28 Jan, 2014

Learning & Development: Rhythm – A fact of Life

06 September 2013 written by Dr Lala Manners published by Nursery World

Rhythm is a critical area for both communication and physical skills development, so how can practitioners ensure children’s learning is supported? Lala Manners reports.

From life in utero to effective verbal communication and successful engagement in physical activities, rhythm is a critical element in ensuring young children’s smooth overall development.

Children are surrounded by different rhythms throughout the day and in every environment they experience. From birth onwards, they must begin to understand and manage their own bodily rhythms in relation to the demands of others and the wider world – when to eat and sleep, how to be soothed or stimulated – and acquiring the skills and means to make themselves heard.



Babies respond positively to sounds that follow a rhythmic pattern and offer them opportunities to engage, respond and contribute. Effective later verbal communication will be influenced by the level of rhythmic awareness acquired – waiting for a turn, exchanging ideas, reciprocating emotions, using appropriate gestures, predicting correctly, listening rather than simply hearing.

  • Invite babies to sustain a dialogue by making sounds with your mouth that they can mirror with ease – copy any sounds that they make and change volume and speed
  • Introduce rhymes that encourage predictive and memory skills
  • Be aware that different cultures may use different rhythms from English – rhyme is an effective way of supporting English as an Additional Language children

Physical skills

Most babies are familiar with the rhythmic movements of rocking, swinging or swaying and will move to their own rhythm when kicking, rolling or crawling as they mature.

  • Afford babies plenty of opportunities to move at their own pace – to their own rhythm. This is an important element in the development of self-awareness and will later impact on children’s choice and enjoyment of physical activities; some activities will require power, speed and teamwork, while others will require endurance, concentration and solitude.
  • Engage in rocking, swaying and swinging movements. All these types of movement stimulate the vestibular system, which is situated in the ear and influences balancing ability and ultimately positive engagement in curricular activities
  • Encourage ‘timing’ skills by using music and adding appropriate movements, such as clapping, stretching and hugging in a short sequence. This will influence children’s ability to predict, anticipate and remember – important skills for later sporting activities.



In an increasingly noisy world, we must remember the importance of pre-verbal skills – ultimately these will determine the effectiveness of later verbal interactions despite the current prevalence of electronic media.

  • Explore the different sounds that children can make using their mouths only. Spoken English demands a high degree of oral-motor skills and this activity will support the muscular control necessary for clear and coherent speech.
  • Develop a short sequence using two or three sounds that the children have chosen. Repeat and change volume/speed when suggested. This will challenge children’s memory and predictive ability – essential for later engagement with books – and also encourages listening skills.
  • Begin to explore the immediate environment inside or outside. What sounds can children make using their hands only? Explore all parts of both hands. This activity will support the development of manipulative skills needed for paper-based tasks.
  • As a group, develop a short sequence using both mouths and hands. Choose music and fit the movements to the rhythm. This will encourage collaborative skills and support inclusion – everyone may contribute.
  • Record a sequence and play it back; can children remember how they made the sounds?

Physical skills

  • Focus on the importance of ‘timing’ skills in relation to later sporting options.
  • Using the physical skills that the children have acquired already (for example, clapping, stretching and jumping), develop a sequence that they can remember and perform easily. You can use this sequence as a means of signalling transition to another activity, such as home time – or inside/outside. Creating a new sequence could become a weekly routine that different groups could manage and teach to others.
  • Add music. This always ensures maximum participation.


  • Rhythmic awareness is closely linked to effective verbal communication – pre-verbal skills remain essential to practise despite electronic aids.
  • Positive participation in sporting activities also depends on ‘timing’ ability – so ensuring personal safety issues are addressed
  • Remember everyone has a rhythm at which they function best – allow children to find theirs.


These activities may be planned either for a one-to-one session or with a larger group of children and should last five to ten minutes.

  • Use a round table and push chairs to one side.
  • Using your hands only, make as many different sounds as you can on the tabletop – rub/scratch/pat/knock. Use every part of your hand – palm, backs of the hand, nails, knuckles and individual fingers.
  • Change the speed and volume of your movements.
  • Explore every part of the table as you make the sounds – underneath, legs and rim – and listen carefully.
  • Develop a short sequence of sounds together. Choose two or three favourite sounds, discuss and collaborate. Repeat the sequence as a group, then individually; everyone will have their own way of performing the sequence.
  • Keeping one hand on the table, move around the table quickly. Stop, make a tower of hands in the middle, then change direction.
  • Instead of a tower, all lift the table just off the floor.
  • Add music. Move quickly around the table, with everyone keeping one hand fixed on the table. When the music stops, make a tower/lift the table.

Dr Lala Manners is a director of Activematters, which offers specialist training in Physical Development for all those working with young children in whatever capacity and in all settings.


Published by Nursery World and available to subscribers in their extensive archive of past publications.