Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The importance of nursery rhymes and why they won't ever go out of date...

Singing my daughter to sleep with her personalised version of 'Frere Jaques' tonight (Maple's sleepy, Maple's sleepy, go to bed, go to bed, etc...) I got to thinking about the amazing power of nursery rhymes and the fact that most people probably have no idea just how important they really are!

Did you know that from the very moment your baby is born he/she has the neurological ability to UNDERSTAND and ENJOY particular intervals?? (For you musical types the minor 3rd is the main one I'm referring to here and if you're not a musical type just think of intervals as the makeup of the melody). Interestingly, the intervals that babies love the most are the ones that nursery rhymes are made out of :)

For example, if I type the phrases "Naah, Naah, na, Naah, Naah" or "You can't catch me" I bet you all naturally sing them in your mind in that childhood tune - you know, THAT tune, the one ALL little kids seem to just know and seem to sing!!

Well there's a reason all little kids sing in THOSE tunes - it's because the intervals (melody) are familiar and comfortable to them - they're born with those melodic frameworks in their brain and hearing them and singing them makes them feel good, which helps the development of positive neural pathways.


In general playing pop or  'grown up' music just doesn't quite cut it. The structure, melody, rhythm and tempo of these songs are often too complex and confusing for the tiny mind to comprehend which means they probably don't get the same feeling of "ooh, my tiny brain gets this tune, I like it and it's making me feel safe and sound"... (which I'm SURE is what the new born would be thinking if they could think in such an orderly and well-educated manner!)

So - why not give your baby the gift of nursery rhyme?!

Easier said than done?? Here are a few things NOT to be scared of...

* Don't be scared to ask someone to teach you a few if you don't know any (this is totally common for Gen Y's and beyond) so no need to worry :) Youtube can be a great source for finding a nursery rhyme 'library' and choosing a few you like the most out of the hundreds you will stumble across.

* Don't be scared of being politically incorrect! The chances are you won't offend anyone, least of all your baby, by singing about black sheep - and personally I think singing about orange sheep is confusing and misleading! I choose not to sing the ones about spanking and starving the little children, but that's just me - it's all a personal choice :)

* Don't be scared of singing out of tune. Your children will have absolutely no idea about being 'in' or 'out' of tune - they will just feel loved and happy from hearing your voice and hearing their special songs. (On a side note, Mama's voice is the one your baby loves to hear the most as it is the most familiar. From the moment your bub is born he/she would be able to pick your voice out amongst a noisy crowded room of a hundred people - that's how strongly they recognise your particular sound and that recognition also makes them feel happy and safe. What I'm trying to say here Mums is that your babies LOVE it when you sing to them!)

* Don't be scared about getting the words wrong - it's the melody, structure and repetition that babies love, not the words. Feel free to personalise the words as I often do or choose nursery rhymes with the same tunes (ie Twinkle, twinkle and ABC) so no matter what words come out you can't go wrong!

As a special bonus - the more you sing a nursery rhyme to your baby the more they will come to recognise it and the more chance you have of settling them with that song when they're out of sorts, cranky or sleepy.

What more motivation could you possibly need!!!


  1. Great post Ali. Thanks for explaining some of the science behind the mothering! Nursery rhymes were such a part of the daily routines for my boys. On another note, it also sets your little one up beautifully for when they start more formal education. Nursery rhymes are often used as beginning texts because they are short, repetitive and use fairly simple language.

  2. Thanks Liz ) Yes, I find it so interesting too - I heard that information about the neurological impact of nursery rhymes at the world music therapy congress when I was a student and, though I forget most things, that stayed with me!

  3. This I great to read. I was talking with some Mothers and they were talking about nursery rhymes being excluded from certain settings. But they are classic, and not just anything can become a classic, it is so for a reason. I love to sing to my children, and I also believe it is that inbuilt desire for repetition for those intervals that can help develop a better sense of perfect pitch and a love of not just music, but of movement. There are so many good reasons to include them in our lives.

  4. Thanks Anonymous :) I completely agree, nursery rhymes are an amazing tool for developing lots of the essential tools we need as we develop!


Thankyou for sharing this journey with me. I love reading your comments and treasure each one.