The First Best Literature for Children: Nursery Rhymes

I love nursery rhymes. My children love nursery rhymes. I am not entirely sure why. Tradition loves nursery rhymes. For the record I have no background in education so this is all just my opinion supplemented with my belief that the traditions that have been preserved by society over time, the test of time, are good. My children speak English, or are at least learning to. I speak English, and no matter how many ancestries me or my children descend from by being Americans we are in the tradition of the English speaking world. So when it it comes to literary education, English nursery rhymes are the place where I start.

Little Miss Muffet,
Sat on a tuffet,
 eating some curds and whey. 
Along came a spider
who sat down beside her,
and frightened Miss Muffet away.

Things I have noticed/learned about children: they memorize things quickly and efficiently, what they memorize effects how they think and how they speak, rhymes and stories that are quirky are their favorites. The quirky ones are also my favorites. On a side note, I think that the best children’s literature is that which intrigues the adult as well as the child. Nursery rhymes are so strange, often practical, and so wonderful.

Often the nursery rhymes are just plain fun.

Round about, round about, Gooseberry pie, 
My father loves good ale, and so do I.

Pat a cake, pat a cake, bakers man,
Bake me a cake as fast as you can,
Pat it and roll it and mark it with a “B”
Put it in the oven for baby and me. 

Another element of good children’s literature is that which teaches a child about life, but in a way that makes them remember. A child may learn these rhymes as a child, and remember it is important to be responsible when they are older.

Elsie Marley’s grown so fine, she won’t get up to feed the swine,
but lays in bed ’till eight or nine,
Lazy Elsie Marley.

A dillar, a dollar, a ten o’clock scholar,
What makes you come so soon,
You used to come at ten o’clock, but now you come at noon.  

They also relate to children’s lives, and explain the world to them. For example, some about going to market to buy things, a child who goes to the store to buy things can relate to.

To market to market to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again jiggity jig.

Go to bed Tom, go to bed,
Tired or not, go to bed.

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Upstairs, downstairs in his nightgown,
Peering in the windows, Peaking through the lock,
Are all the children in their beds? 
For now it is eight o’clock.

Nursery rhymes are also very educational. My children have learned to count from them and also, the alphabet! Songs and rhymes are a very popular and effective way to teach.

One, two, three, four, five,
I caught a fish alive,
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,
I let him go again,
Why did you let him go?
Because he bit my finger so.
Which finger did he bite?
The little finger on the right.  

How many days has my baby to play,
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

Riddles are another way nursery rhymes teach, giving a child a chance to think critically and understand that words have multiple meanings.

Hickamore hackamore
on the king’s kitchen door,
All the kings horse and all the kings men
couldn’t drive Hickamore Hackamore
off the kings kitchen door.
(can you guess?)

Nursery rhymes are also used for soothing, and the familiar rhythms and rhymes are something that help a child feel comfortable and happy.

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star, 
How I wonder what you are,
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky,
Twinkle, Twinkle, little star, 
How I wonder what you are. 

These are just a few reasons that nursery rhymes are great for children. Educationally, they also help a child develop the skills of memorizing and expand vocabulary greatly. Children love repetition, and often I will hear my three year old reciting nursery rhymes to herself over and over again. She is processing the rhymes and applying them to her life. She also asks me to explain them, but mostly just memorizes them and applies them herself.

Rock a bye baby,
Your cradle is green,
Father’s a nobleman,
Mother’s a queen,
Betty’s a lady who wears a gold ring,
And Johnny’s a drummer who drums for the king. 
If you are interested in a collection of rhymes, Nursery Rhymes by Douglas Gorsline is well illustrated and has a lot of good rhymes.  

3 thoughts on “The First Best Literature for Children: Nursery Rhymes”

  1. I've been thinking of asking you lately for the title of that book — thanks! Lucia also likes her nursery rhyme books and has surprised me by how much she's memorized on her own.

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