Oldies but goodies: The benefits of fingerplays

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

The Eensy Weensy Spider went up the water spout… Do you remember this song? Do you remember the motions that go with it? A fingerplay is when you sing or use words as you make hand and finger movements. You may have heard of Pat-a-Cake,

Where is Thumbkin, I’m a Little Teapot, Wheels on the Bus, just to name a few.

Here are a few reasons why they are important for early language and literacy development (and much more) and why I use them in my therapy sessions:

  • Besides being FUN, they are engaging and promote interaction, turn taking and eye contact. Babies and toddlers love and have a preference for looking at faces, hearing your voice, and feeling your touch (the importance of touch... that will be in another blog post!). Children learn from your facial expressions, emotions, tone and inflection of your voice. Soft and loud, fast and slow, happy and sad.

  • They promote early literacy skills through vocabulary, rhymes and rhythms and repetition. They are important for phonemic awareness, which is how well a child can hear, recognize, and use different speech sounds (called phonemes). This is important for early reading and spelling skills in the early elementary school years. For example, in Eensy Weensy Spider we have the words: spout, out which rhyme, and we have the concepts of up/down.

  • They also tell a cute story all wrapped up in a neat little package, so it helps with narrative skills. I usually will sing and do the hand motions for a finger play three times in a row. You can also pause at the end of a phrase and have the child fill in the word. Help your child make the hand motions.

  • They support the development of self-regulation (the ability to manage one’s emotional state and physical needs). If you sing a lullaby to a child as you hold them it is soothing and a child will eventually learn to associate that feeling to soothe him/herself.

  • They support motor skills. Gross and fine motor movements and balance are all being stimulated when finger and body movements accompany the song and also help with crossing the midline of the body (when a child uses one body part in the space of another). It is a skill that requires both sides of the brain to communicate with each other to coordinate the body’s movements. Climbing stairs for example.

  • An infant develops receptive language (understanding of words and concepts) before expressive language, so he/she may do the finger or hand motions (around 9 months) before saying the words or singing the song (10-12 months). Learning is still taking place, even before a word is spoken or sung!

  • Gestures support language and cognitive development. See link: http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/The-Importance-of-Gestures.aspx

  • They encourage counting skills (One, Two, Buckle My Shoe), patterns, and sequencing skills.

  • They support dual language learners.

You can find many examples of these fingerplays and songs and how to do them online, but remember, it is NOT the same if you park your kid in front of the iPad, phone or computer to watch them. If you like musical accompaniment, put on a CD or find the song on Spotify and place it out of reach as YOU interact and engage with your child.

Have fun! If you're having fun your kiddo will too!

Fingerplays and songs to try:

I’m a Little Teapot

Eensy Weensy Spider

Wheels on the Bus


Where is Thumbkin

Open Close Them

Bringing Home my Baby Bumblebee

5 Little Ducks

One, Two Buckle My Shoe

Ten in the Bed

No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed


Valerie Cundiff, M.S. SLP (R)

Registered Speech Language Pathologist with the College of Speech and Hearing Health Professions of BC (CSHBC)


email: vcundiff@bumblebeespeech.com

website: www.bumblebeespeech.com

office: 354 Tempe Crescent, North Vancouver, BC V7N1E6

phone: 778 867-0395

Any unresolved concerns about my practice may be reported to the CSHBC, 900-200 Granville Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 1S4

complaints@cshbc.ca  |  https://www.cshbc.ca/complaints  |  604 742-6380

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