Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nursery Rhymes and Learning

I remember quite clearly the long, happy nights as a child laying next to my parents while one of them read to me. Mother Goose Tales, Nursery Rhymes, Aesop's Fables -- I treasured those thick, brightly water-colored volumes of tales that my parents bring to life each night before bed.

I don't know if I still would have become a poet and a writer if I had not had those experiences at an early age. In truth, most likely I would have. However, when I did take the first tentative steps on that journey, first as a teenager, later as an adult, I had those years of curling up to my folks and listening to rhymes as a  base on which to stand.

To this day some rhyme schemes I heard often back then, like the limericks and nonsense poems, come easily to my mind and sneak their way into some of the works I produce.

So I was disappointed to hear that, according to an article published by Scholastic Education in 2009, fewer parents are reading their children traditional stories and nursery rhymes because they consider them not as educational or "too old-fashioned". This really surprised me, as preschoolers are very likely not going to have much experience to draw on to know what is "too old fashioned", versus what is "fashionable". It's more likely the interests, beliefs and prejudices of the parents (especially younger parents, as the Scholastic Education article states) getting in the way.

What a loss. Despite the fact that fewer and fewer parents read traditional nursery rhymes to their children, there is a large body of scientific research that suggests when children learn nursery rhymes they experience improved learning of literacy and writing skills.

In a review of research published in the "Center for Early Literacy Learning Reviews" in 2011, researchers pooled together the results of many studies looking at the effects of learning nursery rhymes in over 5000 preschoolers. Nursery rhymes had a significant effect on the learning outcomes of children, improving literacy and language in both disabled and non-disabled children.

When children have positive and enjoyable experiences with rhymes, stories and songs, they have a much more long-term interest in reading and writing -- something that will benefit them personally, professionally and academically later on in life.  There is also evidence that rhymes and poetry, whether adults are writing, reading or listening to them, improve anxiety, stress, quality of life and reduce emotional suppression.

So if there are any parents out there, I beg of you: don't take away Mother Goose and all of the golden eggs that might follow when children read, learn and love nursery rhymes and traditional stories. Watching Wall-E or getting short-sighted in front of a PlayStation3 might be entertaining and keep the kids quiet, but they are not the same. They don't provide the skills, or open the doors, that those old stories can and do. A bond is formed between a child and a parent when a favorite story is shared again, and again, and again.

I know for certain that while my teenage years spent playing video games were a strange blur to my adult mind, those times of being read Mother Goose are crystal clear, and always will be.

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