There is a sweet and gentle evolution toward the relationship between language arising in children and story. It starts with Mama humming, surrounding the child with soul music that envelops the young child. Then comes lullabies, crooning, comforting songs sometimes just soundings such as luuly, luulay…bringing soft consonants in a rhythmic sing-song.
This then took on more language form, adding a wee story: Rock-a-bye baby in the tree top, When the wind blows the cradle will rock, When the bough breaks the cradle will fall, And down will come baby cradle and all. This was a movement play with Mama holding the baby, rocking and carrying the baby down safely in her arms. The rhythms of speech/song, added to the movements in play delighted timeless children and will forever more.
You can hear the flow of the phrases in the singing of the verse, how simple it is then to keep the rhythmic phrase when we start to speak the verse, using a softer, lovely speech that is something of a bridge between song and prose speaking as we use in traditional storytelling. It is a magical language that these old verse offer us, having been spoken into the world for so so long.
As the intellect took hold of humanity, this more spirit-filled rhythmic speech became too grounded for the young child, which we can hear in the ‘beat’ speech often spoken for these wondrous nursery verse, where each syllable is spoken in a harder beat, losing the flow of the phrase, giving us chopped up words, each syllable with a strong, equal emphasis. ‘Rock/a/bye/ba/by/in/the/tree/top, /when/the/bough/breaks/the/cra/dle/will/ rock….’ I challenge you to listen to the way you speak nursery rhymes. If there is that strong beat of syllables, return to a song quality, then try speaking them in the full breathing flow of the rhythmic phrase… Watch the children, listen to their breathing, see how they settle into themselves.
Honor these first tales, as Horst Kornberger states in his wonderful book The Power of Stories, ‘These rhymes are story medicine, they are primal medicine, like good food and joy. Nursery Rhymes are indeed the nursery of all other tales; they are the stories we start with.’
One thing to hold in your heart is that these tiny tales are most important for children birth through 9 years, for 2 reasons; the support they give children to have deeper more rhythmical breathing, and for the repetition of glorious consonants, the formative part of language they offer all children’s language development.
Suzanne Down, is longtime Director of Juniper Tree School of Story and Puppetry Arts, early childhood puppetry specialists. You can have fun exploring her blog which has lots of articles on puppetry and original stories you may use in your programs. We also have a new online course series called Early Childhood Puppetry Made Easy, for simple and magical puppet tutorials and presentation guides you can check out too. https://junipertreepuppets.com