As young children many of us were taught nursery rhymes and lullabies that are generally lumped into the category of Mother Goose. Who was this remarkable woman? Her simple and catchy stories created magical places where children were entertained by the otherwise human antics of animals and inanimate objects. Truly, a remarkable accomplishment for an old woman and a goose.
And this old woman was smart. She kept her fans engaged for centuries right up until the present day due to her wide audience appeal. Here's why. Mother Goose rhymes break down into four basic groups; lullabies, alphabet and counting rhymes to teach and entertain, puzzle rhymes for the more critical thinkers and finally those delivered as a kind of parable conveying historical and cultural events. Amazing!
The popular use of rhymes as a means to share and send messages dates back to the 14th century, a medieval jingle of sorts. The hidden message was easy to remember, because it usually rhymed and was simple. (These two points are CRUCIAL and we will return to them.) This rhythmic simplicity was very important as many people could not read. Rhymes allowed people to share the latest current events with friends and neighbors. Travelers could share tales at the local tavern or along their way as they moved from village to village. Quite a mass communication feat considering the limited technology available at that time (y’know beyond things like metallurgy and the wheel).
Over time the stories behind the rhymes were lost, but luckily the words and use of the rythmic, rhyming format remained; becoming nursery plays and stories. During the late 16th century some of these rhymes were committed to print, allowing them to be passed generationally through the oral tradition as well as in print – that means a book! Crude as they were initially, a book nevertheless. (Bet you were waiting for this to get to a bookish part.)
You can read more about Mother Goose and the history of the rhymes and lullabies attributed to her. The internet and libraries are filled with delightful musings on the subject. Interesting stuff too, like how she was fashioned after a witch, flying around on a goose instead of a broomstick. How she lived alone in the forest surrounded by magical talking animals with an owl guarding her house. Real tabloid stuff here.
What is most important about Mother Goose, whether she is present in your home or not (hoping she will be after this article) is that her stories with their RHYME and SIMPLICITY are a great way to teach language skills, especially to babies and young children. The three components; rhyme, rhythm and repetition (hey! another three r’s) are keys to building language. The other part, the added bonus, is you and your child sharing time together reciting and reading these fascinating tales.
Initially you may engage your infant by gazing at his or her face and reciting the words. Your child will be able to watch your mouth and your facial expressions. This very natural and pleasant interaction allows for your child to stimulate the connections in the brain that will eventually become spoken language. You will also have the added benefit of strengthening your parent/child bond. This is great stuff people.
As your child gets older, the same rhymes in book form with colorful and interesting illustrations offer visual experiences and the opportunity to further develop language and vocabulary through the activity of talking about the pictures. Open ended questions like; what are the characters doing, what are the colors of their clothes, time of day, etc. Whatever the image contains is something to talk about. This interaction between you and your child is more than just reading a book; this is sharing your attention with a book. This is GOLDEN!!
The conversations you have with your child will evolve, but for a good stretch of time you can revisit the same book, discovering new ideas and conversations each time that you do. Makes you think twice about silly old Mother Goose, who incidentally has once again found favor in the nursery.
You may recall and sadly too, that for a period of time, quite recently in fact, Mother Goose was blackballed, banned even, for being politically incorrect. Understandable, some of the rhymes literally are violent, but most children are too young to see the meaning behind the parts that matter – the rhyming and the simplicity. It’s fun for them, especially when they have interaction with the significant people in their lives.
And why is this important? It’s important because babies and very young children hardwired as they are to learn, thrive on simple repetition and interaction. Mother Goose delivers that in full. This is also important because children that can communicate and socialize have a greater chance of thriving in today’s world. With the multiple complexities that we face this is our opportunity to give children a meaningful foundation in socializing and communicating. Whoever would have imagined that a humble old woman riding through the sky on a goose could be so influential?
So despite her colorful and somewhat controversial past, Mother Goose does offer consistent substance. Ring Around the Rosie works not because it calls to mind a horrific tragedy caused by bad sanitation and a lack of pest control. Nope, Ring Around the Rosie works because children can grab the hands of their friends recite the words that they learned and remembered, while moving in a circle. Then they can all drop to the floor and laugh. They will do this over and over again for one reason and one reason only. They do it because it’s fun, because they are learning and because they are engaged.
So next time you see Mother Goose at your local bookstore or library, check her out. Forget about the possibly morbid 400 year old gossip and tragedies. Look through all of that to the true substance, the language and relationship skills it helps to build. Moreover, consider the fun you and your child will have reading and reciting them together, over and over again.
Until next time…
…keep tripping on books.