Childhood is marked by big discoveries and one of them is learning how to read and write. Through literacy, children start exploring a world that so far has been uncharted territory for them. This process may happen with the support of playful approaches that involve music, poems and rhymes. In order to stimulate literacy, these methods are used by many therapists and educators and have presented positive results to children’s cognitive development and learning

This article published in 2014 by Frontiers in Psychology, a journal that publishes rigorously peer-reviewed articles in the psychological sciences and clinical research fields, claims that rhymes can be effective enablers of vocabulary learning because of the way they support active predictions of the words that follow. 

In two experiments, it was tested whether rhymes, when used to help children anticipate new words, would make such words easier to learn. The children exposed to rhyming words exhibited that they learned more of them in the condition of predictive rhyming compared to children who were not. 

The researchers’ hypothesis is that the development of these new words and their predictability encourage children to be more involved with them. They may not be able to predict the exact name of a new word the first time they are reading a story, but when a new name comes at the end of the verse, children will be more capable of anticipating that something is coming — something which will sound like the ending of the song or story’s previous sentences. This anticipation can encourage attention and therefore stimulate learning. 

:: Read also: Why is reading so important? ::

All in due time and on their terms

The process of learning that involves reading and writing is very subjective and children have their own rhythms on this journey.

We talked to speech therapist Manuella Barcelos, who works at Núcleo Desenvolver at UFSC’s University Hospital since 2010 and works with a multidisciplinary team that cares for children who complain about learning disabilities regarding these processes. 

According to her, literacy, i.e. learning to read and write, involves two brain processes that are well developed by children by the time they begin school. One of them is language — since children bring resources and baggage from home — and the other is visual processing

School makes the connection between these two areas, introducing letters and their whole new universe. When children learn based on this question, it is crucial to think that there is a way to teach which is more adequate for them, which promotes reading and writing in an easier way, and, in this sense, rhymes are great allies

Phonological Awareness when learning to read 

“Phonological awareness happens when children start to manipulate their speech sounds in a conscious manner. They will know speech can be split into small units called words, smaller ones called syllables, and even smaller ones called phonemes. For literacy to happen, it is important that children learn these prerequisite skills and through a phonological method it is possible for them to learn to read and write more easily”, reports the speech therapist. 

Manuella employs rhyming in the learning to read process of the children she works with. “The literacy process involves phonological awareness. Within phonological awareness there is rhyming, one of the first signs of awareness, which is when the child starts to notice the endings of words that have the same tone. In addition to rhymes, there is also alliteration, through which the child notices that the beginning sounds can also be similar, e.g. could and cook,” she reports. 

Rhyming is one of the first signs of phonological awareness and we see this since kindergarten. Its use is very important. I use it in my work, mainly with kids with learning difficulties and disabilities such as dyslexia, spelling, or kids with auditory processing disorder (APD). It is fantastic for the process of learning to read and write. We need to stimulate phonological awareness, but even more important is to do so during preschool, even before children have properly started to learn how to read and write”, she explains. 

Rhymes as a skills development tool

Canadian researcher Ginger Muller, with a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia, developed works for 20 years using rhymes and songs in several early childhood education programs in Vancouver, Canada. 

In her work, she contextualizes specific rhymes inside domains defined by the Initial Development Tool: physical health and wellness, language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge, social competence and emotional maturity. She therefore shows how rhymes can be practiced effectively with kids of different ages and their benefits to these skills

In this article written by the researcher, she shows that children learn well when surrounded by rich environments in terms of language, joy and fun. Ginger presents songs that can help to develop these skills, “centenary children’s rhymes and songs, tested and proved, support children’s general development in terms of meaning and engaging forms,” she writes. 

Using rhymes with kids, in addition to helping them learn to read, also brings them closer to our national culture. There are several rhymes that rely on cultural elements from different regions of the country as well as their folklore. This experience is enriching for children in every sense! 

Editor’s Note: Truth and Tales and rhymes

A very cool tip for kids who are learning to read is Truth and Tales, our original app!

Truth and Tales is an app for kids between the ages of 5 and 11 with interactive stories and audiobooks. All tales are told in rhymes, both in the interactive and in the audio versions. Knowing about its benefits, we made sure to adopt rhyming in every single one of our stories

We periodically conduct tests with children in which the same story is told in 2 versions: one with rhymes and one without rhymes. In addition to the benefits mentioned in this article, in our tests children are more interested in the rhymed version of the stories.

Aside from the rhymes, Truth and Tales also includes optimized fonts for people with dyslexia and a read-along tool which works as a karaoke, in which the words are highlighted as the narrator reads them. That is tremendously helpful when learning to read. Try it with the kids! 

Written by Débora Nazário

Translated by Mariana Gruber