Ladybird Editor Nicola looks at the role of traditional nursery rhymes in our modern, digital world and considers the benefits of using them with your children.
How many nursery rhymes do you know? Can you sing all of Incy Wincy Spider while doing the actions or know that the wipers on the bus go swish-swish-swish? Perhaps you struggle with remembering any traditional rhymes at all? If so, you’re not alone – surveys in recent years have shown that traditional nursery rhymes are in decline, with four out of ten younger parents (30 years and under) unable to recall a single nursery rhyme in full. But does this really matter? In the age of iPads and apps, streamed music, satellite television and the other fast-paced accompaniments to modern life are these old nursery rhymes still relevant to parents and children today?
We think yes. Here at Ladybird, we’re passionate about nursery rhymes in all shapes and sizes. Not only are they a fascinating part of our social history and heritage, having often survived mostly unchanged for hundreds of years, but they are just brilliant for encouraging the essential listening, speaking and memory skills every child needs for learning. Plus they’re fun too! I have strong memories from my childhood of bellowing ‘YES, sir, YES, sir, THREE BAGS FULL!’ every time I saw a black sheep (and in Devon there were quite a few…) and playing Round and Round the Garden, Like a Teddy Bear with my dad, with the delicious, slightly scary anticipation of getting a tickle at the end.
Ladybird First Favourite Nursery Rhymes
Read any nursery rhyme aloud and listen to the repetition, rhythm and rhyming sounds that occur throughout. Knowing that the ends of lines are going to rhyme and that lines have the same number of beats in them helps you to read it smoothly. Even more so if there’s a catchy tune attached to it too! Hearing rhymes like this helps babies and children to understand the pattern and rhythm of our language. They need this understanding when learning to speak, as well as for reading and writing further down the line. Nursery rhymes in particular also expose children to interesting and challenging words that add to the richness of their vocabulary – think meadow, haystack, mulberry, parlour and candlestick.
Number rhymes such as Five Little Ducks and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe encourage early counting and numeracy skills, while action rhymes like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and I’m a Little Teapot are great for improving coordination and encouraging physical play and expression. Plus of course, it’s lots of fun to act out rhymes and a lovely way to play with your toddler.
One of the most valuable things about nursery rhymes is that they become part of a wider shared experience for young children – they’re not only able to sing along with you, but there’s that magical moment when they realise that other people also know these rhymes too! This sense of being part of a group and being able to join in is an important step in growing up and interacting with others, either at nursery or school.
I’ll just leave you with a quote from the famous collectors of nursery rhymes, Peter and Iona Opie, that I think sums up just how special nursery rhymes can be:
“Wherever the English word is spoken, the children become joyful and wise listening to the same traditional verses.”
And who wouldn’t want to be joyful and wise?
Do let us know which nursery rhymes you and your children most love singing and sharing. Are they old favourites you remember from your own childhood, or new ones you’ve picked up along the way? We'd love to read your comments.