The Nursery Rhyme DilemmaRebecca from Fosterhood
As the mother of two toddlers, I’ve always felt that nursery rhymes are my go to in terms of screen time. Though I’m generally conflicted about letting them watch screens at all, nursery rhymes seem like safe enough material — or so I thought.
When I learned nursery rhymes as preschooler in the 70s, I never thought about how scary or violent they can be, though I can’t say I ever loved singing the line in “Three Blind Mice” about the “Farmer’s wife who cut off their tails with a carving knife …” “Three Blind Mice” is just one of several nursery rhymes I’ve taken out of our rotation now. Still, there are others that I feel old school about, and choose not to modify.
Here are three nursery rhymes that I’ve embraced sanitized versions of and three that I’m stick to the original:
1. “Rock-a-bye Baby” — Too violent?
Both of my daughters love it when I scoop them up close and sing this song to them. However, I realized early on that I couldn’t look them in the eye and recite a rhyme about a tragic accident again and again involving their cradle being dumped from a tree. So instead of “when the bow breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby” to “mommy catches baby, cradle and all.”
2. “Ten Little Indians” — Racist?
It was my intent to not ever teach this song to my daughters given its origins and racism. However, the day came when I heard my daughter singing it. Rather than blame the babysitter (I suspect she showed them a Youtube series of songs with this one in it), I retaught the song to my girls with the word “Teddy Bear” replacing “Indians.”
3. “The Farmer in the Dell” — Misogynistic?
Gosh did I love this one as a kid. We’d all get in a circle and as the “Farmer takes his wife” one child would grab another and this would continue as the “Wife takes a child” and so on. But when I saw these words out loud as an adult I realize the gender inequity is all kids of wrong. So my version? Simply “The Farmer meets his wife” and the “wife meets a child”, etc etc.
And here are three nursery rhymes that I don’t change the words to:
1. “Ring Around The Rosie”
There are many theories, but no agreed conclusion on the origin of this nursery rhyme. Growing up, the words I was taught were the classic “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes ashes, we all fall down.” Nowadays in the U.S., I hear more people reciting an older English version of “A-tish-oo, A-tish-oo” instead of “Ashes ashes.” I’m sticking with the original.
2. “Little Bunny Foo Foo”
In my house, Bunny Foo Foo will continue to “bop” field mice on the head after he runs through the forest. Others, for example The Wiggles, swap out “bopping” mice on the head and replace it with “tickling.” Eh, I’m okay with a bunny rabbit bopping some field mice on the head. I’m chalking it up to personal choice.
3. “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”
While many nursery rhymes have sinister and contested meaning, most agree that this one is about a tax instituted in 1275 and not about race. Nonetheless, there’s a big movement in Australia that sings “Baa, Baa Rainbow Sheep.” I’m not there yet.
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