The True Value of Nursery Rhymes

Our brains are incredible libraries housing a voluminous life experiences. More remarkably yet is that we then process those experiences and extrapolate meaning, and catalog significant information to draw on for our daily needs. At least, most of the time that easy-access information seems useful…except for the odd bits, and weird, seemingly insignificant details.

What is that all about? Why do these sidebar memories hang out near the surface? If we delve down, perhaps there is more meaning in those random memories after all.

One example of something remembered—though seemingly of no importance to the daily data you need—are those nursery rhymes you learned as a child. I bet just saying “nursery rhyme,” one appears in your mind immediately.

For me, it’s Humpty Dumpty. I can’t tell you who first taught it to me, but it was probably my mother, who loved language. She especially liked the book “Alice Through the Looking Glass” where Humpty appeared as a character.

As an adult I’ve always wondered why nursery rhymes are so often thematically dark. The woman in the shoe with lots of children sounds like a case for the Department of Health and Human Services. Jack and Jill should have been better monitored by a caretaker. And then there is poor Humpty.

Perhaps children enjoy the story arch of extremes in the rhymes, and the dramatic turn of events. But mostly, it is the rhythm and words they learn from repeating the rhymes over and over that’s alluring. It turns out that learning language through rhyme and repetition helps children develop language. Sadly, with the increase of tech, nursery rhymes aren’t being taught as they were in the past.

The history of these old rhymes may have been satire on subjects of the day, and others may have been tagged to old stories of significant events. Humpty Dumpty, for example, might have been related to a cannon that fell off a city’s protective wall during a battle back in the mid-1600s in Europe.

It’s that factoid that seems particularly intriguing. That bit of rhythmic language hanging out in your brain is hundreds of years old! In a mystical sense, your memory of it extends the boundaries of your presence, providing you an impressive reach beyond your individual life reach. Those nursery rhymes like all the other stories of your life permit you to live on in the future when they are passed on. How cool is that?