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The Lost Art of Nursery Rhymes

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Last November, during the campaign trail, Boris Johnson painfully mumbled his way through 'The Wheels on the Bus' while on a visit to a primary school. At the time my colleague Ben wrote a brilliant short piece in Nursery World about the fact that this... uncomfortable moment was a catalyst for many to lament that teaching children nursery rhymes had fallen out of fashion.


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how 2020 is the perfect time for us to get back to basics when it comes to our practice working with young children or those with additional needs.  I mentioned in my previous Coffee Break that we should be looking to the past for inspiration, and considering what genuine high quality CPD is about.  I referred to the Nursery Nurse qualification of yesteryear and the amazing placement opportunities and studies that went into earning the revered NNEB badge.




I was inspired by a conversation on Twitter recently to purchase a classic ‘NNEB book’.  ‘This Little Puffin’ is now over 30 years old and is a collection of songs, rhymes and games that “no parent, teacher or nursery group should be without”.  I really wish I had bought this book a long time ago.  It is crammed full of resources.  The majority of the songs and rhymes I know were learned ‘on the job’ when I started teaching in the Early Years in a special needs school. I was lucky to be surrounded by brilliant, experienced support staff who guided me on my way. Since becoming a parent I have dug into my back catalogue countless times and having a level of knowledge has been very helpful.




Parents in 2020 have numerous technological options when it comes to entertaining a child or preventing them from becoming upset.  I think this is one of the key reasons that it has become less necessary for us as adults to know a handful of songs that we can turn to.  To me this seems very generational.  At the risk of gender stereotyping, my mother and mother-in-law both know hundreds of little songs or rhymes for children (neither have ever worked in education).  I would have heard them as a child when my mother sang them to me, but as an adult, until I worked in an Early Years setting with women from a similar generation to my mum, my knowledge was extremely limited.  In 20 years time is anyone going to know any?


In Ben’s article he reminds us of some of the many benefits of using nursery rhymes with our children:

·         They help develop a child’s imagination.

·         They help develop a child’s vocabulary.

·         They help develop a child’s communication and social skills.

·         They help develop a child’s language rhythm.

·         They help develop a child’s understanding of how words are formed.


Inclusion and diversity should be reflected in the rhymes we sing with our children. We can learn from parents in a nursery/childminder setting. They are a wonderful source of ideas for traditional songs that their children respond well to. It is also so easy to change the words in existing rhymes to reflect differences - food being an obvious one. 


Thankfully, there is an organisation that is trying to re-promote the developmental benefits that Ben mentions.  World Nursery Rhyme Week is taking place this year from November 16th to 20th and they have a brilliant website that you can visit.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could use that week this year to share the knowledge and start a movement to support anyone who works with young children or those with additional needs to fully embrace nursery rhymes, and pass on the wisdom to everyone who needs to know!


By SEND Advisor Stephen Kilgour 

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