popular nursery rhymes

Singing and chanting nursery rhymes to your baby is a great way of encouraging and helping your child to make the first sounds that will eventually become speech. Teaching your baby the actions if a fun way of bonding with your little one. Here are some popular classic children’s nursery rhymes (with actions) to try.

1. This Little Piggy Went to Market

This classic nursery rhyme is great to chant while changing your baby’s nappy.

Words

This little piggy went to market

This little piggy stayed at home

This little piggy had roast beef

This little piggy had none.

And this little piggy cried ‘Wee, wee wee!’

All the way home.

Actions

Wiggle each of your baby’s toes as you go along, starting with the biggest and moving to the next one each time. When you get to ‘all the way home’, gently tickle your baby’s foot and enjoy the squeals of delight. After a few times your little one may start giggling in anticipation even before you start tickling!

2. Round and Round the Garden

This action nursery rhyme never fails to delight kids with its surprise tickle at the end.

Words

Round and round the garden

Like a teddy bear

One step, two step

Tickle you under there! (Gently tickle under your baby’s chin)

Actions

Start by drawing an imaginary circle on your newborn’s tummy (‘round and round’), then walk your fingers up their chest (‘one step, two steps’) and tickle gently under the chin or armpit (‘tickle you under there!’).

3. Jack in the Box

Babies love this exuberant nursery rhyme variant of Peekaboo!

Words

Jack in a box

Jack in a box

Open the lid and... up he pops!

Actions

Cover your eyes, and then say the first couple of lines in a low voice to set the mood. Add some anticipation with the third line, then throw up your hands and shout out the last line. Your baby will love quietly waiting, waiting... and then watching you pop up like a jack-in the-box!

4. Row, Row, Row Your Boat

What better adventure for your little one than riding down the stream in a boat with you?

Words

Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream.

Optional second verse:

Row, row, row your boat (rock back and forth)

Gently down the stream

If you see a crocodile

Don’t forget to scream!

Actions

Act this nursery rhyme out by sitting down on the floor with your baby facing you in your lap (making sure the head and neck are supported). Hold your child’s hands and rock gently back and forth in time to the song, as if you are both rowing. Later, you can add a second verse:

You can easily change the words to sing a personalised version of this nursery rhyme while performing other activities with your child. For example: ‘wash, wash, wash your face, happily in the bath’ or ‘roll, roll, roll the ball, gently to your Mum’. You could both end up giggling!

5. Old MacDonald Had a Farm

Have fun making animal sounds while teaching your baby this classic farmyard nursery rhyme.

Words

Old MacDonald had a farm

E-I-E-I-O!

And on this farm he had a cow

E-I-E-I-O!

With a moo, moo here

And a moo, moo there

Here a moo, there a moo

Everywhere a moo, moo

Old MacDonald had a farm

E-I-E-I-O!

Animal Noises

Continue for as long as you like, introducing a new animal – and the appropriate animal sound – with each verse. For example, a duck (‘quack, quack’), a dog (‘woof, woof’), a cat (‘meow, meow’), some sheep (‘baa, baa’), and horse (‘neigh, neigh’).

This nursery rhyme song could easily inspire your baby to try and join in. The sounds are fun to make, and the words help your baby learn the names of many animals. Sing it on the way to the zoo or to a farm, or when you read a picture book that features animals, and then make the sounds when you see the animals. Your child will be thrilled to find it all so familiar.

6. Humpty Dumpty

For maximum giggles, sing or say the first line to this nursery rhyme with a rising lilt, then let your voice swoop down as low as you can when you come to ‘had a great fall’.

Words

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall (gently tip baby backwards)

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Actions

Hold your baby securely, facing you, with head and neck supported. When you get to ‘had a great fall’, gently tip your little one slightly backwards.

7. The Grand Old Duke of York

This is another good nursery rhyme to say or sing to your baby during nappy changes or at bath time.

Words

Oh, the grand old Duke of York

He had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill

Then he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up

And when they were down, they were down

And when they were only halfway up

They were neither up nor down.

Actions

‘March’ your fingers up and down the side of your baby’s tummy along with the Duke of York’s soldiers. Later, you can sing it together while running up and down a real hill (or small mound in the park or playground) when you’re out and about with your little one!

You could also sing this nursery rhyme do the marching actions with your fingers on a cushion or toy serving as the ‘hill’ in front of your baby to grab their attention during tummy time.

8. Pat-a-Cake

Try this classic nursery rhyme while your baby’s lying down for a nappy change.

Words

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man

Bake me a cake as fast as you can

Pat it and prick it, and mark it with B

Put it in the oven for Baby and me.

Actions

Gently pat and prod your little one’s tummy at the appropriate times, then write and imaginary B with your finger. You might like to change the letter to your baby’s first initial, even if it means the words no longer rhyme.

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9. Two Little Dickie Birds

The actions for this are simple, but your baby will be fascinated by how the two birds disappear and reappear again in this short, but sweet nursery rhyme.

Words

Two little dickie birds sitting on a wall

One named Peter, one named Paul.

Fly away Peter! Fly away Paul!

Come back Peter! Come back Paul!

Actions

Hold your hand in front of you with its back facing outwards to represent the wall. Behind it, hold your other hand so that two fingers are visible above it, representing the birds. Wiggle one finger when each bird is introduced (‘one named Peter, one named Paul’).

Then, When Peter ‘flies away’, curl one finger down behind the ‘wall’, then do the same with other finger when Paul ‘flies away’. Uncurl each finger again as each bird comes back in the nursery rhyme.

To give ‘Peter’ and ‘Paul’ even more personality, draw a beak and eyes on the nail of each finger with a non-toxic pen. Alternatively, you could even make or buy two simple finger puppets!

10. If You’re Happy and You Know It

This is a song that you’ll never tire of singing to your baby as they grow and develop the motor skills to join in with more and more of the actions. Sometimes, you might even see your child doing a new action for the first time while joining in with this nursery rhyme!

Words

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap)

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap)

If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! (clap, clap).

Actions

Clap twice at the end of each line except the third one. You can add as many verses as you like to this song, substituting ‘clap your hands’ with different actions every time. Some examples could include:

  • Nod/shake your head

  • Tap your toes

  • Shout hooray

  • Stamp your feet

  • Turn around.

The Bottom Line

Singing or saying nursery rhymes is a great way of communicating and interacting with your little one in a fun and engaging way. And even better, many of these rhymes could stay with you as your baby grows, until one day you may find it’s your child singing them to you and showing you the actions, not the other way round!

The first time your baby claps to show they’re happy, gets the giggles when Humpty Dumpty falls or starts to grin in anticipation of a tickle that will come at the end of the nursery rhyme could be among those heart-melting moments that stay with you forever.

Songs are also a great way of helping your baby get off to sleep. If you liked these nursery rhymes, check out our list of 10 soothing lullabies.