It might sound too good to be true- that nursery rhymes are the perfect tool for teaching reading skills at many stages of development. You can find them easily in classic books and all over the Internet for free, after all! But, I have used nursery rhymes to teach literacy skills since toddlerhood, and they truly make a great tool for pre-readers, alphabet learners, and those year one students beginning to read.
This is the second post in my Charlotte Mason Reading series. In my last post, we dug into what I find to be the important principles behind Charlotte Mason reading by sight lessons. One principle is that the reading materials we give to our little learners should be living. (If you aren't familiar with the idea of living books, read this!) Nursery rhymes are just that: engaging and filled with interesting ideas.
This post contains affiliate links for nursery rhyme books. You can read more about affiliate links in my policies.
Nursery Rhymes for Phonemic Awareness
From infancy, we have read sweet little books full of nursery rhymes to our children. At this stage, we don't do much more than read the rhymes, but that simple act has a big effect.
Phonemic awareness is one of the most important early literacy skills that a child can develop. This skill is basically the ability to hear and differentiate the sounds in words. Nursery rhymes help develop this skill thanks to the rhyming words. I found this PDF, produced by a school district, to be very helpful for understanding how beneficial nursery rhymes are for phonemic awareness development.
Learning the Alphabet With Nursery Rhymes
Recently, I started teaching my curious second child his ABC's using The Mindful Alphabet, the preschool literacy lessons guide I created a few years ago. It uses Mother Goose's nursery rhymes to introduce the alphabet. Charlotte Mason said that learning the alphabet should be like one big game, and nursery rhymes allows it to be playful and fun.
To introduce letters using nursery rhymes, read a rhyme, and then pull out one of the main words in it. If I were to read the rhyme "Hey, Diddle Diddle," I'd introduce the letter D for "diddle" and C for "cat."
Nursery Rhymes for Reading Lessons
Charlotte Mason wrote about the first reading lessons in Home Education, pages 199-222. She taught "reading by sight" using whole words from nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes offer far richer reading material than the "Cat sat on the mat" books that many of us remember from growing up. She said that even the first reading lessons should offer meaningful, living words.
Modern research shows that nursery rhymes "awaken responsiveness" in children, delighting them and engaging them (see PDF).
Where to Find Nursery Rhymes
One of the best part of nursery rhymes is that many nursery rhyme books are in the public domain, so you can find them online for free. The Real Mother Goose is our favorite. When I went through the Mindful Alphabet with my daughter, she called this her reading book. If eBooks are not your favorite, you can find it here. I happen to see this book at thrift stores very often!
There is also The Big Book Of Nursery Rhymes by Walter Jerrold, that's available in the public domain.
The website All Nursery Rhymes has an index filled with any nursery rhymes you could imagine.
I've made some nursery rhyme cards for reading lessons, along with pointers for teaching a Charlotte Mason reading lesson. You can get them through the subscriber form below!