Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Value of Nursery Rhymes

I'm a little teapot, short and stout.

Here is my handle; here is my spout.

When I get all steamed up, hear me shout

Just tip me over and pour me out.

Great literature? Perhaps not. Yet, this deceptively simple rhyme contains the basic building blocks of literature: character, plot, setting, and point of view. Nursery rhymes are your child's first venture into the joy of story and reading. They're short, catchy, and they stick in your brain, making them more portable than picture books.

When my own children are restless, I calm and refocus them quickly with their favourite rhymes. Is baby bored and fussy in the store? I quietly sing the teapot song and he stops to listen and watch. Is my toddler bouncing off the walls? I turn that bounce into a game as we jump over Jack Be Nimble's candlestick together. My preschoolers attention span for longer stories grows rapidly because he's already enjoyed the brief adventures of the Itsy Bitsy Spider and friends.

Nursery rhymes and songs are the perfect vehicle to begin building vocabulary and structure. Though their subject matter sometimes offends modern sensibilities, their timeless appeal rests in their visual imagery and catchy rhythm and rhyme. With so many to chose from, anyone can find a few favourites.

Children are born with a love of rhythm and rhyme, music and song and so why not base activities around a weekly Nursery Rhyme Theme that truly brings the rhyme to life for your child. Each week I am going to blog activities for a rhyme that will allow your little one to experience and enjoy. Nursery Rhymes provide opportunities for:

  • Nursery rhymes introduce memorable characters with defining moments. Old King Cole is a merry old soul. Little Miss Muffet suffers from arachnophobia. The Itsy Bitsy Spider defies the elements to climb that waterspout.

  • Nursery rhymes excite us with action and suspense. Little Bo-Peep loses her sheep. Will she ever get them back? Jack and Jill climb up and fall down a hill. Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall and cannot be repaired. These rhymes are dramas in miniature with conflict and resolution.

  • Nursery rhymes explore familiar spaces or transport us to faraway places. Mary's little lamb follows her to school. Old MacDonald's farm is filled with noisy animals. London Bridge falls down. Familiar rhymes encourage the imagination and create connections between your child and his growing world. A child raised with Star Light Star Bright and Hey Diddle Diddle will be curious about the lights in the night sky.

  • Nursery rhymes encourage children to playact. When Jack jumps over the candlestick, we all jump with him. Who can resist falling down at the end of Ring Around the Rosy? Even baby gets into the act when you ham it up while identifying each little piggy. These early experiences set the stage for later imaginary play, an important part of child development.

  • Nursery rhymes introduce the rhythms of poetry and the fun of playful language. Academically, Hickory, Dickory, Dock has a specific meter and structure, but don't focus on that. The good stuff is in the playfulness of this poem. Peter Piper is packed with alliteration, but its appeal lies in the challenge of saying it without stumbling over the pickled peppers. Nursery rhymes remain popular because they're fun to recite to each new generation.

However, the best reason to rhyme is not for instructional value, but to share the joy of story for its own sake. Read or recite your favourites with animation and your child will join in with a smile. As he grows older, leave off or change the ending of a familiar verse and hear your child fill in the blanks. Make it an ever-changing game. Share a playful rhyme with your children and create a bond that shows them that you love them. What could be better than that?

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