Learning and Building Relationships with Fingerplay Songs
Posted on June 6, 2023 by CHS
Singing or chanting with children supports their growth and development by building language, literacy, and math skills. It also promotes social and emotional development by soothing strong emotions, encouraging social interactions, and strengthening relationships. Research done by Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child shows that infants and children learn from back-and-forth exchanges with a responsive adult, which they call “serve and return” experiences. Singing songs and chanting nursery rhymes involves making eye contact with children, hearing each other’s voices, and even touching. This engages children in back-and-forth exchanges that strengthen their relationships. Sharing fingerplays with children invites them to practice developmental concepts and skills while you have fun singing.
What is a Fingerplay?
Fingerplays are simple songs and nursery rhymes that combine singing or chanting with body movements. The gestures and body movements build motor development and help children attach meaning to words. Examples of fingerplays you might already know are Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Five Green and Speckled Frogs. Choosing songs or rhymes that encourage movement allows children who are learning to speak an opportunity to participate in the exchange non-verbally, and the gestures reinforce the meaning of the words for children who have begun talking.
You can turn any short song or rhyme into a fingerplay. All you have to do is add gestures or movements that demonstrate the meaning of the words. For example, if a song or rhyme uses the word “tall,” you can stretch both arms above your head to show what “tall” means. Some words or rhymes can be challenging to convert into movements, but in those cases, you can always clap the rhythm instead. You can also create your own piggyback songs and movements.
A piggyback song is any original song you create that is sung to the tune of another song. You can pick any familiar tune and create lyrics that fit different situations. These songs are helpful for helping children transition to a new activity, complete a task, or reinforce a concept they are learning. They can be used with gestures, while doing an activity, or as a way to introduce American Sign Language (ASL). For example, Row, Row, Row Your Boat can become Wash, Wash, Wash, Your Hands. Try singing one of the following three songs to the tune of Happy Birthday. Ideas for movements to go with the words are in parentheses.
Cleaning Up: (clean-up time activity)
Let’s do something new, (Show children a book to read or a game to play)
I can clean up; can you? (Begin picking up toys)
Let’s do this together, (Continue picking up toys)
And in no time, we’re through. (Clap when all the toys are picked up)
Time to Leave: (introduce ASL)
I know this is fun, (ASL for “fun”)
But now we are done, (ASL for “finished”)
Smile and wave at our friends, (Smile and use ASL for “friend”)
We’ll come back again. (ASL for “see you later”)
Healthy Choices: (fingerplay to reinforce the concept of being healthy)
We brush our teeth every day, (Use your finger to pretend to be a toothbrush brushing your teeth)
Wash our hands after play, (rub hands together as if washing)
Eat good food and sleep well, (rub your belly for eating, and then lay your head on your hands for sleeping)
Taking care of ourselves. (Hug yourself)
You can create songs about your daily routines, the things you see when you go for walks, animals, grocery lists, feelings, and more. Try to use words that rhyme when you create songs. This will make them easier to remember, and will also allow children to begin recognizing sound patterns and practice simple grammar rules.
Music and Learning
Music is a powerful learning tool. It allows us to introduce and reinforce concepts we want children to practice, invites children to move, and is fun. Think of the rhymes and chants you might have sung in your own childhood while playing jump rope or hand-clapping games. Sharing those rhymes and songs with your child not only builds your relationship, but it also invites them to practice perspective-taking by thinking of what you were like at their age, which is a skill that builds empathy.
Call and response songs involve one person (typically the adult) singing a sentence or question, followed by another person (typically the child) repeating that sentence or answering the question. These songs are particularly beneficial for practicing language social skills and self-regulation because they ask children to listen, wait, and respond as they would in a conversation. Try this Good Morning call and response song in English or Spanish. Call and response songs encourage children to listen and imitate the sounds of language. Children also enjoy songs that let them play with the sounds of letters and language, like Apples and Bananas or The Name Game.
Singing is a fun and easy way for you and your child to connect with each other and make learning discoveries. If you are worried about following a tune, you can find many children’s songs online or through music apps. You can also rhythmically chant songs or rhymes rather than sing, or sing along to recorded music playing in the background. Below you will find links to additional activities and videos for using fingerplays to help children learn, grow, and build relationships.
References and Resources
- Beyond Twinkle, Twinkle: Using Music with Infants and Toddlers by Zero to Three (article includes video)
- Learning Through Music: The Support of Brain Research by Community Playthings
- Nursery Rhymes, Fingerplays, and Songs for Circle Time by Free Kids Books
- Nurturing Early Childhood Relationships through Music by Michigan State University
- Old Fashioned Jump Rope Songs and Rhymes by VeryWell Family
- Serve and Return by Harvard University Center for the Developing Child
- Sing with Your Baby Tip Sheet by Talking is Teaching
- Singing to Kids YouTube Channel
- Singing with My Grandbaby by the New York Times
- Songs and Rhymes that Build Readers by Story Blocks (Videos in multiple languages)
- Songs for Teaching (Lyrics and Music)
- Super Simple Piggyback Songs for Infants and Toddlers by Modern Musical Parenting
- Talk, Read, and Sing Together Everyday Tips for Families by Talking is Teaching (Spanish)
- Ten Classic Hand-Clapping Games to Teach Your Kid by Today’s Parent
- The Simple Power of Singing to Kids by PBS Parents