Humpty Dumpty – how did he get on that wall?

There is a quiz on the Guardian’s children’s books web pages today on nursery rhymes. It’s aimed at children seven years and under but it’s fun to have a pop at it yourself if you fancy it!

Image courtesy of

Nursery rhymes have been in my mind recently, as I’ve wondered if children really do read or hear them anymore. Certainly, many of them have been sanitised for modern audiences by PC police who worry in case they offend. We had one such example when Holly was little – the Three Blind Mice didn’t have their tails chopped up by a carving knife. I can’t remember actually what happened but it wasn’t violent but I think they and the farmer’s wife found a peaceable solution to their issues. Should I be embarrassed to admit that I refused to sing that version and told Holly the gruesome original instead?

Three confused children

Anyway, last week I was doing my intervention literacy work with primary school children and we were looking at plurals. We came to ‘mouse’ and I asked them what the answer would be. They looked at me blankly. I said, ‘OK, let’s sing the nursery rhyme. You know, Three Blind…?’

They looked at me again and hopefully guessed:



‘MICE’ I replied, desperately looking for some light-bulb moment.


I had thought that children might be more aware of the nursery rhyme characters from the Shrek film series. I love how they are used in the storylines, particularly the Three Pigs, the Gingerbread Man and Pinnochio. But perhaps the films were the first time some children had encountered them, which is a shame as they miss out on a bit of extra humour.


Rhyme, rhyme as fast as you can…

Children aren’t alone in their ignorance of nursery rhymes. According to an article on Wales Online, 25% of adults don’t know an entire nursery rhyme by heart. I don’t know if this necessarily matters but, according to the article, “Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if a child knows eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they are four years old, they are usually among the best readers and spellers in their class by the time they are in Year 3.” You can read more here.

The article explains how listening to and reciting nursery rhymes helps children in all areas of language acquisition and development – they improve imagination, provide early exposure to poetry, reinforce phonics, etc. Holly certainly grew up with nursery rhymes, sung at home or on those cringeworthy CDs, and knows her characters fairly well though probably not as thoroughly as I did. Mind you, I embarrassed myself at a music class for babies by not knowing what on earth a Bobbin was and why you would want to wind it up. But I’m from Canada so that’s my excuse…


A great source of creativity

I think nursery rhymes can be a great source of creativity for both children and adults. As well as learning about how to rhyme, you can use these stories as the basis for writing activities. A good example of someone who does this well is the English writer Jasper Fforde. His Nursery Crime Adventures – The Big Overeasy and The Fourth Bear – although for adults, show how you can adapt nursery characters and put them in unique and hilarious situations (rather like the Shrek films and of course the original book by William Steig). What if the Gingerbread Man escaped from the fox? What if All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men could put Humpty together again? Why not explore these options with your children to see what amazing sequels or even prequels you can come up with!

To find out more about the history of nursery rhymes, and to brush up your knowledge of them, visit



  1. I found this post really interesting, especially where you mention the link between knowing nursery rhymes off by heart and higher attainment in reading and spelling. We have always sung lots of nursery rhymes, but I agree with you in that I think my two boys know fewer than I did. When I was teaching, I used to love doing the activity of coming up with different endings to well-known stories – the children’s ideas far surpassed anything I could have created! I’m really looking forward to my own children being old enough to do this as well. Thanks for reminding me about it and for giving me lots of other nursery-rhyme related ideas!


    • Thank you for replying and I am glad you found this interesting. Poetry is a fantastic way of getting children into words and stories, I’ve found, and most are quite happy to read or write it! Sounds like you’ve had plenty of practice in this area too.


  2. Fascinating post – I really enjoyed this. It’s pleasing to have a blog that makes one think! My own four knew lots of nursery rhymes and my Grandson knows a few. I found that research interesting too and determined to be sure to teach him some more! He’s 3 and a half.
    Thank you for this 🙂


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