When it comes to the great works of poetry, many people will cite Shakespeare, Byron, Keats, and other names you no doubt saw in your high school textbooks, if not on your very own bookshelf! But rarely will you come across anyone who is asked to name an influential poem who responds, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” And yet ask those same people to recite a poem back to you, and guess what they are more likely to know by heart, the classic nursery rhyme or Sonnet 116? Nursery rhymes are many people’s first introduce to poetry, and they serve a greater purpose than you might initially think. Read on to find out more!
Why is it that our first introduction to reading and writing tends to be in poetic forms? We may discount them as “real” poetry now with our grown-up perspectives, but that would mean ignoring the very important role they play in how we understand language. Nursery rhymes tend to relate fairly simple, straightforward narratives with a heavy reliance on rhyme and rhythm. These rhymes help children learn a number of things about language: what letters make what sounds, how different words are emphasized, and how rhythm can make for more interesting sentences. Some elementary school teachers even combine the recitation of poems with a physical activity, such as bouncing a ball for every syllable or tapping a table, to help bring language to life for young children.
As children grow a bit older, the poetry of nursery rhymes can introduce even more language concepts, some which are slightly more complex. Simile and metaphor, which can be difficult to describe without an example, come to life in the text of a nursery rhyme, showing children the power of figurative language. The ideas of theme and symbolism, which become vital to understanding a wide variety of writing, are also introduced through nursery rhymes. Though they may seem like the most basic form of poetry and indeed writing that you could deal with, nursery rhymes are instrumental parts of our childhood education.
Take a trip down memory lane and think of some of your favorite childhood nursery rhymes. Is there a way you could retell that story for a grown-up audience, or do you have a brand new idea for a nursery rhyme all your own? Write it down, and if you like what you end up writing, you can submit your poems to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!