rhymes rhyming games

Importance of Rhymes & Rhyming Games in Early Literacy Development

rhymes rhyming games

Rhymes are essential for speech clarity and a foundation skill that needs to be learnt in the preschool years ready for formal school entry. Rhyming is one of the phonological awareness skills shown to impact on how easy learning to read and spell is for children entering the school system. It can be developed through play in many fun ways such as rhyming games and while playing with toys. Here I'm going to use Tea Sets as an example of how you can help boost and develop rhyme while playing with a simple Tea Set.  

Focus: Tea Set Toys 

Speech TherapistDr Sandra McMahon PhD

Tea for Two, and Two for Tea, One for You and One for Me” Even from this simple old rhyme you can see that Tea Set play is fantastic for building social skills and symbolic (pretend) play. See our Pretend Play Blog for more information about how pretend play is vital for early speech, language and learning development.

So instead of talking about how Tea Sets can help with social skill development I am going to use Tea Sets as an example of how early play can be used to boost rhyme development.


Children need to be able to hear the difference between similar sounding words e.g., “tea” vs “key”. We call these minimal pairs. That is, the words sound the same except for just one sound.  If words sound the same at the ends of words we say they rhyme (“plate” vs “Kate”). If they cannot really focus or “hear” the difference between words like “tea” and “key” they will not be able to easily say them clearly. 

Ages children learn to say sounds follow a developmental pattern:

When children are saying the wrong sounds in words it can reduce how easy it is to understand them (reduced speech clarity). Many 18 month olds will say “tea” when they mean “key” as the “k” sound often is not said well in words until about 3 years of age. The first thing to Observe then is to see if the incorrect sounds a child is saying is “OK for their age” or not. Children at four for example may still be saying “fumb” for “thumb” and this is also OK. Take a look at our SpeechNet Speech Sound Checklist. However, if you have concerns always consult a speech pathologist. We are here to help.

Hearing Rhyme:

There is a reason all those kid’s nursery rhymes, songs and early children’s books rhyme (Humpty Dumpty, Where’s the Green Sheep.). It is not because we want them to be poets later on (although we might!). It is because rhyme & rhyming games allows children to understand word “families”. f we hear and see similarities in words we do not have to learn to spell and read every single early word from scratch. If we can read “Man” we can see and hear the patterns in “pan, tan, can, fan etc.” making them really easy to read and spell! 

​Does your 3+ year old notice rhyme? Would they say “those words sound the same”?

If you start off a rhyme string can they think of more words (fall, ball, t…., c…). Can they tell you “key” and “tea” rhyme but “tea” and “plate” do not? All of these skills should be in place before they go to Prep. All of these skills are often in place before they even know their letters! They are foundation skills  preparing the way for children to learn their letters  develop reading sills.

Again, if you have concerns your child that is heading into Prep or in Grade 1 cannot achieve these rhyming foundation skills then contact a speech pathologists . A child Speech pathologist can conduct a Phonological Awareness Screen. SpeechNet Speech Pathology provides Pre-prep screens for children going into Prep in our clinic and via Skype.

communicating with others

It is important to ask someone politely to repeat themselves if you did not hear what they said or did not understand what they said. In play you can ensure similar sounding toys are put out at the same time (e.g. tea and key). You can model asking for clarification by pretending you thought they said one word instead of the other. For example, if the child says “I want the key” you can pass them the “tea” cup. You can them model an apology for not hearing and model of how to ask nicely to repeat themselves. 

Understanding of language comes before talking

As noted above if a child cannot hear the difference between similar sounding words (Kate/gate/plate) they will not “understand” the conversation or instructions given to them. 

Remember for some children they can “hear” perfectly well but it is the AUDITORY DISCRIMINATION skill that is difficult for them. They literally hear the words (“tea’ and “key”) as interchangeable. Emphasising the first sounds in these words helps them “tune into” the individual sounds in a word so that discrimination is possible. 

​The same thing applies to rhyme. If children cannot hear rhyme or are not even aware that rhyme is occurring, they will not understand the underlying concept. By saying the rhyme word really loud at the end of each line is important to make it stand out for the child. Point it out as well. “OH, fall and wall” sound the same!

Spoken speech & language

I often set up play with toys and scenarios to indirectly model and encourage particular speech sounds and rhyme play.  For example, I might set up tea set play but put out  certain other specific toys to target certain ideas. I might suggest we invite teddy and a doll to the tea part. We can then call teddy “Mate” and the doll (Kate). Then we can share out the plates: “a plate for Kate and a plate for our Mate’.  We might pretend they have to call from the gate (pulling from a farm set to add to the props). They can then call out saying ‘Hi it’s Kate at the gate”.

You could perhaps pretend the tea cups are locked in a cupboard and we need a toy key to open the cupboard: “need the key to get the tea”; “pass me the key” and “give the tea to me”.   By playing with rhyming and minimal pair words the children are exposed to lots of models to listen to. Give lots of social praise if they then try to copy saying the target words or think of other words that rhyme.

Let's Talk Play 

We hear a lot about how Play is important to a child’s development.

How imperative it is for early childhood teachers and parents to foster children’s development through play.  

 How language development through play supports early literacy and further school success!

But!  How do you put it into practice?  

How can you actually boost and develop a childs oral development while playing? 

One way is for the parent or early childhood teacher to use -  ask questions as part of the play. 

But! Not any questions.  The type or “Level” of question you use with a child needs to grow as their language grows. Blank Level of questions provides 4 levels of questions with each level getting harder and harder for children to answer. 

What are Blank Level Questions?

​Blank level questions begin by answering very direct, concrete questions (e.g., Where is the ball?) and can be used in play with children from about 10-12 months of age. Blank Levels of questions then become increasingly more difficult until a child’s understanding and communicating abilities can deal with more abstract ideas like inferencing. This level of Blanks questions can typically become part of play at about the 4- 5 year of age level (e.g., If we put a big block here what do you think might happen? Why would that happen?)  

Blank Levels of questions is often a model used in many Speech Therapy Sessions in a play based approach.

For your convenience, we have compiled lists of Blank level questions for you to use with specific toys and books.  These questions are broken up into levels with general ages for you to work through.  We have included Speech and Language information for you to use with these toys and books to help further develop speech and language.  By combining play and situationally appropriate questions you can help your child’s speech, language and learning development immediately & in the future.


Teaching & Talking Tips: Toys


 An Educational Teaching & Talking Tips PDF  jam packed full of ideas to help boost speech, language and literacy skills while playing with a Phlat Ball.  


 An Educational Teaching & Talking Tips PDF  jam packed full of ideas to help boost speech, language and literacy skills while building with a Magnetic Construction Kit.

Teaching & Talking Tips: Books 

BOOSTING SPEECH, LANGUAGE & LITERACY SKILLS WHILE Reading Books with Where's My Teddy by Jex Smith 

 An Educational Teaching & Talking Tips PDF  jam packed full of ideas to help boost speech, language and literacy skills while reading.

BOOSTING SPEECH, LANGUAGE & LITERACY SKILLS WHILE Reading Books with The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

 An Educational Teaching & Talking Tips PDF  jam packed full of ideas to help boost speech, language and literacy skills while reading.

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