Words at Play: Nursery Rhymes | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Words at Play: Nursery Rhymes 

Published July 28, 2015 at 12:15 p.m.

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This is the first post in a new blog series about encouraging a love of language in young children written by professional storyteller Peter Burns.

Many years ago, just after my daughter Alice was born, I decided that I wanted to share nursery rhymes with her. I knew that nursery rhymes are the first poems a child hears, and that poetry helps develop a sense of rhyme and rhythm. I bought the Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book by Peter and Iona Opie because it was one I’d remembered reading as a child. It has more than 800 entries. All the familiar rhymes were there, as well as many I didn’t know. I propped the book open on Alice's changing table, and every time I changed a diaper, I worked on memorizing a poem. As Alice got older we left the table behind and started reciting the rhymes together. Alice modifed some of them to make them her own, like this one:


One, two, three, four five,
Once I caught a fish alive,
Six seven, eight nine ten,
Then I let it go again.
Why did you let it go?
Because it bit my finger so.
Which finger did it bite?
This little finger on the right.



At the end of the rhyme, the reciter holds up the little finger on his or her right hand. At the age of 5, Alice couldn't tell her left from her right, so she held up both little fingers and said, "This little finger and this little finger on the right." She knew that one of them was correct.

She also changed this one:

The Grand Old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men,
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half way up, they were neither up nor down.


Alice added another down to the end of the poem, making it: "And when they were only half way up, they were neither up nor down, down." It had a nice ring to it. There was a little hill near our house and Alice liked to run up and down the hill as I recited the poem. For the second down, at the very end of the poem, she liked to touch her hands to the ground.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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