How Rhyming Supports Literacy Success

Full disclosure…when I became a mom, I didn’t really know any nursery rhymes. And frankly, that felt a bit weird because, I am a speech therapist!  But up until that point, my career had largely focused on work with adults.

A friend told me about a local “Mother Goose” program for new moms and babies, where you learn nursery rhymes in a group setting. Sure, my daughter slept through half the classes, but it was fun and I left feeling satisfied that I was learning something for her benefit.

Little did I know at the time that we had taken the first steps toward literacy success.

Phonological awareness is a term used to describe a person’s awareness of and ability to manipulate the sounds of a language. It allows you to rhyme, count words or syllables, and segment words into syllables and sounds.

Phonemic awareness is considered a sub-skill of phonological awareness. It is the knowledge that words are made up of individual sounds, and that these sounds are distinct from each other.

A strong correlation exists between phonological awareness in kindergarten and early reading success. Research has shown that strong readers have intact phonological awareness skills and that poor readers do not.  In fact, many reading difficulties are preventable if children are exposed to phonological awareness activities in preschool and kindergarten .

In comparison to children with little exposure to rhyme before they start school, the literacy skills of children with a good understanding of rhyme from a young age, are notably superior. This is not surprising when you consider that experience with rhyming helps children understand that words sharing common sounds, will often share common letter sequences. If you can read cat, it is easier to read mat, bat, hat.

In 1997, the US National Reading Panel was established for the sole purpose of evaluating research and evidence to find the most effective ways to teach children to read. They determined that the best approach includes instruction in phonemic awareness. They reported that children who are read to at home, especially material that rhymes, usually develop the basis for phonemic awareness.

As with many other skills, phonological awareness develops in a sequential manner. The earliest skill to develop is awareness that words can rhyme, and then the ability to produce rhymes.

Not only is rhyming fun, but also it’s an effective foundation on which to introduce and build phonemic awareness… the awareness that words are made up of distinct sounds.

Five easy ways to weave more rhyming into your child’s play:

  1. Read rhyming books together. Here is a list of rhyming books on Amazon.
  2. Encourage children to create rhymes with their names, by changing the first sound.
  3. Put together a collection of small objects that rhyme in a basket, and find the matching pairs together.
  4. Recite and sing lots of nursery rhymes in the car, in the bath, or before bedtime. Involve older children and see who can make up the silliest rhyme. Leave off the rhyming word at the end for your child to fill in. Here is a good list of nursery rhymes.
  5. Choose engaging toys that expose children to rhyming. The Snap-N-Learn Rhyming Pups is one of my favorites.


Here is my FREE GIFT to you. I created a colour based rhyming activity for children in preschool and kindergarten. Print it, cut out the small rhyming pictures from one page, mix them up and place them in a pile. Next, name and place the two colour circles in front of your child. He turns over one picture at a time. Help him name the picture and say the colour it rhymes with. Ask him to place the picture on that coloured circle, and together say both the words in the rhyme string (red… bed). Continue and add each rhyming word to your rhyme string, until you have a long string.

When playing with rhymes, talk about how the words rhyme because they have the same last sounds. Bring your child’s attention to the individual sounds in words and encourage her to join you rhyming. Repeat rhyming lines, and leave off the rhyming word waiting expectantly for your child to fill it in. Be silly and have fun together, all the while knowing that you are taking the first steps toward literacy success.


Some of my favourite early rhyming books:





And fantastic resources:

Language and Reading Disabilities, 3rd Edition (2012) Kamhi and Catts

Phonemic Awareness Instruction Helps Children Learn to Read: Evidence From the National Reading Panel’s Meta-Analysis (2001) Ehri, Nunes, Willows, Schuster, Yaghoub-Zadeh and Shanahan




Helpful strategies to connect with adults who have Dementia

Dementia is one of the biggest public health challenges we face today. With 35 million people living with Dementia worldwide, and the prevalence expected to double every 20 years, it is likely that most of us will be personally touched by Dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for almost 50% of dementia. This disease presents unique communication challenges, and often results in social isolation. Depression and further declines in physical health are probable consequences. My main goals, when working with adults who have dementia, are to strengthen their SOCIAL CONNECTIONS.

Here are my top 3 tips for how to best communicate with adults who have dementia.


Adults with dementia often make inaccurate statements. Common reactions include correcting and re-orienting them to the present situation however, repeated correcting may create negative feelings and result in agitation or aggression. Experts say that denying any bad feelings will intensify them so, instead of correcting or arguing, validate their belief, regardless of accuracy. Validation can simply be a mirroring of what they said, commenting on how happy they appear, reassurance, or if they shared something disturbing, acknowledge how difficult it must be.


Speak at a slightly slower rate with a slightly louder volume. Use a full range of intonation, stressing the keywords in your message while adding pauses between phrases and sentences.  Avoid using ‘elderspeak’ characterized by an elevated pitch, a noticeably slower rate and repetition. Studies reveal that ‘elderspeak’ does not improve comprehension, and results in withdrawal and lowered self-esteem.


Avoid any testing questions, and resist the temptation to check if a loved one remembers a name. Instead, offer reassurances and reminders, such as the date, time and place. You can also introduce yourself and any others who enter the room, regardless of your relationship or how long you have known each other.  

Try to choose questions that support the individual’s spared abilities and avoid questions that rely on impaired memory, such as the events of their day, or dates of significant events. Even in the later stages of dementia, a person can usually reminisce about past life events and relationships; they may remember song lyrics and how to do routine tasks and they can also often answer questions about their feelings and share their opinions. When asking a question, notice how you are asking. For example, questions with choices are easier to answer than open-ended questions.

Give the person with Dementia extra time to respond to your question. You may not get an immediate response, be patient. They need extra time to process spoken information, and repeating your question will interfere with their processing.

These are Connecting Strategies: you are reaching out, recognizing their strengths, and literally meeting them where they are at.  In doing so, you bring ease to the interaction and strengthen the social connection. Considering that the weight of the conversation will fall to you, come prepared with some jokes, local news, interesting articles, family updates, and personal stories. Dementia can make communicating with loved ones difficult, but conversation nourishes relationships and strengthens connections, enhancing both physical and mental health.


For further reading:

Communication skills training in a nursing home: effects of a brief intervention on residents and nursing aides. (2015) Sprangers, Dijkstra and Romijn-Luijten

I Care. A Handbook for Care Partners of People with Dementia. (2014) Brush and Mills


Early Speech and Language Support Made Easy!

Becoming a parent brings with it plenty of responsibility. You brought a being into this world who is completely dependent on you and you put a lot of pressure on yourself to get it all done, leaving little if any extra time at the end of each day.

The good news is…supporting your baby’s speech and language development doesn’t require you to find extra time…NO EXTRA TIME! You can model and facilitate communication skills during your regular routines and play times.

Language skills begin to develop early.

Before he is even 2 months old, your baby stares intently at you and enjoys your attention.

By 6 months old, she watches your face as you talk, smiles in response to your smiles, and anticipates what will happen next.

By 9 months old he communicates non-verbally, uses sounds and gestures to get what he wants, and plays simple games.

It should come as no surprise that what your little one is most interested in is YOU! Take advantage of her natural interest in you to promote her attention and turn-taking skills… the skills needed to absorb speech and language modeled for her.  Good attention and turn taking skills are the foundation of oral language development.  Before learning to speak, your baby must learn to attend to others and take turns.


Here are 3 ways to promote good attention and turn-taking skills.

 1.  Follow your baby’s lead. Talk about what he is looking at. This helps him link sounds and words to the things he pays attention to. It also helps develop his confidence when he realizes you are interested in him and having fun with him. The more fun and interest you bring to playtime, the more he will pay attention to you.

2.  Pause regularly inviting your baby to take her turn. Get face to face, lean in, and look at her as if you expect her to take a turn. This might be a small movement or sound. Repeat your baby’s sounds and encourage her to repeat your sounds. Acknowledge her turn and continue with this pattern of making a sound, pausing and acknowledging. You are having a conversation!

3. Tempt your baby with something you think he really wants. Hold two toys in front of him and encourage him to look at or reach for one of them. Name them for him and reinforce his choice. Pause a familiar activity or routine (a song, a rhyme, shaking a rattle, a repetitive knee bounce) and wait for him to indicate he wants you to continue.


Whether you are talking, singing, reciting nursery rhymes, reading or playing with your baby… Follow her lead, use the power of pause and tempt her to take a turn.

Check here for some great games you can play with your baby!