In schools I talk and share stories with children from Nursery up to year 6 - older if asked to but the primary school age children are my main audience. If I had to pick a favourite age group I would probably opt for years 3 and 4 - they are old enough to join in and ask good questions but they are still young enough not to be too self conscious as some older children can occasionally be. I enjoy storytelling with the younger children too of course and am always keen to spend a little time with the Nursery children - they too are usually fun and keen to join in in their own way. Sometimes the Nursery classes are left out of sessions because they are "too young" or "won't sit for long enough" and that's a great shame as in my experience they almost always sit still and they love to join in. I am, however, a little more uncomfortable doing sessions with children younger than Nursery and I shouldn't be as it is so important to do so.
My wife, Vicky, spends quite a lot of time in libraries leading Rhymetime sessions with groups of toddlers and I have the utmost respect for her and for her ability to do this successfully because it's never too early to start reading and sharing books and rhymes with babies. As part of her work Vicky has researched the effects of reading to babies and going through it with her has been very interesting.
When a child is born only 25% of the brain is developed so what happens from this point onwards is crucial to a child’s development. By the age of 5, 95% of a child’s spoken language has been acquired though talking, playing and singing songs and rhymes. Children who are regularly told rhymes and songs learn to speak more easily, are more confident and will find it easier to learn at school.
Repetition, repetition, repetition…. This is the key to teaching children words and rhymes, and by doing this their learning and development are enhanced in many ways. When a child hears nursery rhymes they are learning how sounds are put together without even realising it. The rhythm of the rhymes and the tone of your voice mean that even before a baby can understand what is being said they recognise the patterns and inflections of language. By speaking rhymes as well as singing them, a child’s pronunciation and mouth muscles along with their knowledge of vocabulary are developed.
Reading rhymes from a book is another way a child can enjoy learning. It can spark a child’s interest in reading as they will enjoy the close bond of sitting together looking at the pictures and hearing their loved one read to them.
Children who attend Rhymetime sessions regularly as babies become used to the rhymes and, even before they can actually speak, they often move their mouths and hands to imitate the rhymes that are being shared. At first, the babies adopt the actions and then add the words as they develop. Rhymes are a fun way for a child to learn and because they are short the child is able to pay full attention and will be able to memorise them, thus improving long and short term memory. During Rhymetime sessions the use of props is an important tool as it can aid understanding and keep a child’s attention, which in turn will make them enjoy the rhyme all the more. Finger rhymes are also important as they help with a child’s physical co-ordination. A rhyme such as ‘5 little ducks’ not only has actions but it teaches maths skills too. Rhymetimes are useful for social development as they are a safe, fun environment and the babies will enjoy ‘babbling’ together and the toddlers learn to share puppets, musical instruments and books whilst singing songs and rhymes.
The Pop Up version of Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees's Giraffe's Can't Dance, Nick Sharrat's Shark In The Park and Debbie Harter's Animal Boogie are current favourites... I'm going to add a web page to my website shortly with details of some of our favourite books...