It’s hard to think of preschool and kindergarten without thinking of crafts, crayons, and (of course) nursery rhymes. Even now, songs like “I’m a Little Teapot” or “Ring Around the Rosie” can get stuck in your adult brain, leaving you reaching for a bottle of Advil. Does Hear-Tech make mindplugs? And some of these songs are old… like “Middle-Ages-Lords-Eating-Oversized-Drumsticks-While-Watching-Court-Jesters” old. Why did our teachers drill these catchy, and at times irritating, songs into our young minds?
The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes by PBS Parents writer Michael Sizer provides the fascinating answer, highlighting four pros of learning nursery rhymes. Firsthand, these tunes help brain development: building visual and oral skills and increasing memory capabilities. Another benefit is preservation of culture and history. Back to the Lord binging on oversized drumsticks, many nursery rhymes have rich histories and have been passed on from generation to generation. Teach them to love history and cherish culture. Nursery rhymes are also an excellent group activity. Outgoing and shy children alike can learn the tunes together and have a shared musical experience bonding with their peers. Lastly, and equally important, many of these songs are just plain fun, especially when they include tongue twisters and old language like, “Peas porridge hot/peas porridge cold”. Let your child unleash their inner silly… it’s good for them.
Michael Sizer concludes with a reason nursery rhymes are still relevant to the modern child: “One should not let any supposed deeper meanings or origins to nursery rhymes obscure their true value: the joy of a child’s discovery of an old, shared language.” These songs, old and new, have numerous benefits: they are good for the brain, preserve a culture, teach history, provide opportunities to bond, and be a joyful, shareable experience.
So, by all means, bust a rhyme.
Me: In Poetry, Song, and Art by Michelle Currin, writer and teacher, discusses what she learned at a particularly meaningful and inspiring professional development course, a “Picture Book Read In.” At this educators event, Currin and other teachers, were able to explore new books that were especially geared towards our right-brained, creative side. This Playful Learning blog focuses on biographies and autobiographies for children about poets and artists. The three books highlighted in this piece are Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess (about poet e. e. cummings), Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews (an autobiography about a musician), and Draw What You See by Kathleen Benson (about fine artist Benny Andrews).
The value of sharing educational, factual books with children is enormous. Currin writes: “Picture books easily engage children in non-fiction text, and these books can easily integrate reading, writing, and the arts. The more connections children can make across domains, the more effective learning opportunities become.”
What is especially fantastic about using a non-fiction book like Trombone Shorty is that the book can be easily adapted to suit different ages, populations, and grades. An entire lesson plan can be built around learning about e. e. cummings. For example, have the class read the book Enormous Smallness followed by an ELA teaching lesson on wordplay and poetry. Depending on the grade level, the children can close the activity by writing their own autobiographical poem. Currin comments: “Extending the reading of a book with supplemental experiences enhances children’s’ understanding as well.”
For older grade levels, the teacher can present several biographies and then compare and contrast the lives of the artists, how each found inspiration, and developed their talents (ie: Venn Diagram-collage hybrid activity). In teaching reading comprehension, one of the primary goals in processing non-fiction is to find and break down factual information. Using picture books like the three Currin features can help children process non-fiction material in an interest-arousing and engaging way.
Sharing stories about artists and poets can have a profound impact on the life of a child. There is no greater achievement for a teacher than to inspire a student to reach their potential. “Each of us has a spark of life inside us, and our highest endeavor ought to be to set off that spark in one another.” – Kenny Ausubel.
Note: One of the books Two Right Feet presents, Rap a Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles- Think of That! by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon is about the innovative and gifted tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. We build a lesson plan around learning about this talented, American-born dancer and how we can express ourselves through dance just like “Bojangles”.
An inspiring article The Word Fairy: The Magic of Reading and Writing for Young Children by Veronika Shulman from Get Lit – Words Ignite describes their work in helping children and teens to connect with classic poetry and write their own original piece. They believe that if a student could “claim their poem” they could “claim their life”. Why the need?
The correlation between literacy rates and incarceration is truly sobering. Low income communities tend to have poor graduation rates due to lack of resources and disadvantaged, struggling homes. Oftentimes this results in low literacy rates. For example, California, rated 49th in the USA, is in serious crisis; their literacy rates are on par with some third world countries. Sobering to note, this problem not only national, but global.
Reading can be empowering and the opposite is true too. If a child does not learn to read, learning becomes frustrating, and young ones become bored and disillusioned, turning to the streets for escape and stimulation. There is a way to break the cycle, however: show children the beauty and value of language. Put the pain on paper; give it a voice and take away its power. As Shulman states, “Reading is truly a game-changer, as it can engage students in their own educations and change the trajectories of their lives completely.”
The article highlights the power of poetry to foster self-expression and to promote a love of an appreciation for language. Shulman comments, “In reading and responding to great works of literature, people start to love, like, and value words instead of dreading them. Even more important, they realize that they have voices and that their voices matter. It’s never too early to learn that lesson.”
Start early. When you read aloud with your child, ask them what they liked about the story or poem. Which character they related to… How the story made them feel… That can be the beginning of positive self-expression and learning to connect deeply with books and words. Once they begin to enjoy words and the nuances of language, they can begin to enjoy their minds.