Why nursery rhymes?

Songs are threefold. They have a rhythm (the beat, like the beat of footsteps), the melody (the mood that touches our soul) and the lyrics (the meaning of the words). The first one – rhythm – plays right into the work of earliest childhood with its focus on movement, rhythm and the body. Nursery rhymes are almost pure rhythm. They often lack a melody, and when one is added, it’s usually simply based on tonic and subdominant tones. And the words make no sense. They are literally “nonsensical”. This is perfect.

Nursery rhymes have a lot of movement inherent in them.

They are also passed down through the generations, so have something to do with our heritage and our roots. They are found in all cultures and all languages. They bind us to the past, which the etheric/life body loves. Sometimes a child’s movement reminds me of a verse, and I’ll break out into a nursery rhyme. These are a few of my favorites:

When children run around and around the room…

Sally go ‘round the sun.
Sally go ‘round the moon.
Sally go ‘round the chimney pot
On a Saturday afternoon. Hey! 

How I change it.. I might add the actual child’s name. I might add what they are actually going around. 

When children are on a make-shift teeter totter…

See-saw Margery Daw
Jennie shall have a new master.
She shall earn but a penny a day
Because she can’t work any faster. 

How I change it … I match the words to the rhythm of the teeter totter, going faster or slower to match the children’s rhythm. 

When a child is picky about food …

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean
And so betwixt them both you see
They licked the platter clean.

How I change it … I add the child’s name and the food they aren’t eating. “Evan, Evan could eat no meat, his brother could eat no noodles. And so betwixt them both you see, They licked their platter oodles!” (They think it’s funny when I make up nonsense words.)

When a child is running too fast and might fall… 

Ride a horsey into town.
Watch out horsey don’t fall down!

Another about food …

Peas porridge hot.
Peas porridge cold.
Peas porridge in the pot,
Nine days old (blechhh with a disgusted face and tongue)

How I change it (this was in my grandson’s Music Together class) … change to any food …

Pizza pie hot.
Pizza pie cold.
Pizza pie in the box,
Nine days old (blechh that’s icky).

Cup of milk hot.
Cup of milk cold.
Cup of milk in the car,
Nine days old (blechh yuck!)

When a child pops out of a blanket or from behind something …

All around the cobbler’s bench,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought ‘twas all in fun.
Pop! Goes the weasel.

How I change it … I pause as long as I have to, waiting for the child to pop out.

When they are rocking… Row, row, row your boat.

When they are baking pretend food … Patty cake, patty cake. Or … Do you know the muffin man?

When looking at the stars … Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight. Or … twinkle twinkle. 

With their toes … This little piggy.

On my lap… The grand ole Duke of York.

These nursery rhymes bridge the path from movement to language in a silly and rollicking way! 

About the Author

Kimberley Lewis

Kimberley is a birth-to-three teacher, consultant and writer. She received her master's degree in Waldorf Early Childhood Education from Antioch University New England in Keene, NH. She is a RIE® Associate and avid Pikler student. She has been teaching nursery, preschool, kindergarten and parent-child classes in Waldorf schools since 2007.

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