The Power of Music, Movement and Absolute Silliness

Music and movement are powerful tools when it comes to language and young children. You’ll know this to be the case because the foundation for your child in English will be laid down inevitably by nursery rhymes. Twinkle Twinkle, the ABC song, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Wheels on the bus – i’m yet to know of a household where these songs haven’t made their appearance, that too on REPEAT mode to give you a headache and a ear worm! The rhythm, the silliness behind the context of the rhymes, and the simple tunes make them appealing to young children. The question i’d like to pose to you then is – what makes it so different in Tamil?

What children enjoy in one language, they are bound to enjoy in any language. And every language has its set of traditional, well known rhymes. தோசை அம்மா தோசை, மாம்பழமாம் மாம்பழம், கரடி மாமா கரடி மாமா, கூவா கூவா வாத்து- these were rhymes I was taught as a child and that was a good 30 years ago! My son today has started learning them in nursery. We’re also in an age of technology where hitting up YouTube will give you these rhymes with videos and different melodies to suit your taste. Don’t like screen time? Then listen to them secretly and teach them to your child or just use the audio! They’ll make a big difference in the language outcomes for your child in Tamil!
Singggg all the time…. I am swainggg all the time… I am swaingggg….
Here in the Eli Puli household, music and movement are a big part of what we do on a daily basis. We are also not afraid to be terribly silly with our kids (within the confines of the home :D) and so find all sorts of nonsensical ways to incorporate elements of music in our interactions with them.
When my son was around 18 months and just starting out learning words – we’d use a lot of broken repetition. For example – Our dog’s name is Chotu and we’d say it as Tu-Tu-Chotu. If we were having rasam for lunch, we’d called it Sam-Sam-Rasam. Dham-Dham-Sadham. Lo-Lo-Milo. Chi-Chi-Thaachi (nap time). Ma-Ma-Umma (kiss). Chai-Chai-Pachai (green). Any word we could break up like this, we would and we’d use a sing-song voice. It made our son laugh more than anything else, but within a short time, he caught on and was learning these words! It was an easy way to make the language fun and we were all having fun with it in the process. We’d even break his name up like that!

Chop those words up like a thengaai!
When we first introduced screen time to him, our choice was songs from Sivagi Ganesan movies. Sivaji Ganesan wasn’t much of a dancer and you’d find that in many of his classical classics, he would be very still (lol). So songs from the movie Thiruvilaiyadal, or Thillana Mohanambal were favorites that we’d listen to on loop. These songs come with beautiful, pure Tamil lyrics that are meaningful too. So he was learning language along with culture.  Sivaji doesnt have to be your go to, you can choose anyone else from that era or before and will find many classics that will teach your kids great melody and vocabulary. We’d listen to/watch the same songs over and over and in the process my son picked up an interest in the nadhaswaram, tavil, a little bit of dance and a lot of drama! We ended up being regulars at the temple for a phase of time cause he wanted to sit next to and imitate the musicians there. We made good friends with them too 🙂

நான் அசைந்தால் அசையும் அகிலம் எல்லாமே!

Other things we’d do was take the melody of a rhyme or song and change all the words into whatever we wanted our message to be. There’s an English rhyme/song called “How many fingers on one hand?” – we use the melody to a lot of our interactions with our kids. Like “எத்தனை தோசை சாப்பிட்டாய்? எத்தனை தோசை சாப்பிட்டாய்? இரண்டு தோசை சாப்பிட்டாய்! Jigu jigu jigu jigu jigu – JIGU JIGU JIGU JIGU JIGU!” (The Jigu is usually used when we go chasing after them or pretend to tickle them). Doesn’t need to make much sense, can involve just a couple of real words and lots of fun nonsense words that you use for tickling or dancing. Now my son will reply to us “No No தோசை சாப்பிடலை. எனக்கு தோசை வேண்டாமே. Pasta தானே சாப்பிடுவேன். Nanananananananana. Ve ve ve ve ve ve ve ve ve!”. The tune has become so ingrained that he’s figured out how to use it to retort back at us! Annoying but also a moment of pride 😀

Nanananananananana. Ve ve ve ve ve ve ve ve ve!
Another simple thing we do often is switch out words from nursery rhymes and put in our toddler’s name instead. “கூவா கூவா Vaidhyav”, “Vaidhyav மாமா Vaidhyav Mama எங்க போறீங்க?”, “தோசை அம்மா தோசை, Vaidhyav சுட்ட தோசை” (My son’s name is Vaidhyav, in case you were wondering). It for some reason makes the song a 100 times more interesting to him and after hearing it often enough, he’ll start singing to himself too. Kids love themselves, so anything that involves and celebrates them, they will be happy to take up!
Pick rhymes that have interactive actions. We used to sing தோசை அம்மா தோசை every-single-time we made dosai at home for the longest of time! When my son was at his play kitchen, he would pretend to make dosai and sing the song to himself. There is a traditional rhyme-game called “சாதம் போட்டு”. “சாதம் / சோறு போட்டு, பருப்பு போட்டு, நெய் விட்டு, பெசஞ்சு – அம்மாக்கு ஒரு வாய், அப்பாக்கு ஒரு வாய், பாட்டிக்கு ஒரு வாய், கையை கழுவி – ting ting ting ting TING!”. Basically, you hold your child’s palm, and pretend to put a little ball of rice in his hand, then pour on some ghee (or kuzhambu, whatever you like), add a topping, pretend to mix it all together, then pretend to feed the people at home, pretend to wash their hands clean – then run your fingers up their hands to give them a tickle when you say the TINGs! It’s like the Tamil version of “this little piggy went to market”. There’s also the classic “நாய் வருது, நரி வருது, பூனை வருது, எறும்பு வருது, எல்லாம் வந்து என்ன பண்ணும்? அங் கடிக்கும் உன்ன!” Just pick a random set of animals, and use your fingers to walk up your child’s arm then pretend they’re going to chomp on their cheeks. Never fails to make them laugh and it’s the most fun way to learn animal names in Tamil! My 1 year old called it the “நாய் நாய்” and would ask for it on REPEAT cause it made her giggle so much! Kids LOVE interaction, and it’s so very easy to do!

ting ting ting ting TING!

Another game we like playing is the nom nom game. “மயுவோட கன்னம் எங்க இருக்கு? இங்க இருக்கு! அம்! மயுவோட காது எங்க இருக்கு? இங்க இருக்கு! அம்!” (The younger one’s name is Mayu) After some time she knew what was coming and would willingly point to the relevant body part and start giggling in anticipation of the friendly chomp. It’s a sensorial game that many children enjoy. And hardly takes a minute to play!


We jiggle and wiggle a lot, have no shame in shaking our butts as we sing and tend to be overly dramatic with our hand actions so that our kids are awestruck and wondering what in the worldddd is wrong with amma and appa! But they catch on, lose any hesitation and join in too! When being silly just becomes part and parcel of the family interaction, kids are willing to try anything! And it makes the process of learning less of a chore and much more like a game!

You’d think that with all these interactions in place, our son must be a Tamil wizz. Here in the EliPuli household, we speak a great deal of Tamil and have 4 grand parents on rotation to interact with the kiddos. Yet when my son turned 2.5, English suddenly became his ONLY language of choice – cause that’s what the kids at the playground were speaking! He understood the Tamil we were speaking and would answer back accurately in English. And as distressing as this felt, I have to say that it was a long phase that we patiently waited out. Now that he’s going to turn 4, he’s started to use far more Tamil willingly and wants to show off the new words that he’s learning. So – don’t give up hope or trying! Make Tamil a fun and consistent part of your interactions with your child. They are constantly listening and absorbing even if they’re not responding back to you. And one day, they will surprise you! Like how our 4 year old surprised us by calling our 2 year old a கரப்பான்பூச்சி quite randomly out of the blue. LOL. She was not pleased. But full marks for new vocab!

My child’s face when I used to sing Tamil songs during his English-only phase
EliPuli’s sister initiative – The Peruchali Press – has been working on a personal challenge through the Tamil Language Month period – to write 30 new Tamil nursery rhymes for 30 days of April! Something that i’ve always felt is that it would be nice for nursery rhymes to be available just like picture books – where the lines of the rhyme have pictures that relate to it on every page instead of the usual 1 picture to an entire rhyme that we see in rhyme books for both English and Tamil. When there are more visuals, it comes easier for children to relate the text to what is happening in the image. They learn faster as the visual helps them associate the word with its meaning. So that’s what I’ve done here – every rhyme has a series of illustrations that relate to the text! And we hope it allows you and your child to have a fun, colorful time bonding over an easy Tamil resource that’s bound to get them excited over the language. You can check out the project at and we hope you give us your feedback! Some rhymes are silly, some focus on repetition, some have simple learning outcomes, some reinforce letter sounds – but they are ALL beautifully illustrated by professional children’s illustrators. It will certainly be a visual treat to look at!  A big thanks to the open source StoryWeaver platform for making this project possible. 🙂
Do you have more ideas? How do you incorporate music, movement and silliness into your daily routine? Would you try any of the above? Tell us!
Images used in this post are from the StoryWeaver platform. Click on the titles to view the source and attributions (listed in order as seen above):

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