The importance of Mother Goose nursery rhymes

ReadingMother Goose nursery rhymes are an important part of childhood.  I always thought they were practically innate—until I became a teacher.  That’s when I found out that someone has to teach nursery rhymes, and that this doesn’t always happen.

As teachers, we expect that some students won’t know the nursery rhymes.  English Language Learners, for example, may not know nursery rhymes in English.  (They might know rhymes from their own language.)

Somewhere along the way, probably about the same time as the demise of the bedtime story, we lost nursery rhymes.  It is very important to make sure children know them.  Why?

Nursery rhymes build fluency: Learning to say the rhymes, or read the rhymes aloud, builds a familiarity with a certain rhythm and style of speaking.

Nursery rhymes build vocabulary: The vocabulary is higher than what the child could read or say himself.  How often does “tuffet” or “contrary” come up in ordinary conversation?  By learning the words in conjunction with a fun rhyme, children effortlessly build vocabulary.

Nursery rhymes prepare children to read: To read successfully, children need an understanding of what teachers call phonemic awareness: an awareness of the sounds (phonemes) in our language.   Appreciating the rhyme and alliteration in nursery rhymes helps children learn to read.  By growing up with nursery rhymes, children more easily understand that words are made of sounds.

Nursery rhymes build rhythm: Developing a child’s sense of rhythm helps the child read better.  There have been studies on this.  From a classroom teacher’s point of view, I can say that building a sense of rhythm absolutely makes a difference.  The rhythm pulls children along in the reading—they don’t stumble as much, and they learn to read more naturally.  Rhythm also helps children work together because everyone has to keep the beat.  Learning nursery rhymes helps children build a sense of rhythm in language.

Connection: Learning to do the Hand Jive builds rhythm, too—but that’s another story!  The Hand Jive, with the rhythm and cross-body movement, is very good for developing growing brains.  The Macarena is also good, rhythm-building fun.

Nursery rhymes teach memorization: By memorizing nursery rhymes at a young age, children learn how to remember.  Often, the rhyme scheme aids in memorizing, and making this connection will help children see the patterns in language.

Nursery rhymes build cultural currency: many books, movies and plays refer to nursery rhymes.  Even in casual conversation, we might note that a couple is like Jack Sprat and his wife.  A harried mother might feel like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.  Children who grow up not knowing nursery rhymes are at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding these references—they might lose a great deal of meaning in a conversation or book.

For further reading:
Mother Goose: A scholarly expedition
Nursery rhymes article at Wikipedia

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Posted in Academics by Corey Green @ Jan 28, 2010


Cyril the Mandrill

by Francesca Greco
Available at

bookSummary: Cyril the Mandrill is the newest creature at the zoo.  The other animals don’t like him because he’s new and different.  Zoogoers love him, which makes the other animals jealous.  Then, in winter, the monkeys have to stay indoors for months.  Their world is grey, but Cyril brings the outside world’s color to them with eloquent phrases to match the colors on his nose.  That spring, the animals vow to be Cyril’s friend, never forgetting how he got them through that grey winter.

Activities: This is a good Read-Aloud for 1-6, and a good independent reader for grades 1-3.  The message of acceptance is a good lesson, and the kids will like comparing Cyril to Raffiki in The Lion King.  I would use this book for prediction and character development discussions, as well as character discussions about celebrating differences.

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Posted in Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Jan 25, 2010


When your child has missing or late work

Missing WOrkWe all have dealt with schoolwork that suddenly has gone missing.  Some children just can’t understand what happened to the paper they were working on; it simply disappeared.  Here are some ideas for parents to help their children locate those mysteriously missing papers:

Your child’s missing assignments are most likely in her desk at school.  You would be amazed how many children begin assignments only to shove them in their desk, never to be seen again.  Some children go so far as to finish the work before shoving it in their desk.  If the task of cleaning out her desk overwhelms your child, help her with ways to deal with the materials in her desk: a box for pencils and scissors, folders for papers, and a sturdy bag to bring home everything else.  I bet you will be surprised at what your child brings home in that bag!

Check your child’s backpack.  This can be a repository of half finished assignments, untouched homework, and letters home about a project assigned a month ago that is due tomorrow.  You may even get lucky and find the work completely finished.  Many children do homework, but forget to turn it in.  For parents of children in primary grades, checking backpacks should be a daily task.  Young children don’t feel their privacy is violated if you check their backpack daily.  A daily backpack check makes your life and your child’s life easier by eliminating last-minute assignment scrambles and other homework headaches.

A good place to look is the no-name pile.  Many teachers simply place papers with no names in a pile so students can retrieve their work, put their name on it, and turn it in for a grade.  (Note to teachers: I find this to be an administrative nightmare.  I collect all work in number order, so when I hit a no-name paper, I know who it belongs to.  I grade the paper, then assign the child to practice writing his name and number fifty times.)

Sometimes, the student will have to do the work again.  Before contacting the teacher to ask for another copy of a worksheet, tell your child look in the extras pile.  Every elementary school teacher I have ever met has an extras pile.   In addition to learning a “life lesson” about handing in the work she has finished, your child can learn a valuable lesson about solving her own problems before asking you or her teacher for help.

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Posted in Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Jan 17, 2010


5 tips for teaching vocabulary

LearningVocabulary is empowering.  Building a strong vocabulary makes children better learners and more confident members of society.

How do you teach vocabulary?

First, don’t confuse building vocabulary with building dictionary skills.  Don’t simply say, “Look it up!”  Think back to your childhood.  Did you “look it up” when prodded by teachers and parents?  Me, neither.  Who wants to interrupt a great book or fun conversation to  consult the dictionary?

If a child does get around to researching the word, he’ll probably encounter a dictionary-style Voice Mail Jail.  Each word refers to another word, each definition is more and more confusing, until the child forgets which word he set out to research.

There’s a better way!  Here are 5 tips for teaching vocabulary at school or at home:

  1.  Give the definition.  This can be in writing or just verbally.  Don’t make the child look it up in the dictionary unless you are there to help.
  2.  Have the child repeat the word.  This lets the child make the word his own, and helps to cement it in his memory.  Repeating the word also gives you the chance to correct mispronunciations.
  3. Use the word in context.  Give a sentence or example that shows the word’s meaning.  After hearing your examples, the child might like to give her own to show she understands.
  4. Discuss root words or other forms of the word.  Once a child understands “sympathetic,” then “sympathetically” and “sympathy” can be easily added to his vocabulary.  (Extra credit if you explain pathos!)  Learning other forms of the word helps children understand parts of speech.
  5. Reward the child for making connections.  My students love to make connections, and it is gratifying when they find vocabulary words in books or everyday conversation.  Making connections shows children how their newfound vocabulary gives them a better understanding of their world.
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Posted in Academics,Fun With Literacy,Tips for Parents,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jan 11, 2010


Read and Rise

Book CoverBy Sandra L. Pinkney
Foreword by Maya Angelou

AR Reading Level 3.0; 0.5 points
Available from

Summary:  This book is part of the Read and Rise literacy campaign to promote literacy, in which Scholastic teamed up with the National Urban League.   A main goal was to promote a love of reading in inner city, predominately African-American children.   The book opens with an inspiring poem by Maya Angelou.   The book is illustrated with photos of kids who let reading take them places, sometimes by dressing up in costumes like they find in books they read.  

Activities:   Read and Rise is partly designed for parents, to increase buy-in for literacy.   Teachers might consider making this book part of a Family Reading Night event.   Read and Rise  is inspiring for primary readers and preschool level.

Connection: Maya Angelou’s foreward to Read and Rise reminds me of  “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes, which is great for sharing with older students. 

I use an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s poem “Choose Your Freedom – Learn to Read” to inspire my students:

Reading is the pathway
From the dungeon
To the door


Reading is the highway from
The shadow to the sun


Reading is the river
To your liberty
For all your life to come

Let the river run


Learn to read.

–Maya Angelou

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Posted in Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Jan 6, 2010