Do you read Mother Goose to your kids? A friend of mine stopped by last week to chat with her own Mother Goose tale. You see, she’d given a gift to her daughter and newborn granddaughter: a new printing of The Original Mother Goose along with a more modern depiction with gorgeous, vibrant artwork by talented Gina Baek. She told her daughter she’d wished she’d taken more time to read Mother Goose to her as a child; however, she wanted to hold true to that with her granddaughter.
My friend told her daughter she wanted to keep one version of the Nursery Rhymes at her house for visits and one version was to stay at her daughter’s. Her daughter chuckled, then told her mom, “Why don’t you choose which one to keep, Mom. Mother Goose seems dated, so this will be more your thing than mine.” My friend said it tore her heart to hear that.
She wanted to know what I thought about that from an educator’s perspective. Was Mother Goose something the younger generations should just give up? Instead of telling her my opinion about the book, I told her what I knew about sound, rhythm, speech, rhyme and language development in children.
Everything a child does from the moment they enter this world is a series of progressions. One must be mastered before they progress to the next. But it’s the experiences that drive the level of brain development during these progressions. Babies crawl before they walk. They babble before they speak. They speak before they learn to read. And they observe, observe, observe with all their senses. The more rich the experiences, the better their brains develop. The more their brain develops, the more intricately they progress, which is a good thing!
So what about the actual nursery rhymes. Why Mother Goose? And what does it have to do with what I just explained about brain development in children? I promise that it will connect.
These tales have been passed through time since at least the 1700s, probably earlier, so did my friend’s daughter have a point? Think about how we intuitively speak to babies: a sing-song voice with lots of repetition and soft rhythms and sounds. The sing-song sound catches their attention. It’s a soothing sound to them, as any parent who’s calmed a crying baby can attest. It doesn’t matter if your baby was born in 1700 or now. All babies respond to this type of voice. That hasn’t changed. And Mother Goose…she’s all about sing-song rhymes, rhythms, repetition and sound.
Though no one is exactly sure where the nursery rhymes originated, a ‘Mother Goose’ in France was a name for a storyteller who could captivate children’s attention. And young children are definitely captivated by hearing and repeating rhymes as toddlers and preschoolers. In fact, the preschooler will persist with a rhyme until they too can recite it, as well. I can’t tell you how many times my children and I sang "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or chanted "Rain, Rain Go Away." My children loved these little verses. I have vivid memories of them, in fact, as two and three year old’s, lugging their big Mother Goose Book around asking me to read it again. And again. And yet again. But I relished it. I enjoyed every part of it, for I knew this was part of their language development.
Along with conversing with your baby as you shop, cook, drive, play, and so on (social language) repetition of rhyme helps toddlers learn phonetics. It helps them make a distinction between the sounds in this music called language. It helps them connect the sounds to words and the words to objects or experiences. This is one important way a baby learns speech.
Reciting the rhymes as they grow older is beneficial too. It aids in developing the tongue and mouth muscles, allowing children to refine the sounds as they recite the rhymes. It is this rhyme, rhythm, and repetition of sounds that leads children to the next progression in language development, that of imagination and holding imagery in their minds. This is part of what helps them progress beyond picture books, being able to “see” the story play out in their head as they are read to or as they read. Rhymes and repetition play a critical role in getting to that step.
Preschoolers and Kindergartners are the master of the nursery rhymes. They seem to never tire of the repetition of their favorites. If they’ve heard the nursery rhymes enough through their early years, they can make an easier progression to that next level. And with imagery and imagination, comes creativity next. All of this because of nursery rhymes.
Nursery rhymes are an amazingly wonderful tool to aid your child’s language development. Interestingly, there just haven’t been that many modern nursery rhymes that held my children’s attention like the ones passed along for generations and generations. I mean, there IS a reason these rhymes stood the test of time. And though positive parenting would never put Jack Horner in a corner, I wouldn’t change the rhyming, sing-song verses of Mother Goose for my kids for anything.
Today, my children have grown up and have their own children. One of the first gifts each of my daughters received from me with the birth of their children was also a copy of The Original Mother Goose, as well as a richly illustrated, more modern version. Though the older illustrations are beautiful in their own way and interesting to children to examine around the ages of four to six or seven, adding rich, vibrant color to them in modern versions has additional rewards for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers under the age of around four or five, hence the two versions. But we can explore the benefits of beautiful picture books next time! For now, how long has it been since you read Mother Goose to your baby, toddler or preschooler?