Oct 11, 2009
Say it ain’t so. Or, maybe, say it is so. I read in the paper today that a third of parents have never sung nursery rhymes to their children. Apparently, because parents are choosing to sing pop songs to their little ones rather than traditional rhymes which they deem boring and dated, said rhymes are in danger of dying out.
As with all things evolutionary, only the strong will survive. Most of the nursery rhymes still sung today are only sung because of their patterns and rhythms – their “catchiness”, if you will – not their content. I can’t imagine that half the parents and carers singing Baa, Baa, Black Sheep to their little ones are aiming to teach them about taxation, the real meaning behind the ditty. I sure as heck am not trying to teach my two-year-old about losing his virginity when I recite Jack and Jill. It seems that going up the hill to fetch a pail of water is a euphemism for having sex.
Professor Roger Beard, of the Institute of Education, said nursery rhymes were constructed to help children learn, unlike pop songs. I beg to differ. Maybe Beyoncé and her fellow “Single Ladies” writers didn’t write the song with the purpose of helping children to learn, but the song is undoubtedly teaching children. The song is teaching the male child that when he grows up, if he doesn’t want to experience feelings of jealousy while watching his ex-girlfriend at a club dancing with another guy then he should ask her to marry him beforehand to prevent this situation. And the female child is learning that in order to make her ex-boyfriend endure feelings of regret and jealousy after breaking up, she should go to a club and dance with other men and make sure her ex-boyfriend sees this activity. Ladies and gentlemen, parents and carers, these are life lessons.
More than a quarter of the 2,500 parents polled by The Institute of Education admitted that they cannot remember a single nursery rhyme from their childhood. Not a single rhyme? Out of a choice of over a hundred? Not even Incy Wincy Spider (or Itsy Bitsy Spider, as my fellow compatriots on the other side of the pond call it)? Or Rock-a-bye Baby or Row, Row, Row Your Boat, or This Little Piggy?
One psychologist says sharing nursery rhymes with your little ones enhances your bond while encouraging them to develop their language and communication skills through play.
I know my husband and I are encouraging our son’s language proficiency – as well as his skills for deciphering right from wrong – through nursery rhymes in our own little way. For instance, one day I caught my husband singing “Wipe the Boffin Up” to our little lad. I asked him what that song was, and he said it’s the one they were singing at the library. I laughed and said that the song they were singing at the library is actually called “Wind the Bobbin Up”. And, a few weeks later when my husband heard me singing “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” to our munchkin, he came into the room with a nostalgic look on his face and commented that he and his infamously wild childhood chum Hans used to sing “Do Your Balls Hang Low?” I asked him to please refrain from changing the lyrics to the song in this instance.
Adjusting to lyric changes on this side of the pond has been an entertaining experience for me. I’m belting out “…ashes, ashes, we all fall down” while other mums are singing “a-tissue, a-tissue, we all fall down”. The Brave Old Captain Brown who was a splendid man morphed into the Grand Old Duke of York who had ten-thousand men. And while participating in the Hokey Pokey – aka Hokey Cokey in these parts – I completely embarrassed myself. American parents and carers, consider taking my advice and sitting out the first time in order to observe and learn when the bubbly music instructor suggests, “Let’s all stand up and do the Hokey Cokey.”
My son Enlai seems to be growing out of nursery rhymes and entering the world known as mama’s iPod. I don’t know if it’s a phase or if he is genuinely finished with the longstanding ditties. He has his own playlist on my iPod which includes James Brown, KT Tunstall, Los Originales, Ray LaMontagne and The Beatles.
An instructor introduced him to The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, and he hasn’t looked back. I’m sure the same is true for the David Weinstone followers. The punk-rocker founder and lead instructor of Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals offers New Yorkers a range of musical styles and topical song subjects, including spending the day alone with Dad, potty training, visiting the museum and other more complex topics. There are no renditions of nursery rhymes such as I’m a Little Teapot, but there is pseudo rendition of Old McDonald, called New McDonald. He believes children can appreciate sophisticated content if the vehicle is correct for delivering it. I agree. I’m not convinced that we’ll suffer as a civilisation if we do not continue to sing centuries-old nursery rhymes.
One morning, I decided I’d had enough of nursery rhymes and chose to listen to some Sheryl Crow while we played in Enlai’s room. Later in the day, I overheard him singing, “If it makes you haaaaaapppy, if it makes you haaaaaapppy…” If it makes you happy to sing pop songs instead of nursery rhymes to your wee ones, I say knock yourself out. Just be prepared to answer them when they ask, “What does go to rehab mean?”