Children love to sing songs and nursery rhymes. Did you also know they're also a wonderful way to boost your child's early communication abilities?

In this article we're going to discuss how songs can promote language development, and specific songs you can singalong with your child today!

Language Building Skills Targeted During Songs

Joint Attention

Before you even start singing a song, it's important that both you and your child shift your attention towards each other, as well as the shared task at hand. This is actually a vital communication skill in itself called joint attention.

In the simplest terms, joint attention (sometimes referred to as shared attention) is when two people pay attention to the same thing at the same time. Joint attention between communication partners is gained through gestures, vocalizations, and words.

As you and your child sing together, make sure that they are able to attend consistently to the song. If not, you may need to gesture or verbally redirect them to the task. If they have a hard time with this, no problem! Just provide gentle reminders to help them maintain their focus.

Vocabulary Expansion

Another important skill gained through singing is the retention of new vocabulary. Just by singing together frequently you can help your child learn and memorize new words! This is a major bonus when it comes to learning the fundamentals of language expansion.

Imitation

Songs and nursery rhymes also motivate children to imitate words. Having your child strictly imitate your words may feel a tad redundant, but it's super helpful. You can also mix it up and work on verbal imitation with music to combat any feelings of boredom your child may be experiencing!

One thing that many people don’t know is that gesture imitation is very important for strong verbal imitation skills. A child first has to understand how to participate in a task and imitate gestures back and forth before they will really understand the process of imitating verbal sounds and words.

Songs with movement and hand motions are a great way to target gesture imitation. You can read more about the importance of gesture imitation here.

Language-Building Songs to Practice at Home

In this next section we review different children's songs to sing at home, as well as areas of speech and language they cover.

Wheels on the Bus

  • The song is repetitive, which helps children learn the words and sentences used repeatedly in each verse. Sing this song frequently with your child to help them learn the words!
  • The song uses hand motions paired with each phrase, which is perfect for gesture imitation. Help your child imitate these hand motions by modeling the gestures for them as you sing.
  • The song also teaches some early concepts,  such as “up and down,” and “open and shut.” Another bonus!

Old McDonald

  • This song is also very repetitive - which is a good thing! Each verse uses the same words, except for the names of the animals mentioned. As we discussed, repetition is key when it comes to helping children learn and memorize new words.
  • This song teaches the sounds different animals make. It's common for children to begin imitating animal sounds before even imitating words! This is a great song to target various sound productions with your child.
  • Show your child pictures or toys of the different animals mentioned in the song. This provides great visual cues to help your little one learn the names of different animals!
  • This song has an easy beat that children can clap along to. Clapping targets gesture imitation, as well as helping your child begin to understand rhythm.

Itsy Bitsy Spider

  • “Itsy Bitsy Spider” makes use of rhyme in a couple of the lines. Practicing rhyming helps children improve in their phonological awareness, and helps prepare them for the early days of reading! Learn more about phonological awareness here.
  • This song also uses big gestures and hand motions. Children love getting their whole bodies involved when singing songs - and it can be extremely motivating!

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

  • This song is a super fun and engaging way to help your child learn all about different body parts! It works on identification (pointing to different body parts) as well as naming them!
  • “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” can be sped up easily each time it's sung. You can work on concepts like “slow and fast” with your little one by singing the song using different tempos.
  • This song also contains some rhyming words, which is great for phonological development.

Row, Row, Row, Your Boat

  • “Row, Row, Row, Your Boat” also using rhyming. As mentioned, rhyming is great for phonological awareness!
  • Clapping to the beat of this song will help your child learn rhythm. It may also help bring awareness to each of the words being sung, helping with their vocabulary growth.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

  • “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is a song about nighttime, and is often sung when helping children go to sleep. This is a great song to help your child begin to understand the concepts of “day” and “night.” Ask your child questions like, “When do we see the stars?” or “When is the sky dark?” after you sing together to further help them understand this important concept.
  • This song uses words that target early spatial concepts (up), and shapes (diamond). Show your child what each of these words mean by using the hand gestures that go along with the song.
  • This song also uses rhyming as well as hand motions. These are excellent skills to help expand your child's language abilities.

Open, Shut Them

This song may not be quite as well known, but trust us - it's great! And more importantly, children love it.

  • “Open, Shut Them” can help children learn the meaning of the concepts "open/shut" by implementing hand gestures associated with these terms.
  • The video below provides some extra verses. These use action words like “walk,” “shake,” “roll,” and “blow.” This is a fun way to help teach your little one different verbs!
  • One of the last verses uses the terms, “loud” and “quiet” and is sung in correlating volumes. This is an awesome way to teach your little one all about how to be loud vs quiet!

Tips To Try When Singing With Your Child

When singing with your little one, there are plenty of techniques you can use to help them attempt to say new words! For example, as you sing with your child, pause at different points in the song and have them fill in the blank. Here are some examples.

  • “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the __________.”

You can also use hand gestures as a substitute for saying the word. The hand gesture may help cue your child to use the associated word independently! Try an example like this at home with your little one.

  • “The wheels on the bus go ______.”

Repetition of the same songs is great for children. Hearing songs over and over again helps new words and concepts stick - so be sure to sing songs frequently and repeatedly! By practicing the songs in this article, you'll be sharing some quality bonding time with your child, teaching them valuable language skills, and having so much fun you won't want to stop!