Learning through Play: What Rhyming Games Like Pat-a-cake Teach (and How to Play Them)
Find a School
Learn about your child's school rankings, parent reviews, and more.
- Characteristics of Social Play
- Language Play and Language Development
- Organized Games
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- Play: Itās the Way Young Children Learn
- The Nature of Children's Play
Some of your fondest and earliest memories as a child may be Mom tickling your toes as she played This Little Piggy. Fun rhymes and games are passed down from one generation to the next as parents engage in what seems to be child’s play. But a quick game of Pat-a-Cake is teaching your toddler more than you might think. At a critical point in language development, you are giving your child a vocabulary boost as well as practicing several other important early skills as you play.
“Predictable, repetitive language in nursery rhymes establishes a social language routine from which toddlers and preschoolers can learn. As they become comfortable with a new rhyme, they are able to participate more, adding words as they learn,” says Tammy Russell, a Speech Language Pathologist (M.A., CCC-SLP) in Austin, Texas. “More basic fingerplays, such as this little piggy or pat-a-cake, are wonderful early games to play with young toddlers to establish turn taking and joint attention.”
Just in case you don’t remember all the words and actions, here's a quick review of some of the best games for toddlers, as well as the important skills your child will learn as she plays. Keep in mind that there are many versions of the same rhyme, and there is not one “correct” way. If you remember something different, use the version you know best!
This Little Piggy
- This little piggy went to the market (wiggle the big toe)
- This little piggy stayed home (wiggle the next toe)
- This little piggy had roast beef (wiggle the middle toe)
- This little piggy had none (wiggle the next toe)
- This little piggy went wee-wee-wee-wee all the way home! (Wiggle the baby toe and then tickle all the way up to the tummy!)
In addition to gaining some vocabulary words which you may want to talk about (market, roast beef, none), this rhyme can introduce a math concept called one-to-one correspondence. When children are able to count items and touch each one as they count it, they are using this important math skill. As you wiggle each toe while you say the rhyme, you are showing your toddler how to perform this action.
- Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man, (clap your hands, then pat your legs alternately, baby can do the same)
- Bake me a cake as fast as you can (clap your hands, then pat your legs alternately, baby can do the same)
- Roll it, (roll your arms in a circle) and pat it, (pat your hands on your lap) and mark it with a B, (write a B in the air)
- And put it in the oven for baby and me! (Make the motion of putting a cake in the oven)
This classic children’s game will give your child a head’s up on hearing the sounds of our language. Rhyming is a piece of phonological awareness, which is one of the best predictors of reading success in young children. Phonological awareness is simply the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in language, and rhyming words make a wonderful introduction to the similar sounds of language on your toddler’s ear. This rhyme is also packed full of vocabulary words for you to discuss and even demonstrate as you bake a cake together!