On any given day you are most likely to find us communing with the gnomes and the fairies Under The Old Oak Tree

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Nursery Rhymes

When she found out I was pregnant with W, one of the first pieces of advice my mother gave me was to get a large book of nursery rhymes and learn them by heart so that I could recite them while the baby nursed.  She told me that she always credited reciting nursery rhymes while I nursed with helping me to develop a large vocabulary as a very young child.  I wish I could say I took this advice to heart at that point.  I didn't really.  I bought said book of nursery rhymes and looked at it a few times.  I even attempted to learn one or two by heart (not very successfully) and then set it aside.  Memorizing them seemed just too hard and I didn't really see the point then, though  I was shocked by how many of them I thought I knew from my own childhood, but then wasn't actually able to remember much past their first lines.

When W was a few months old, something prompted me to pull out the nursery rhymes again, but this time I used a CD that came with a book and every time W and I sat down to nurse I would play the CD and try to recite along with it.  At first I read along with most of them, and learned many of them very quickly.  W seemed to enjoy listening to them too.  Many of them were set to music and I think it helped that we learned tunes to go along with the words.

A few months down the road, I discovered Waldorf education and fell in love with it.  I remember clearly one of the first articles I read about Waldorf and early childhood stressed the importance of nursery rhymes, singing and having a child hear its' mother's voice.  It really helped to confirm for me that we were on the right path and that all of these nursery rhymes while nursing were further helping to nourish my son's mind, spirit and soul.
 Soon,  I realized that if he was fussy in the car or when we were out at the store, saying or singing one (or ten) of our favorite nursery rhymes would often help to sooth him.

Eventually we found we did not listen to our nursery rhyme cd very much anymore.  It had been very useful for learning the nursery rhymes, but, once we had learned them we did not need it any more.  The nursery rhymes became an almost unconscious part a part of our everyday lives. I still used them when we nursed, and we said them at other times frequently throughout our day.
  W also has several books of nursery rhymes that have been favorites for most of his toddler-hood.  I have always made sure we had at least one good nursery rhyme volume among the books we have out in our current rotation.
 W of course started to talk and once he started it was non-stop.  For a long time much of it was babble that I was not able to understand.  Then, not too long after he turned two, something happened.  One day he was babbling to himself quietly, and I stopped to really listen...he was saying nursery rhymes!  To be specific, he was saying Little Boy Blue and he knew every single word!  I was so surprised and excited that I was almost moved to tears.  I started listening to him more when he was babbling and it soon became apparent that during all that time singing and reciting nursery rhymes since he was an infant he had been soaking in the language and that he knew these nursery rhymes (sometimes even better than I do.)

Part of pre and early literacy education for children in Waldorf schools is immersing  them in rich beautiful language.  The meaning of the words is less important than the sounds and rhythm of the language.   In deed, many nursery rhymes include language that is largely nonsensical, but beautiful, and I might add, pretty fun.  W's favorite nursery rhyme from very early on was:

Higety-pigety pop
The dog has eaten the mop
The pig's in a hurry
The cat's in a flurry
Higety-pigety pop

These silly nonsense words have never failed to get a laugh out of him, and yet, they are also the best kind of language for him to hear and to repeat as he learns to speak.
Still, I would say that there are other pre-literacy skills being learned even at the tender age of  almost tow and a half.  W is not only building vocabulary, and a sense of the language and rhythm, but he is learning comprehension skills as well.  He can often look at pictures in a nursery rhyme book or elsewhere and tell me a nursery rhyme that would apply to what he sees.  Other times, he would connect rhymes with what we were doing.  When we go visit our favorite sheep (which include several darling black lambs) Will would walk away reciting Baa Baa Black Sheep.  Other times, he pretends to play a horn and recites Little Boy Blue.

I am also observing that the nursery rhymes color his play as well. Recently, a favorite nursery rhyme of his has been

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner
Eating his Christmas pie
He put in his thumb
And pulled out a plumb
And said "what a good boy am I".

The other day while eating the strawberries we had picked, I stuck his thumb through one of them and started reciting this verse.  He then started to pretend that his bowl of berries was a pie, and pretended that it was Christmas by turning over an ottoman for a fireplace and pretending to hang stockings by it.  Periodically he would sit down with his "pie" and stick his thumb through a berry and reenact the rhyme.

As W has started to really play and imagine independently recently, I am noticing that the stories that are read or told to him as well as situations from our lives are being reflected heavily in what and how he plays.  I love that nursery rhymes are among the places he draws from as he develops his imagination.  They are beautiful and rich in language and imagery.  Many involve scenes from rural life and animals or scenes of royalty (but W's obsession with all things royal might be a subject for another post).  They help to balance his interest in trucks and trains and make his play more well rounded.

In all, I would say that nursery rhymes have not only greatly contributed to W's development, but they have made our lives more beautiful.  My mother was right, all those long hours nursing and learning/reciting/singing them was one of the best things I have ever been able to do for the long-term development of my child.


  1. Just great, the magic of Mother's voice and the rhythmic sayings and singing of verses/songs, is the very best thing for a young child to hear.. cheers Marie

  2. love it...nursery rhymes just seem so intuitive, don't you think?
    I like your selections!

  3. Lovely post, Erica. Nursery rhymes and rhyming in general are great ways to develop language skills (the librarian in me would say early literacy) and the classic nursery rhymes are a part of our cultural heritage for betteror (sometimes) worse. Did you find that Pocketful of Posies book? I know you would especially appreciate it because of it's fiber art illustration.


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