- They are good for the brain. Not only does the repetition of rhymes and stories teach children how language works, it also builds memory capabilities that can be applied to all sorts of activities. Furthermore, as Vandergrift points out, nursery rhyme books are often a child’s first experience with literacy: “Even before they can read, children can sit and learn how a book works.” This extends to the pictures and music associated with nursery rhymes: it is a full visual and oral experience.
- Nursery rhymes preserve a culture that spans generations, providing something in common among parents, grandparents and kids—and also between people who do not know each other. Seth Lerer, Humanities Professor at the University of California San Diego and expert in the history of children’s literature, says that reading nursery rhymes to kids is, in part, “to participate in a long tradition … it’s a shared ritual, there’s almost a religious quality to it.”
- They are a great group activity. Susie Tallman, who has put out several award-winning nursery rhymes CDs, and is also a nursery school music teacher, describes how singing nursery rhymes allows all kids—even shy ones—to feel confident about singing, dancing and performing because they are so easy to grasp and fun: “It builds confidence right in front of my eyes,” she says. “They really see the connection between movement, rhythm and words.” She has also had kids of different ages collaborate on making music videos for their favorite nursery rhymes.
- Most important is that they are fun to say. Lerer downplays the life lessons that some rhymes contain, arguing that while parents might consider them important, children probably do not register them. He remembers how as a kid he had no idea what “Peas porridge hot/peas porridge cold” meant but that “he just loved the way it sounded.” 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.
You don’t have to be a singing virtuoso to enjoy this activity. Just remember to connect, enjoy, and sing from the heart. Write the lyrics on a cheat sheet if you need to do so. One more thing, have fun!