Why do toddlers remember rhymes so well

Game language, language games ... On the importance of rhymes and nursery rhymes for learning the language

Margarete Blank-Mathieu


Children love language games and rhymes. Through language they come into contact with the world of adults and their thought development is supported. Last but not least, it is simply a pleasure to use language in a playful way: When we hear babies entertaining themselves and others with laughter monologues, we sense something of the fun they are having and how they are in this way start communicating with others.

Touch and hand petting games

The first games we play with babies are the old hand petting games. While the child is sitting securely on your lap, we take the little hand, stroke it with every sentence and say, for example:

You got a thaler
go to the market
buy yourself a cow
a calf too,
the calf has a tail,
gille gille goslings ... (tickle the palm or tummy).

Touch in connection with words is a language experience for the baby that is deeply memorized. It strengthens the emotional relationship with the mother, father, grandparents or other adults who play with him. Thinking structures are developed that are important for further understanding of language. Children learn not only with their hearing, but with all of their senses. The more senses are addressed, the better what is said is memorized.

Even our ancestors played these games with their children, which is often noticeable in the text. But it is not the text that is decisive, but the clearly pronounced words and the gentle touch.

There is one game that is very popular with babies and toddlers in which the adult slaps their children's hands:

Pit, plop Peter (normal speed)
he stands behind the stove
jerks his boots, jokes his shoes
... comes the old cat ... (slowly)
eats Peter and his shoes (quickly)
open the door (slowly)
throw the cat out
Hush, hush, hush, hush (very quick movements).

This game is especially pretty because of the slow and fast-paced speech melody and babies and toddlers cannot play often enough.

Many well-known and new hand-petting games, knee-rider and finger games can also be found in Dhorn Christel: "Play with me, speak with me" (Verlag Freies Geistesleben 2002, Stuttgart).

Finger games

From the first laughter monologues, in which certain sounds are tried out and varied by the child - incidentally, this is how the names mum and dad come from all children in the world - finger games support language development and the joy of speaking. Most of the finger games also repeat certain sounds because of the rhyme.

Here, for example, the sounds au and ei are particularly emphasized:

This is the Douchmen,
he shakes the plantouchmen,
he picks them eggn,
he wears it heggm
... and the little rascal eats them alleggn.

While the finger games initially support individual sounds, whole stories are told in the extended finger games, which the child can play from the age of 2. The fingers and hands reproduce what has been said, e.g .:

Cats can catch mice

Cat's head is shown with the forefinger and little finger up and the thumb and middle and ring fingers pressed together

have claws like the pincers

shape both hands into paws

slip through the holes in the bottom

Slip the index finger of the right hand into the cavity of the index finger and thumb of the left hand

sometimes on the roofs too

Build a roof with both hands

Little mice with long tails

Fist with little finger stretched out

dance a little dance on the roof

dance on the outstretched left palm

... quietly, quietly the cat comes

Let the cat's head move forward slowly

and grab the mouse ... in one sentence !!

right hand catches left hand

Finger games are popular well beyond the age of three and are also played with joy by older children. Children also invent their own movements for rhymes or songs that are emotionally supported by what is being said.

One must assume that the language and feeling centers each have separate and yet peculiarly connected brain structures. Some stroke patients can no longer speak, but they can still - with words! - to sing. For language learning, this means that children's songs or sung rhymes give the language an additional quality.

Children's songs and rhymes

Nursery rhymes that can be sung and also played are e.g .:

ABC, the cat ran in the snow
and when she came home again
then she wears white boots
oh somebody, oh somebody, oh somebody, oh dear!

Children love words that make no sense and have no meaning. The so-called nonsense words that they invent themselves, or nonsense rhymes that only consist of onomatopoeia, are therefore also very popular as counting rhymes by children.

Counting rhymes

Itzen dizen silver carving, itzen dizen daus and you're out!

Annchen, Dannchen, Dittchen, Dattchen,
teber de beber de bittchen battling
teber de beber de bu and out to you!


Something is tripping around the house
and makes it wet
makes bitschi, batschi, bitschi batschi
What's this? (the rain)

Puzzles for children should be of a level of difficulty that the children can guess most of the puzzles. In addition to rhyme, there are cognitive abilities that already require a certain knowledge.

Rhyme stories

Friedrich Güll wrote many stories in rhyme form that children can learn and retell. The most famous story that can also be sung:

Want to see what I know about the boy on the ice (spoken at the beginning)

It was frozen this year
no solid ice at all
the boy stands by the pond
and speaks to himself very softly:
I want to dare
the ice must carry it
who knows?

The boy stomps and chops
with his boot leg
the ice cracks all at once
and plop, it falls into it,
the boy splashes and crawls
than like a cancer and wriggles
with shrine ...

Oh help, I have to sink
in ice and snow
o help, i must drown
in the deep deep lake.
If a man had not come
who took a heart
Oh dear!

He grabs it by the head
and then pulls it out
from foot to head
like a water mouse.
The boy has dripped
the father knocked
at home.

Friedrich Güll's poems and stories are linguistically demanding and often have a moral background that children do not perceive as such. With the boy they fear for his life, with the animal figures they experience their own fears and can identify with them. Experiences that adults have made with these pictorial nursery rhyme stories show that many new words are learned along the way and the poems are internalized in such a way that they can be called up at any time later in life.

Unfortunately, rhyme stories have been very forgotten. However, especially at kindergarten age, children learn by heart easily and happily. If we tell them a story in which we change a phrase, it will be quickly brought to our attention. Children can quickly memorize and act out rhyme stories themselves.

Children's songs and play songs

Even very young children love the play song:

Bunnies in the pit
sat and slept,
sat and slept.
Poor bunny are you sick
that you can't jump anymore
Bunny hop, bunny hop, bunny hop.

Bunny in front of the dog
has a sharp tooth
grab my rabbit with it.
Run the rabbit, run the rabbit, run the rabbit.

Other well-known play songs are e.g. "Ringel, ringel, Reihe ...", "Show me your feet ..." and "Now there is a jumping jack ..."

There are no limits to our imagination as to how we can transform children's songs and rhymes into games. Children themselves can work as directors, build backdrops, accompany the songs with instruments, invent movements for them. Imagination, movement, music, creativity and understanding of language are trained. Many senses can work together to allow all children to experience language as a playful and communicative element.

This may be particularly important for children of non-German origin. They first learn the language with onomatopoeia, which familiarizes them with the German sounds. With music and movement support, they can play along without understanding the words.

It is also very easy to use onomatopoeia and songs to give children whose mother tongue is German a feeling for foreign languages. Our multicultural society has many languages ​​- we can support that this is an enrichment with nursery rhymes and songs.

Language as a prerequisite for communication, thinking and learning does not have to be dealt with in particular in theory. There are clever guides and scientific works for this. If we want to learn to speak and promote children's language skills, we can focus on the playful, happy aspect. This works particularly well with finger games, nursery rhymes, children's play songs and stories. The children decide for themselves which songs and rhymes they like best and which suit their understanding of the language.

Whether sung and played at home or in kindergarten - children enjoy their own mother tongue and other languages. Together with the parents we can find out which rhymes, rhyme stories, songs and play songs we can offer the children. Each language has its traditional rhymes and songs. We should be stimulated by the parents and let them take action themselves, so that our children can experience many different "speech melodies".

You can also find many ideas in the following books (you can find more publications in any bookstore or library):

Böhm et al .: Handbook intercultural learning, Herder, Freiburg 1999, pp. 150-180

Friedrich, Hedi: Listening to children - talking to children, Herder, Freiburg 1992

Jampert, Karin: Key situation language, Leske and Budrich, Opladen 2002

Berner, Rotraut Susanne: Apple, nut and snowball fight, stories, songs and poems, Gerstenberg, Hildesheim 2001

Dhom, Christel: Play with me, speak with me, games for language development from toddlers to elementary school age, Verlag frei Geistesleben, Stuttgart 2002

Enzensberger: Allerleihrauh, many beautiful nursery rhymes, suhrkamp paperback Frankfurt 1972, island paperback 1979

Frischer, Catrin: Das Liederbuch, Schatzinsel with CD, Original Fischer Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt / Main 1999

Güll, Friedrich: Children's home in songs and pictures, Insel taschenbuch, Frankfurt / Main 1975

Guggenmos, Josef: Oh, sorry said the ant, poems and stories, Beltz & Gelberg, Weinheim 2002

Jahn i.a.: The most beautiful games from grandmother's time, a selection for kindergarten, Herder, Freiburg 2002

Janosch: The great book of nursery rhymes, Diogenes, Zurich 1984

Mühlhoff: When a bird comes flying, The most beautiful children's songs, Arena, Würzburg 2002

Steffe / Höfele: Europe in 80 tones with CD, A multicultural European trip with songs, dances, games and customs, Ökotopia, Münster 2002

Wildermuth, Rosemarie: 1 2 3 up the ladder, 102 riddle rhymes, Ellermann, Munich 1973