Mother Goose is a staple of American childhood. The verses attributed to this mythical matriarch represent the sheer joy of young children playing with sound, language, rhythm and rhyme. They also introduce young listeners to the characters, simple plots and literary conventions that are entrees into more complex stories and poetry. Thus, Mother Goose shares with all great literature that sense of joy in its experiencing and the potential of learning about life, about oneself and about others in reflecting upon that experience.
Although Mother Goose is most commonly associated with the nursery, her power extends beyond babies and toddlers to many aspects of adult life. Scholars study the literary history of Mother Goose as well as social and historical referents in these nursery rhymes. The instantaneous recognition of characters and events leads to allusions in other literary works, in popular culture, and in advertising.
Children this age often know many of the rhymes by heart, and are comforted by the familiarity, but aren't aware of some the additional levels of information in the rhymes. It is good to particularly focus on counting rhymes and alphabet rhymes, and use them as an avenue to begin the learning process for these basic skills.
Other ways to use rhymes to enhance learning is with the Q&A method. Naturally, if the child asks you questions about why, what, who, how or why (children this age are often still not too aware of "when"), the parent/teacher can use these questions as a leaping-off point for enhanced discussions. If the child doesn't seem to ask questions themselves, you can encourage exploration and start the process of teaching critical thinking and reading by starting to ask questions of the child. Good questions to start with are:
- "What do you think is happening here?"
- "Why do you think that happened?"
- "Why did they do that?"
- "Would you like to know more about [blank]?"
(something that is happening in the rhyme -- baking bread or feeding hens ... )
This is a good age to start working with riddles and puzzle questions. Often the younger child simply picks up on the sound of the rhyme, and won't fully appreciate some of the wonderful riddles. Older children can also delight in these, so long as they are new to them and their friends.
"Hey, I'm too old for nursery rhymes!" Well, maybe. There is a wealth of historical trivia attached with the origins of these rhymes. A well known example is "Hey diddle diddle." The line about the dish running away with the spoon is thought to actually refer to the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and a particular Spanish royal with whom she was spending a great deal of time. The rhyme supposedly expresses concern on the part of Elizabeth's subjects as to what would become of them if she married and moved to Spain. Which never happened, of course, but the story connected with the rhyme brings that whole era of history more to life.
Older children, in the upper elementary grades and beyond, may return to Mother Goose to explore additional meanings. They might research the historical conjectures and social contexts of the rhymes to discover possible referents to real persons and events. They may also examine categories of the original rhymes such as peddlars' cries, political taunts, tongue twisters, games, and riddles; study more contemporary alternative versions; and then create their own timely Mother Goose rhymes based on what they have learned. For instance, they might listen to television commercials, the chants of child play, or even refrains from video or computer games as a form of modern Mother Goose. Students at this age could also explore the use of Mother Goose to convey cultural values over time, tracing how some of those values have changed as reflected in a timeline of Mother Goose editions.
1. Have small groups act out skits of different rhymes (with only a few minutes to put together their acts). A variation on this is to give each group the rhyme to act out in pantomime, and have the other groups guess which rhyme is being acted.
4. With the right age group, introduce the "rhythm and patter" of a nursery rhyme for writers to imitate in creating their own verses. Quite aside from Mother Goose Day, this is a useful device for teaching an understanding of the patterns of poetry. This technique has been used with both children and adults.