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, 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!

Where is Thumbkin? 

  • (start with both hands behind your back) Where is thumbkin, where is thumbkin?
  • Here I am (bring one thumb to the front). Here I am (bring the second thumb to the front)
  • How are you today sir? Very well I thank you (wiggle thumbs as if talking to one another)
  • Run away (put one hand behind the back). Run away (put the other thumb behind the back)
  • Repeat with Pointer (pointer finger), Tall Man (middle finger), Ring Man (ring finger) and Baby—in a baby voice (pinkie finger)
  • Finish the song with The Family and include all the fingers.

This fun action song will give your little one an introduction to the way we carry on conversations and take turns talking to one another. In addition, your child will get some practice in strengthening the muscles of the hand which will soon be used for writing (fine motor development).

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

  • One, two, buckle my shoe (bend over and pretend to buckle your shoe)
  • Three, four, shut the door (pretend to shut the door)
  • Five, six, pick up sticks (bend down and pretend to pick up sticks)
  • Seven, eight, lay them straight (make several straight lines with your arms)
  • Nine, ten a big fat hen (flap your wings and be a chicken, even add a chicken sound at the end for fun!)

As your child is busy acting out this rhyme, she will also get some practice with counting. Repeated practice makes perfect, and making it fun rather than a rote activity is the key to keeping your child interested. Just for fun, try some of the activities in this rhyme while you are out and about, just to make the actions more meaningful and fun.

Rhyme time with your toddler has many hidden benefits for learning. On your next trip to the library, ask the librarian for a book of nursery rhymes or children’s songs, or do a simple search on the computer for many wonderful sites on the web. Not only will you be giving your child a jump start on her education, you are sure to have a fabulous time doing so!

You can find lyrics and hear the tune to this and thousands of other kids songs at www.kididdles.com