First of all, so many children are already familiar with so many of them. The associative power is one that transcends merely being a math law (in fact as it is referred to here it is completely unrelated but Danny has a penchant for puns). When children breathe the air of familiarity, they become much more comfortable with their surroundings; certain words, letters, or even names seem to become self evident.
Additionally, children who are familiar with a nursery rhyme will often want to continue down one of many paths within the realm of literacy: they may want to continue reading the further adventures of a given character, such as presented in our books; they may wish to write rhymes of their own; they may want to read other nursery rhymes or discover new characters or stories related but not exactly the same. This is much like our experience as adults of being introduced to new people through a close old friend, and developing an independant relationship with that new friend. Ultimately, they may become part of your social circle, and may in fact even lead to making more new friends - in fact, it usually does work this way! We actually have a lifelong relationship with literacy much as we have lifelong social relationships, and when thought of as ever enlarging concentric circles, it can be rewarding, inspirational, thought provoking, and enhance the general quality of our lives.
Further, the natural rhythm and meter of nursery rhymes actually lend themselves to being read, and in particular out loud. This is one of the many reasons that all of our books thus far have been set to music and can be found as songs on One Size Fits All. The same is true in reverse by the way: How often have we heard children (not to mention ourselves) repeat a line from a song we know in spoken word and stop to consider the juxtaposition of the words, the verse, the rhyme? It is common banter around our dinner table, for goodness sake! Rhyme and verse are also much easier for a child to remember (hence their comfort level), and what's more they lend themselves to being read aloud from parent to child (and hopefully at a certain point from child to parent). This interaction by the way is a critical component in fostering literacy; so much so, that it needs to be addressed as a separate issue.
Tony Stead, senior national literacy consultant for Mondo Publishing in New York, described research showing that in 1945, the average elementary school student had a vocabulary of 10,000 words. Today's child has 2,500 words."That is disastrous," Mr. Stead said. "So many parents are not reading to their children anymore." A lot of problems, he added, come from children not memorizing rhymes, the bread-and-butter of traditional early children's literature. "Listening comprehension precedes reading comprehension," Mr. Stead said. "In order for a child to understand what they are reading, they have to be able to hear the language first. A lot of the traditional rhymes, such as 'Jack and Jill' and 'Humpty Dumpty,' were repetitious and allowed us to memorize basic structures and patterns in the English language, then put it together. It's important that young children learn to memorize through verse. Research shows children learn more in their first eight years than they do in the rest of their lives. This is a powerful time to teach them to be readers and writers. Instead of enhancing children's imaginations, today's media have stunted it", he says. "Rhyme is important in developing phonemic [hearing] awareness in children," he said. "It's harder in elementary school to teach kids to read when they do not have oral support. Kids are unable to paint pictures in their heads unless they read. Now they all have pictures painted for them through TV and video. When kids have to create their own stories, they rely on what they saw on television last night rather than form it in their minds. Traditional cultures handed stories down through talk. They didn't have picture books back then. The power of a parent or teacher sitting down and telling a story, allowing kids to paint pictures in their heads, is a very powerful tool. Most of our problems could be solved if parents could be reading to and talking to children from birth, giving them a solid oral language basis. These days, the TV is on during dinner."
Clearly, Mr. Stead makes many sentient points as depicted above, not the least of which revolves around the importance of nursery rhymes as learning tools. To that end, however, the more obvious aspects need to be considered, too (ironically, these points are so obvious that they are often taken for granted and thus overlooked!): Nursery rhymes are fun (or funny). They generally feature colorful characters, involved in a host of varied situations. They are resolved very simply, in language that is identifiable and thanks to their rhythm kids actually want to hear them repeatedly. There are many of them, they are abundant, and perhaps best of all, parents are also familiar with them.
Why nursery rhymes? It seems to us with all they have to offer, it is a pointed mistake not to incorporate them into the youngest curricula. Were we to turn the question around and ask ourselves why not nursery rhymes, the answer would be simple: There is no good reason!