I have fond memories of sitting on my mother’s lap just a few inches from her face, imitating her hand movements, and softly singing, “Where is thumbkin? Where is thumbkin? Here I am. Here I am.”
Does this bring back memories for you as well?
Unfortunately, from what I’ve observed, fewer parents are using this technique of fingerplays—hand and finger movements combined with sung or spoken words. And that means kids are missing out on the impact of fingerplays on early language and literacy development. They may seem old-fashioned, boring and nonsensical, but I’ve experienced great success using them in my sessions with young clients.
Here are five reasons why it’s worth our time as SLPs to share fingerplays with toddler and preschool clients.
Fingerplays promote early literacy skills
Fingerplays are rich in phonemic awareness. I use the transition song, “Open, Shut Them” in early childhood classrooms to direct attention and encourage self-regulation. This fingerplay is loaded with early literacy skills such as repetition, rhyme and rhythm. It also exposes children to the concept of identifying and clapping single words (“…give a little clap, clap, clap.”).
Fingerplays follow a narrative structure
Fingerplays offer story elements such as character, setting, problem, solution and theme. “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” contains each of these elements: “spider” (character), “water spout” (setting), “down came the rain…” (problem), and “climbed up the spout again” (solution). The song also incorporates the theme “never give up.” By singing fingerplays over and over, you provide a creative environment for young learners to develop oral narrative skills.
Fingerplays encourage adult-child connection
Babies, toddlers and preschool children love to look at adult faces. They will focus attention on faces longer than any other stimuli. Facial expressions, emotions and voice inflections also capture their attention. Simple songs and fingerplays such as “Grandmother’s Glasses” and “Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake” help children connect with adults through touch, tickle and laughter.
Fingerplays support motor development
Crossing the imaginary midline of the body with the arms and legs is a crucial motor skill milestone for young children. It facilitates core strength, hand dominance, visual tracking, body awareness and self-regulation. My all-time favorite fingerplay—“Where is Thumbkin?”—uses a sequence of independent finger movements, while alternating attention from the one side of the body to the other. I don’t think my mother chose this fingerplay knowing it helped me develop executive-functioning skills, but I sure am thankful she did.
Fingerplays don’t require batteries
SLPs and parents can sing fingerplays with children anytime and anywhere. In the car, while cooking dinner, during a bath and at bedtime. Fingerplays become embedded in a child’s memory and will support language and learning for years to come.
Lisa Erwin, MS, CCC-SLP, is public school clinician with 26 years of experience working with adults and children as an SLP, special education teacher and early childhood teacher. She works on an elementary campus in Amarillo, Texas, and specializes in literacy and language intervention. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and her website, www.myspeechtools.com.