Nursery rhymes… beyond the nursery!

Manaswini Sridhar

The magic of nursery rhymes continues to hold even in the world of technology and the Internet. Nursery rhymes develop listening skills and introduce children to verbal skills in a fun and sometimes silly fashion. The rhyme and the pictorial quality of the words mesmerize children. Unfortunately, as adults we grow weary of a child singing the same rhyme and try to zip him/her up, little comprehending that the words and the rhyme enthrall the child into becoming a more confident speaker and writer. In addition, nursery rhymes help children refine their motor skills since so many have to be acted out. (Where is Thumbkin?) The melody and rhythm sensitize the child’s ear to not only the sounds of the language but also to the melody and tunes, making the child a more spontaneous singer. Some children like a rhyme because of the tune and hence sing it all day long. Having learned rhymes at an early age, most people never forget them. The characters, the story and even the words remain etched in their minds, popping up occasionally in their minds, to either hum or whistle the rhyme or ponder over the simplicity of the words.

bopeep So can this be turned into a simple, more creative writing activity during which the students don’t chew their pencils and wear out their brains, and later transmit this weariness to the poor teacher who is painfully compelled to correct and offer feedback?

The following website uses Sing a Song of Sixpence to teach children to identify rhyming words and then to fill in the blanks with the correct word from the box.

Here, children are able to correlate spellings with the words and also to recall from memory the rhyme so that they fill in the blanks with the suitable word. This requires auditory skills and the skills of identifying and reproducing the correct word from the box. It relates more to recognition of the vocabulary, reading (of course!) and the ability to write, but not necessarily writing skills.

Let’s see if we can use the same rhyme to have children write sentences of their own. Here is the rhyme:

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish
To set before the king?

The king was in his counting-house
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlor
Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden
Hanging out the clothes;
Along came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.

This is a simple enough rhyme for students of lower middle school or upper primary, depending on how fluent the children are in the language. The only words that may need to be explained are sixpence, rye, pecked, and dainty.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Hyderabad. She can be reached at

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