I was born about seven months after my parents emigrated to the United States from Germany. One of the many things my mother did right (probably at the suggestion of the neighborhood moms) was read to me every day. This practice helped her strengthen her English language skills and also introduce me to what would become my primary tongue.
One of the books she read over and over was Mother Goose. I heard it so many times that I knew it by heart. She capitalized on my memorization by running the tip of her finger under the words as she read, so that even as a toddler I connected the words I heard to the visual representation of them, and began to recognize them in different contexts.
When my children were little, I also read to them twice a day, before naps and bedtime, and Mother Goose rhymes were a staple. (So were Dr. Seuss books.) All five were readers before they entered kindergarten.
During my first elementary general music teaching career (right out of college in the 1970s), I often used nursery rhymes in musical exercises to develop rhythmic and melodic awareness. Most of my students were familiar with them. However, when I returned to the classroom (after a 27-year break during which I raised my children), few students knew of Mary, Mary quite contrary or Humpty Dumpty. I know the rhymes are from a different age, but why has Mother Goose fallen out of the childhood canon? Nursery rhymes are a tradition we cannot afford to lose.
Why nursery rhymes are important:
- They introduce the concept of story.
- They encourage listening skills and comprehension.
- They are easy to memorize. The brain subconsciously recognizes patterns in the rhymes and the rhythms.
- They stimulate language and vocabulary acquisition.
- They introduce numbers and counting. (One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, then I let it go again.)
- They often suggest hand or body motions that boost motor skills. (Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man; or Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posie, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.)
- Many nursery rhymes are associated with melodies (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush; Hey Diddle, Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle), or are easy to make into a song.
To learn more about nursery rhymes, read further:
- The Benefits of Nursery Rhymes in Your Child’s Development
- The Importance of Nursery Rhymes and Songs
- Rhymers are Readers
- Impact of Rhymes on Preschool Development
What? You don’t know any nursery rhymes? Bless your heart—here are 50 rhymes you can start learning today!
Now it’s your turn. Did you grow up reciting Mother Goose rhymes? Did you read or teach them to your children? Do you think they should remain part of standard children’s literature? Or could you suggest books of more modern rhymes (maybe the poetry of Shel Silverstein, for example) that would make suitable updates? Share in the comments below.