Cap O'Rushes

A Folkloric and Literature Resource

for Teachers and Librarians

Developing Vocabulary with Nursery Rhymes

When you teach your class a new rhyme make sure that they understand every word.

For example:

One Misty Moisty Morning

"One misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather,

I chanced to meet an old man, clothed all in leather.

He began to compliment and I began to grin.

"How do you do and How do you do and How do you do again."

Moisty - probably made up to go with misty. Note that the word 'clothed' needs to accented on the second syllable in order to scan correctly. Some of the most interesting discussions I've had are about the word 'leather' Usually the only example of leather in the classroom is in the teacher's shoes or belt. Most kids' shoes are sneakers, made of plastics and cloth. You'd be surprised how many protected suburban children don't know that meat and leather depend on the slaughter of cattle!

Introduction to archaic and/or poetic words:

The North Wind Doth Blow

"The North wind doth blow, and we shall have snow,

and what will poor Robin do then. Poor thing.

He'll sleep in a barn and keep himself warm

and hide his head under his wing. Poor thing."

Besides explaining that doth is an old fashioned form of does, consider the context of the poem. What is a Robin doing around in the winter snow? Robins fly south for the winter. If you happen to have a British illustration you will notice that the robin doesn't look quite right. This is a British robin, not the same bird as an American robin who is really more of a thrush. British robin redbreasts don't fly south. Incidentally, children love the refrain "Poor thing".

The Crooked Man

"There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile

He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.

He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,

And they all lived together in a little crooked house."

Sixpence, a British coin no longer used, and stiles need explaining here. Anyone who has walked the European countryside has had to climb over stiles. The reason for stiles has to do with public rights of way in the countryside where people walked from village to village. The path might go through a farmer's field. The farmer protected his animals by providing a stile which let the walker climb over the fence but kept the sheep and cattle inside the field. The worst thing one can do in the countryside is to fail to close a gate after oneself. Stiles take care of that problem. The Ladybird (British publisher of small books) set of nursery rhyme books have lovely illustrations and the Crooked Man shows a typical stile. (See also Rhythm regarding the Crooked Man.)

Nursery rhymes