Tim Rasinski is a renowned professor of literacy education whose research on reading fluency and word study has made him a literacy hero to many. Below, he shares his thoughts on foundational reading skills. 

It seems that we humans are always looking for the next new thing, whether it is cars, smartphones, music, technology, politics, or instruction. While I am all for things newer and better, I think that sometimes in order to move forward, we need to look to the past. I’d like to briefly revisit the importance of nursery rhymes as an approach for building a solid reading foundation (phonemic awareness) with young children.

Most of us grew up with nursery rhymes at home and perhaps even in school. To this day, many of us remember Jack and Jill, Peas Porridge Hot, Peter Piper, Little Bo Peep and more. An important study done several years ago demonstrated the importance of nursery rhyme knowledge. Bryant, Bradley, Maclean, and Crossland found that nursery rhyme knowledge among three-year-old children was a strong predictor of success in reading and spelling over the next three years, even after controlling for differences in social background, I.Q., and children’s initial phonological skill levels at the beginning of the study (1989). The authors argue that nursery rhymes enhance children’s phonological awareness, which is a foundational skill for reading.    

In a more recent study, Rasinski and Stevenson studied at-risk first grade students learning common nursery rhymes at home using a repeated reading protocol over three months (2005). They found that children learning nursery rhymes at home demonstrated significantly greater progress in word recognition and fluency over first graders who received the same reading instruction in school but without the additional assistance at home.

Nursery rhymes are important. Not only do they impact phonological awareness, they can lead to improvements in sight vocabulary, word families (rimes) awareness, and overall reading fluency when such rhymes are read repeatedly. Yet, interestingly, I hear from early childhood teachers that fewer and fewer children know their nursery rhymes. Has it happened that parents no longer view nursery rhymes as important and have moved on to the “next new thing” in literacy education?  

As we begin a new school year, perhaps it’s time to look back to nursery rhymes as a way to prepare children for literacy in pre-K classrooms, and begin literacy instruction in kindergarten and first grade. Imagine having children in early childhood classrooms learning to read, reread, and perform two or three rhymes every week; and then continuing practicing them at home with Mom and Dad. And because nursery rhymes are public domain material you can easily find them online. On my website, you can find a downloadable book of nursery rhymes that you can print out, make copies, and use in your classroom and share with parents. I am certain with the use of nursery rhymes, we can get these children off to a fast start in their reading development.   


Bryant, P. E., Bradley, L., Macclean, M., & Crossland, J. (1989).   Nursery rhymes, phonological skills, and reading. Journal of Child Language, 16(2), 407-428.

Padak, N., & Rasinski, T. (2005). Fast Start for Early Readers:  A Research-Based, Send-Home Literacy Program.  New York:  Scholastic.  

Padak, N., & Rasinski, T. (2008).  Fast Start:  Getting Ready to Read.  New York: Scholastic.

Rasinski, T., & Stevenson, B. (2005).  The Effects of Fast Start Reading, A Fluency Based Home Involvement Reading Program, On the Reading Achievement of Beginning Readers.  Reading Psychology: An International Quarterly, 26, 109-125.


Tim Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University. His research on reading has been cited by the National Reading Panel and has been published in journals such as Reading Research QuarterlyThe Reading Teacher, Reading Psychology, and the Journal of Educational ResearchRead more about Rasinski here, or connect with him on Twitter @timrasinski1

For more from Tim Rasinski, continue to follow us for his exclusive VocabularySpellingCity blog series and be sure to watch a video recording of his webinar “Automaticity (Fluency) in Word Learning Improves Comprehension”

Rasinski’s research on word fluency is cited in the report, “Applying Best Practices For Effective Vocabulary Instruction,” written by VocabularySpellingCity in partnership with McREL International.

Start the Year off Right with Nursery Rhymes in Early Childhood Classrooms

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