Indeed what is not to love?!! Sarah Kemp, a first year Early Childhood Studies student recognises the need for nursery rhymes beyond the developmental benefits, by saying “Singing nursery rhymes can not only be educational but is a lovely way to bond with each other through having fun, being silly and laughing together. I am not the greatest singer but I love that children never judge me, it makes me feel less self-conscious and allows me to just enjoy my time having fun with them.”

So throughout this week, World Nursery Rhyme week, why not try out some singing with the children in your lives? I still do not sound like Adele but it doesn’t stop me in trying to instil a love of singing and rhymes in students and in children. Not only does it help the children but studies show that singing is helping me to boost my immune system, improve my posture and helps to boost my mood. As Candiece says above “what’s not to love?!”

Tanya Richardson, Senior Lecturer in Education
Dr Tanya Richardson

Dr Tanya Richardson is a Senior Lecturer in Early Years at the University of Northampton and is Programme Leader for the Early Childhood Studies programmes. She has previously managed and led her own “outstanding” day nursery and out of school club. The nursery setting was fortunate enough to have a forest school as part of its ethos and Tanya became very interested in the impact that this environment had on children’s speech and language development.