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sing for your supper


We have returned from the Valley of Pigflu.

Hope you are well too. Though what I’m writing about today makes me a little heart-sick.

Seems nursery rhymes are dying out. The London Telegraph reports that modern parents find them old-fashioned and uneducational.  Harumph.

I sensed the first stirrings of this 20 years ago, when Boywonder was young enough for playdates.  When the living/rumpus room was a wreck and blocks had gone from stackable objects to missiles, I would settle the boys down on the couch for a book or two.  Out would come good ol’ Mother Goose.  Boywonder could recite the rhymes with me–and Visitor?  Never heard ’em before.

Child abuse!

Nursery rhymes were a huge part of my childhood.  Song lyrics.  Games.  Books.  What an easy transition from memorized poems to reading those poems on the page.

Rhythm and rhyme.  Babies learn motor coordination in poems like Pat a Cake and This Little Piggy.  Surely nursery rhymes pattern young brains to appreciate Ode on a Grecian Urn and Leaves of Grass later in life. Listen to the rhythm:

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.

I don’t know about you, but that nursery rhyme makes me feel like setting a 2-year-old on my knee and bouncing her around while she giggles.  And don’t forget to pinch her little fingers and toes at the appropriate parts.

I could always pull several dozen nursery rhymes out of my skull at the drop of a hat.  When Bottled Lightning was four, she and I had a nursery rhyme-off at the car repair shop.  Now that I think about it, that’s damn weird.  But, hey.  That’s how we roll.

My nursery rhyme roots go back to my grandmother, who was born in 1885.  She grew up educated, but very poor.  Eventually, she became a leading member of the DAR and a well-known genealogist.  At that time, it was a woman’s only way out of obscurity.  Her grandmother recited the rhymes to her, and I will recite them to my grandchildren.  Imagine.  The very same poems, entertaining seven generations.

I can’t end this post without adding my favorite nursery rhyme of all time.  I don’t know why, but this is it:

Bobby Shaftoe’s gone to sea,

With silver buckles on his knee:

He’ll come back and marry me,

Pretty Bobby Shaftoe!

Bobby Shaftoe’s fat and fair,

Combing down his yellow hair;

He’s my love for evermore,

Pretty Bobby Shaftoe.

Tell me your favorite nursery rhymes.  Come on, guys.  Don’t let me down!


resurrecting wee willie, georgie porgie and mother hubbard

Does anyone teach their kids nursery rhymes anymore? 

When my kids were little I was constantly stupefied by the fact that their little pals didn’t seem to know very many nursery rhymes.  Sure, there was Itsy Bitsy Spider and Pat a Cake, but not much else.  Reciting    Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross  got me nothing but cross-eyed stares.

Nursery rhymes are fascinating bits of history.   Some of them preserve colloquialisms, like Pop Goes the Weasel .  In Cockney slang, that phrase refers to pawning a coat. 

Some nursery rhymes tell about trades that are no longer plied.  Old Chairs to Mend refers to a door-to-door job common in the 1700’s.

Other nursery rhymes are prayers, like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary  refers to Mary Tudor, the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII who tortured Protestants that would not reconvert to Catholicism.  What a subversive way to ridicule a ruling despot!

It seems that in our time, the nursery rhymes that have a tune or are a finger play are still remembered.  But the ones that are recited simply for the beauty of the idea or the words have fallen by the wayside.

And what a shame.  Memorizing nursery rhymes probably does something to the way the literary  part of your brain works.  My guess is that someone who listens to and recites language possesses it in a way that a purely visual reader can’t. 

Not that we should give up visual reading.  Holy guacamole!  There’s way too much reading to do in this world to give that up.

But can’t we slow down enough to give our kids a love of the sound of our language?

Here’s the nursery rhyme that I loved as a kid, purely for the sound of the words:


Bobby Shaftoe

 Bobby Shaftoe’s gone to sea

With silver buckles on his knee.

He’ll come back and marry me.

Pretty Bobby Shaftoe.


Bobby Shaftoe’s fat and fair,

Combing down his yellow hair.

He’s my love forever more.

Pretty Bobby Shaftoe.




Anybody else have a favorite nursery rhyme?                            





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