Nursery rhymes are invaluable poetic texts that parents can use to communicate with six to seven months old fetuses up to the moment of birth. Research has shown that the ear of the fetus is by then well-developed. Here is the testimony of a father:
Amazing! I spoke often into my wife’s stomach directly to our baby nearly everyday of our pregnancy. Well at birth the doctors quickly move the baby to a close by station to clean them up, slather meds on their eyes, tag them with an anklet and give them a shot. To which our tiny baby started screaming his head off. So I was standing nearby and moved closer and started to speak to him like I did everyday and he immediately hushed the crying and turned his head to see where that familiar voice was coming from. Everyone in the room noticed this and marvelled. (http://liveactionnews.org/shocking-intrauterine-contents-can-recall-words-heard-utero-birth/)
Parents can use this fast-developing competency to enhance language skills of intrauterine babies. Read and sing nursery rhymes to them. This should continue after birth. The baby’s sense of rhyme and rhythm will grow very fast. Tongue twisters and nonsense poetry are recommended.
Take this example of a tongue twister:
Betty Botter bought some butter,
But, she said, the butter’s bitter;
If I put it in my batter
It will make my batter bitter,
But a bit of better butter
Will make my batter better…
The yet unborn baby enjoys the rhyme, rhythm, alliteration and assonance of the text. At this stage, meaning is of no importance. Prosody is fundamental. Nonsense poetry carries a similar weight.
Hey diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
We may also sing to the yet unborn baby:
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wander what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
This kind of preliteracy work should continue after birth and as the child grows parents should read to them more complex texts such as:
Thirty days has September,
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Except February alone,
Which has four and twenty-four,
And every fourth, one day more.
There are also scores of riddles like:
Little bird of paradise,
She works her work both neat and nice;
She pleases God, she pleases man,
And does the work that no man can.
Answer: the honeybee.
Or knee songs:
This is the way the ladies ride,
Nimble, nimble, nimble, nimble;
This is the way the gentlemen ride,
A gallop, a trot, a gallop, a trot;
This is the way the farmers ride,
Jiggety jog, jiggetty jog.
In the ‘Oxford Dictionary of’ there are 550 in all. Enough material for parents, preprimary and lower primary teachers.
You would be right to say that this invaluable material will benefit less than 40% of children who come from middle class educated backgrounds. What about the rest? Over 60%?
The good news is that a Morisien version of the 550 nursery rhymes now exists. Soft copies can be downloaded free of charge from www.boukiebanane.orange.mu (click DILO DIBOUT); Volumes 1 and 2 (book version)are also available in bookshops.
The bad news is that parents and teachers must learn to read Morisien.
* Published in print edition on 15 January 2016