The History of Nursery Rhymes Part Three

Attempts to change the nursery rhymes of the years

Part Three

Throughout the world several attempts have been made to revise the current popular songs, fairy tales, and nursery rhymes. In the late 18th century there is strong evidence of this with the song “Little Robin Redbreast”, which was cleaned up for a younger audience. Clap your hands if your happy nursery rhymeIn the late 19the century, some concerns were raised about current crime which is what led to publishers in the United States such as Samuel Goodrich and Jacob Abbot to clean up many of the Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

Some organizations concerned themselves with ridding nursery rhymes of their more violent elements. One such organization was the British Society for Nursery Rhyme Reform. It was argued against by psychoanalysts who felt that in changing the nursery rhymes, the usefulness of the rhymes was taken away and they no longer helped children to deal with violence and death in an imaginative manner.

By the end of the 20th century, the notion of revising nursery rhymes was associated with being politically correct. Many reform attempts based on being politically correct did not change anything substantial. In fact, continued changes were often made in a light hearted manner such as that of Felix Dennis whose 2006 book is titled When Jack Sued Jill—Nursery Rhymes for Modern Times. There was continued controversy in Britain back in 1986 when the song “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” was up for revision due to its clear racism. However, arguments were made that it was not racially dubious and instead was just a rhyming exercise meant for children.

Part of the reason that changing the stories was argued against was founded in the benefits that these nursery rhymes afford children. Things such as “baa, baa, black sheep” could not truly be changed to something like “baa, baa, rainbow sheep” without losing some of the cognitive benefits it affords to children. Nursery rhymes give children improved imagination skills. They paint different mental pictures of places and things, in a world where nothing is impossible.

By changing the words and taking away the rhyming schemes, the nursery rhymes would be changed and with them, the imaginative skills that children might otherwise develop. In addition, nursery rhymes give children improved memory skills. The repeated exposure to certain syllables and patterns is what helps children to memorize the rhymes and then recite them. This is an entertaining exercise that lays the foundation for effective memory throughout the life of the child. But changing the words in these famous nursery rhymes would in fact change the patterns and the repetition, which takes away from the memory skills that the children might have otherwise cultivated in listening to them.


 Enjoy Baa Baa Black Sheep Nursery Rhyme

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