Nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children

Do you know how to include nursery rhymes in your play at home? I have included a whole variety of ideas in this blog post. Nursery rhymes are super important for pre-schoolers as they help boost their speech and language skills. I love to use nursery rhymes in exciting play setups to keep that learning going. And you can find my top ten nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children below!

Photo shows a tray of red and white sensory rice with cards featuring pictures of popular nursery rhyme characters, The title reads: Nursery rhyme inspired activities for preschool children.

Why are nursery rhymes important?

Nursery rhymes have been around for centuries. They are traditional songs that parents sing to their children and they can be used for so many purposes! To help keep your child safe, to learn important lessons, to soothe them to sleep, and especially to help your child build a solid foundation for learning language.

Nursery rhymes around the world

Nursery rhymes are universal. This means they can be found across all languages, dialects and cultures. You can find a whole library of international rhymes on the Mama Lisa website. But why are they so important? Well, nursery rhymes actually increase your child’s phonological awareness. That is the understanding of sounds within words and the ability to manipulate them. This skill has been linked to higher levels of reading and spelling ability later in life. Nursery rhymes are perfect for exploring sounds in a fun, relaxed way. They often use rhyming, elongated vowel sounds and repetition.

Small world play using nursery rhyme cards from the Crafty Toddler Company

Why is repetition important?

Children learn new vocabulary when the words are repeated over and over again. This gives them time to process the meaning and to practice the word in context. That’s why so many nursery rhymes have repetitive choruses or repeating sounds. The rhymes are specially built to help your child learn! It’s also why early years workers will happily sing the same songs over and over. And as the rhymes become familiar, your child will eventually feel ready to join in with the singing. So the repetition in the rhymes then helps them to practice their own articulation of the words as well. Isn’t it incredible?

Laminated flashcards featuring a star, turtle and currant bun are buried in sensory rice for a nursery rhyme inspired activity by Crafty Toddler Company

Nursery rhymes can help name recognition too!

Nursery rhymes are also a great way to support name recognition. Modern rhymes often include a chance to ‘say hello’ to your child and repeat their name as you sing. It doesn’t matter how good a singer you are, the rhymes themselves and the social interactions they promote are far more important than your singing voice!

A name sign on a bedroom door. Learn more ways to boost name recognition with the Crafty Toddler Company.

How to include nursery rhymes in play at home

Even if you can’t remember the nursery rhymes you learnt as a child, you can still include them in play at home by using resources like the Scottish Book Trust songs and rhymes library or the ASTAR app from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. These useful resources will have you singing along in no time!

Little boy smiling and sitting underneath a parachute

Singing is always a favourite with young children. Your toddler will be fascinated by the sounds and rhythm in your voice. But nursery rhymes don’t always have to be learnt by reading lyrics or listening to the same CD over and over again. You can include them in lots of fun play setups throughout the week too. It’s actually important to extend the learning to different activities so you spark your child’s imagination, instil a love of language and avoid becoming bored of the same activities every day yourself! To get you started, here are my top ten nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children.

Nursery rhyme cards featuring a star, currant bun, turtle, cartoon egg and black sheep are lying on multi coloured foam mats.

1. Nursery Rhyme Cards

At the top of my list, is my very own nursery rhyme cards which you can download for FREE here. These cards are great for introducing nursery rhyme characters and they can be used while singing or matching games. I also love to introduce a bit of messy play with a search and rescue activity using sensory rice.

Nursery rhyme cards featuring a black sheep, star, turtle, currant bun and cartoon egg are buried in a tray of sensory rice

Sensory rice is easy to make and can be reused over and over again! I kept my Easter batch for 6 months before switching it out for Halloween colours instead. If you don’t fancy making sensory rice, you can fill your tray with lentils, oats, plain rice, cereal or even cooked spaghetti instead! Just make sure you laminate your cards if they are going to get wet.

Little boy is reaching inside a bag for the nursery rhyme inspired 'Little Bag' game by the Crafty Toddler Company

2. The Little Bag Game

The ‘Little Bag’ game is number two on my list of nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children and it is one of my absolute favourites! All you need are some toys that represent the nursery rhymes your child likes to sing and a bag to pop them into.

Nursery rhyme cards, wooden animal toys, a glove with pictures of chicks attached and finger puppet animals are lying on the carpet ready for a nursery rhyme inspired activity

Sing the song below and help your child to pick a toy out of the bag. Describe what they have found and tell them which nursery rhyme it comes from. Then you can sing that nursery rhyme too! It’s a great game for young children, who will love the anticipation of finding something hidden in the bag and then the excitement of discovering a whole new song! If you have more than one child, it’s also a fab way to start introducing turn taking too.

“Little bag, little bag,

What’s inside?

What little song,

Are you trying to hide?”

A black tuff tray is covered with cotton wool, sheep toys, musical instruments, tissue paper, cupcake cases and a felt board. It is a nursery rhyme themed activity for preschool children by the Crafty Toddler Comapny

3. Crafty Play Tray

Number three on my list of nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children is the Crafty Play Tray. Young children love to explore different play materials and craft activities are a great way to introduce new colours and textures too. So why not pick your favourite nursery rhyme and use it to inspire a crafty play tray? Include some toys and a craft activity that you can do together. But remember to keep it simple!

A toddler faces away from the camera sticking cotton wool onto a picture of a sheep.

 In our ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ play tray, we had a simple outline of a sheep, a glue stick and some cotton wool balls to stick onto it. But this activity was surrounded by lots more exciting items to explore! We had felt boards with characters from the farm, a few different sheep, a homemade ribbon ring sensory toy, some magnetic letters and numbers, blue tissue paper for the sky, green cupcake cases for the grass, a tambourine and a maraca. I even included the lyrics to our song propped up on the window so we could sing along.

A toddler is sticking cotton wool onto the outline of a sheep for a nursery rhyme inspired activity

These kinds of activities are fantastic for sparking your child’s imagination and encouraging a love of language. Write, sing, speak and sign during the nursery rhyme inspired activities and you will be introducing all kinds of language skills to your little one.

Colourful plates and spoons feature characters from popular nursery rhymes such as Little Miss Muffet, Tim Turtle, a monkey, a car and a crocodile

4. Story Spoons and Plates

Number four on my list of nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children is Story Spoons and Plates. This activity can double up as a craft by getting your child involved in making the Story Spoons and Plates too. Simply grab some wooden spoons and paper plates and get decorating! Paint, draw or even stick on googly eyes and pieces of wool to make your nursery rhyme characters. Leave the spoons and plates to dry and then enjoy using them as props for nursery rhyme fun!

Four wooden spoons feature stickers of popular nursery rhyme characters such as a car, crocodile, monkey and frog.

You can lay the spoons and plates out on the floor for your child to explore, then sing the rhymes your child is most interested in. Or you can go ahead and sing through a list of your favourite nursery rhymes holding the plates and spoons up as visual cues to spark your little one’s imagination. I even got a bit fancy with my spoons and used my Cricut machine to create vinyl stickers! The best bit is that your spoons and plates can be used again and again to inspire your child’s play and make rhyme time even more exciting!

Wooden blocks with nursery rhyme characters attached for a nursery rhyme inspired activity by the Crafty Toddler Company

5. Small World Play

Next up on my list of nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children is Small World Play. Toddlers and pre-schoolers love to explore the world by acting it out through play. Offering miniature versions of the world allows your child to imitate things they have seen adults do, or they might base their play on a scenario entirely from their imagination. It’s a lovely active way to play and encourages children to use all of their developing skills.

Two wooden blocks with a cartoon egg and a cartoon horse attached.

You can include nursery rhymes in your child’s small world play by setting up areas with characters and props that represent the songs you have been singing. If you have small figures, Duplo, a dolls’ house or farm animals these can all be great props for small world play. But if all you have is a bucket of blocks, don’t worry! You can print out my nursery rhyme cards and stick them onto the blocks with sticky tape. Easy peasy! Grab my FREE nursery rhyme cards here.

Toddler playing with rainbow spaghetti on a Crafty Toddler Company tuff tray

6. Sensory Play

Number six on my list of nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children is sensory play. You might have heard of sensory play for babies, but it’s actually great for children (and adults!) of any age. Sensory play is all about stimulating your child’s senses and helping them explore using their eyes, ears, nose, hands and yes, even mouth!

A toddler wearing a Christmas jumper is playing with a tray of red and white sensory rice which has toys and cooking utensils buried underneath the rice

I love to make a mess when playing, but if you prefer to keep things clean just include household objects that you are comfortable with. For example, a torch, scented pillowcases, tissue paper, a hairbrush, and a scarf. Please make sure that any items your child plays with are safe and do not pose a choking risk. Check the Child Accident Prevention Trust website for more safety advice. If you aren’t sure how to get started, here are some of my own nursery rhyme inspired sensory play ideas:

  • Twinkle Twinkle’ with battery operated candles in a darkened room
  • Lavenders Blue Dilly Dilly’ in the bath with lavender scented bubble bath
  • ‘I had a little turtle’ while washing a plastic turtle toy in a bowl of warm water, drying him on a towel and applying baby powder.
  • ‘The sun has got his hat on’ with plenty of yellow toys, a sun hat and sun glasses. You could even rub some sun cream into your little one’s skin for new smells and sensations!
Two bottles filled with multi coloured sensory rice and candy canes.

7. DIY shakers

Number seven on my list of nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children are DIY Shakers. These will go great as part of your sensory play or even as a crafty activity of their own. The DIY Shakers are super easy to make. All you need is a clean plastic bottle with a lid, some sticky tape and something to shake.

A plastic bottle filled with candy canes is sitting on top of a tray of red and white sensory rice.

I have used colourful sensory rice in this picture above, but you could easily use lentils, plain rice or even oats for a different sound effect. Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers will love these toys to shake, rattle and roll while singing along to their favourite nursery rhymes!

You could even stick some of my nursery rhymes cards to your shakers and create a bottle for each nursery rhyme. Mix up the contents and see what magical, musical moments you can create!

A handful of toys on a blanket representing nursery rhymes for blanket games with the Crafty Toddler Company

8. Blanket Games

Blanket Games are next on the list and they are perfect for practicing new words and concepts. Basically you and your child hold onto a blanket at either end and wave it up and down as you sing your favourite songs. We are lucky enough to have a parachute at home, but you can use anything from a bath sheet to a tea towel! Not only will you be boosting your child’s speech and language skills, but you will also be encouraging their fine and gross motor skills too.

An adult hand is passing a toy sun to a toddler hand over the top of a parachute.

Practice lifting the blanket ‘up’ and ‘down’ and introduce the idea of ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ as you wave the blanket accordingly. Blanket games are always great for learning ‘go’ and ‘stop’ as well! Combine this game with your favourite nursery rhymes by using toys that represent each rhyme. Bounce them up and down as you sing. Throwing the toys on and off the blanket will be sure to make your little one giggle with delight!

A toddler's foot is stepping into a tray of green water placed nearby a book featuring pictures from the 'We are going on a bear hunt' nursery rhyme.

9. Sensory Walk

Number nine on my list of nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-school children is a Sensory Walk. This was one of my son’s all-time favourite activities, but be warned it is most definitely MESSY PLAY! You can pick whichever nursery rhyme you like as your inspiration, but for my example below I chose ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’. Mainly because we had a book to go along with the song!

A toddler's foot is stepping onto a tray of red lentils and green chick peas as part of the Sensory Walk activity by the Crafty Toddler Company

The idea of a Sensory Walk is to create a path of different textured play materials for your child to walk through as you sing your chosen nursery rhyme. For the sensory walk, I laid out a tray of water that had been dyed green using food colouring. A tray of dyed chickpeas and lentils, a tray with green felt to represent grass, and a tray of coco pops to represent the mud. I also popped a teddy bear and a magnifying glass nearby to get the story to flow.

A pink teddy bear lies next to a lady bug magnifying glass and a copy of the 'We are going on a bear hunt' nursery rhyme book.

It was great fun and my little boy did the whole walk two or three times while I sang the nursery rhyme. Yes it takes a bit of clean up, but you can limit the mess by placing a splash mat, tuff tray or foam mats underneath. Keep towels and a change of clothes nearby and then pop a short cartoon on your phone while your child snuggles on the couch and you clean up the mess. I promise it will only take you ten minutes with a dustpan and brush!

Colourful foam mats are covered with an assortment of musical instruments and nursery rhyme cards ready for Music Time with the Crafty Toddler Company

10. Music Time

Finally, I couldn’t have a list of nursery rhyme inspired activities without including music time! This brilliant nursery rhyme inspired activity doesn’t just have to be for at school or in the library. You can set up your own exciting song-fest at home too.

Colourful foam mats are covered with an assortment of musical instruments and nursery rhyme cards ready for Music Time with the Crafty Toddler Company

Just grab some toddler friendly musical instruments or make your own by banging together wooden spoons with pots and pans. You could even include the DIY shaker I mentioned earlier! Once you have surrounded yourself with musical instruments to explore, it’s time to get singing. You can always use a CD or an app for encouragement if you need it. We love our Tiny Talk CDs and we have used the ASTAR app for more classical versions of our favourite nursery rhymes too.

So how will you include nursery rhymes in your play?

Now you have my top ten nursery rhyme inspired activities for pre-schoolers. So how will you play? Tell me about your play sessions! Tag me @craftytoddlercompany in your posts or email me to let me know how you get on. Don’t forget to grab a copy of my FREE nursery rhyme cards below.

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