Thursday, June 12, 2008

What were they thinking?

What is a nursery rhyme? According to wikipedia, "A nursery rhyme is a traditional song or poem taught to young children, originally in the nursery. Learning such verse assists in the development of vocabulary, and several examples deal with rudimentary counting skills. It also encourages children to enjoy music. In addition, specific actions, motions, or dances are often associated with particular songs." Hmmm....

Let us look at a popular nursery rhyme: Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Isn't it sad that Jack and Jill ended up hurt? What are we trying to teach our children? Actually there is a thrid and a fourth verse which is not heard of.

Let us look at another: Rock a bye baby
Rock a bye baby on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
This is a tradegy! The baby falls for heaven's sake!

Another one: Humpty Dumpty
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses
and all the King's men
couldn't put Humpty together again.
Must I go on?

What about Hansel and Gratel? Their own parents leave them in the woods to die. This is even worse than the witch who wants to eat them! Why would we want our children to hear such a story.

There are some really good nursery rhymes and stories that children actually learn from. For Example: Old Mc Donald had a Farm, ABCD, One, Two, Buckle my Shoe and Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty (though all these stories all build the notion that being "beautiful" is very important).

As teaching technique, nursery rhymes and stories are incredibly powerful. It grabs the attention of the children, sets free their imagination, and makes learning fun for them. I guess what was missing for the above nursery rhymes were the learning objectives. :)


Nithya said...

Hey Archana...a small thought to add in to your very valid observations on our age-old nursery rhymes.
Most of these have been blindly roted by us and likewise by the generations above us...and probably by the ones to follow!
Maybe a lot of these used reverse-psychology to build in lessons for children on “what not-to-do".
For ex: DONT climb trees with babies (leave alone make cradles on them) because eventually they will fall!!

Or, don’t perch yourself on walls (like Humpty Dumpty) because if you fall, the resultant doctor expenses are as high as a king's army that cannot put you back together!!

I would still go for tamer versions like " Twinkle twinkle little star"...non-controversial and leaves the child with only the rhythm of the words at the end.

Or go for some great good old Tamil verses which are more positive to the ear!

Archana Narayan said...

Hey Nithya. Good insight! Nice one about Humpty Dumpty :) Similar thought did cross my mind... and I did some more googling. I found a site that provided the origin and history of nursery rhyme ( Some of them are still vague. I think the nursery rhymes and stories say a lot about the socio-historical context in which these were written. For eg. Hansel and Gratel were written at a time when there was famine and poverty.

But like you, I also stick to the tamer version when am singing my son to sleep. :) (I am not familiar with the Tamil versions...and my Tamil is quite sad (not very proud about this))

Rashmi said...

Archie, something Saurabh and I loved discussing. Some of the rhymes are positively hideous. Goosie Goosie Gander for example. Imagine throwing an old man down the stairs. Or There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. Whipped all her children :) Hmmm
& Three blind mice whose tails were cut! Whew!
Funny also in an evil way, can imagine all moms frowning :)

Archana Narayan said...

:D Rash, I think someone was venting out their frustration and dint mean for it to become so popular!

ripul said...

I believe that nursery rhymes talk about the state of the society. The nursery rhymes that we usually hear are from a paranoid, unhappy, and mentally sick society! And, we do see what children of these society end up doing -- invading Iraq is just a tip of the iceberg.

I am searching for hindi nursery rhymes -- I remember they used to be fun. I also understand that Bengali ones are very funny! I don't want to expose my son to such hideous stuff so early.

Archana Narayan said...

Totally agree with the society thing.. guess the mother just sang their frustrations thinking the child won't understand anyway :) nice one about the tip of the iceberg!

Guess the nursery rhymes of Indian origin are more appealing as we were prospering at that time.

Priya said...

Most of the "weird" rhymes have very interesting origins - reflective of the socio-political scene of those times...but hardly relevant now...and definitely not educational :-) Thankfully these days, most good playschools stay away from such rhymes and teach only the "meaningful" ones. They even make a few of their own (sung in the good old tunes - cant deny those tunes are very catchy and easy to learn) and also include very good Hindi ones. So there's hope...