8 Aug 2011

Folksongs in the nursery

Children love to indulge in cries and shouts and view-halloos, and this 'rude' and 'noisy' play, with which their elders have not much patience, is no more than Nature's way of providing for the due exercise of organs, upon whose working power the health and happiness of the child's future largely depend. People talk of 'weak lungs,' 'weak chest,' 'weak throat,' but perhaps it does not occur to everybody that strong lungs and strong throat are commonly to be had on the same terms as a strong arm or wrist - by exercise, training, use, work. Still, if the children can 'give voice' musically, and more rhythmically to the sound of their own voices, so much the better.

Charlotte Mason Home Education pp81-82
We CM homeschoolers take ourselves so seriously, don't we? Nothing but the best living books for our children. Only classical musicians. Andy Warhol? Wash your mouth out!! Our CM children recite serious poetry; practice serious musical instruments; sing serious folksongs. We are the purists.

We are a driven lot. Our children never watch television. All their meals are home cooked. Their vegetables come fresh from our own kitchen gardens. They never read a comic or worse, a 'graphic novel'. Oh no, it might be abridged.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do it to our children?

I don't think Charlotte Mason herself was like this. Not really. Sure, Miss Mason advocated only the best. If children are 'born persons', then they deserve to be served from a rich smorgasbord of the best we can find. But what is the best? Can't we have the best modern art? The best cartoons? The best manga? The best children's books? The best graphic novels? The best films? The best rock music? Is it only the best if it comes from Miss Mason's time?

When it comes to singing, Charlotte Mason says very little in her six volume series, and yet we know that the children using her method learned folksongs both in English and in the foreign languages they were studying. Since she says so little we don't really know much about why.

In the quote above, however we can find one reason. Miss Mason reckoned that since children were going to 'cry and shout and view-halloo' anyhow then it might as well be musical.

Okay. Pretty simple and down-to-earth advice, that - let them sing to exercise their lungs and throat. It's as easy as that. There is nothing much here about teaching them classy classical folksongs that are edifying to their hearts, minds and souls. She says singing is better than loud over-exuberant shouts of joy. That's all.

Okay then, so what should we sing?
In this respect French children are better off than English; they dance and sing through a hundred roundelays - just such games, no doubt, mimic marryings and buryings, as the children played at long ago in the market place of Jerusalem.

Before Puritan innovations made us a staid and circumspect people, English lads and lasses of all ages danced out little dramas on the village green, accompanying themselves with the words and airs of just such rondes as the French children sing to-day. We have a few of them left still - to be heard at Sunday-school treats and other gatherings of the children, - and they are well worth preserving: 'There came three dukes a-riding, a-riding, a-riding': 'Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement's'; 'Here we come gathering nuts in May'; 'What has my poor prisoner done?' and many more, all set to delightful sing-song airs that little feet trip to merrily, the more so for the pleasant titillation of the words - dukes, nuts, oranges, - who could not go to the tune of such ideas?
So what we learn here is that Miss Mason advocated the use of playground singing games - Oranges and Lemons, London Bridge, Ring a Ring o' Roses. These are not terribly classy songs, now girls, are they? These are not high class folksongs. They are not terribly educational either. Miss Mason goes on to say something about that too - unsurprisingly:
The promoters of the kindergarten system have done much to introduce games of this, or rather of a more educational kind; but is it not a fact that the singing games of the kindergarten are apt to be somewhat inane? Also, it is doubtful how far the prettiest plays, learnt at school and from a teacher, will take hold of the children as do the games which have been passed on from hand to hand through an endless chain of children, and are not be found in the print-books at all.
Now you're welcome to disagree with me, but what I see in this paragraph is Miss Mason warning us against trying to 'educate' our children with folksongs! She says that the songs that will seize their imaginations are the traditional little tunes that have been past down through the generations ever changing as they go. Which is why in this online book, published in 1894, incidentally, you find variation after variation of the same song. As children keep singing them they keep changing. That's the way with folksongs. The good ones never stay the same for long.

Miss Mason's first volume is about the raising and educating of young children up to nine. I am going to advocate, then, that folksongs for this age group should be just as she recommends - playground singing games. Do your children know the words and actions of more than a few of these simple little songs? Do they know the ones Miss Mason quotes above? Do they go Round and Round the Mulberry Bush? Spell B-I-N-G-O? Pop the weasel? Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross? Do they know Three Little Ships (come sailing by)? A-Tisket A-Tasket? Do they go Round and Round the Village and Skip to my Lou? Do they sing Green Grass? Farmer in the Dell (hey-ho-the-derry-oh!)? My name is Queen Mary? Oh Dear What can the Matter Be? Do they Know the Muffin Man?

If they don't, then why not chose the best of them to teach to your children? Look the lyrics up on line and learn the actions. While you're at it, teach them some clapping games and some for skipping to as well. Encourage them to sing exuberantly, to exercise their throats and their lungs as well as their arms and legs. These songs of the playground have survived until today because children love them. Miss Mason did too.

There's time enough for serious stuff when they're older.

As a final thought, French children are still better off than the English when it comes to these playground singing games, even in 2011. But I'll save that for this evening's post. Right now I'm off to buy something suitably 'Home alone-ish' for my lunch.


  1. So am I off the hook then with the folk songs? :) I thought I was failing Rebekah dismally by not teaching her any but alas after reading your post I feel much better:) She knows and sings and dances to most of these songs, phew! :)

  2. My kids know a few, but I should do more, I simply forget because like you said we are focussing on the read alouds and all the other CM subjects! Thanks for the reminder!

  3. We are exercising our throats and lungs and making a joyful noise here!

  4. Oh joy! It posted straight up! Perhaps I am cured?

  5. I think here in the USA "Charlotte Mason" has come to mean reading only books published before about 1900 so there is nothing that contradicts the parents "worldview." To me this is very sad. I do not for one minute believed (based on MY reading of the Charlotte Mason series) that living books were only produced in her lifetime or before. Nor do I believe she would have said "no" to ANY and EVERY contemporary book. I think TV "done right" can add a tremendous amount to a child's education. That doesn't just mean watching a Shakepeare play (although that's a darned good thing to do!)There isn't much good in children's tv, but there ARE a lot of movies (Miss Potter comes to mind) that are great! And what about Nature shows? History? Etc. And, I don't think anyone died from watching a few kid shows on Saturday morning so Mom and Dad can sleep in. I vote for moderation--same with computer time, video games and team sports. Just don't over do it!

    I'm done with my sermon now. You can resume your quiet alone time, now. Thank you! lol.......

  6. I am very grateful that the Wiggles have made two videos that include many of these playground songs. My view is that they have made a priceless cultural contribution! As adults we quickly forget how much children love these songs, though they seem old-fashioned to us.

  7. OoOhoh... I wanna be in the CM elite club?! But I don't think I'll ever fit the mold!!

    We CM homeschoolers take ourselves so seriously, don't we?
    UhOh. I am almost never serious... just wait 'til we meet in person someday, you'll really see how non-elite I am!! ;)

    Our CM children recite serious poetry; practice serious musical instruments; sing serious folksongs. We are the purists.

    Well, I'm seriously lacking here, because my kids' recitations go something along these lines: "Is there anything to say about the cockroach that is kind?" ;)

    Our children never watch television.
    ooh... do movies count?

    All their meals are home cooked.
    whoops. this comes by default only because I do not have access to canned goods! That and we only have about 3 options for eating out and absolutely NO fast food. I honestly think I'd rarely cook if that were possible! There are WAY more interesting things to do!!

    Their vegetables come fresh from our own kitchen gardens.
    seriously?! shoot!

    They never read a comic or worse, a 'graphic novel'.
    uh... I'm not telling 'bout this one...[nervous laughter]

    I absolutely agree Jeanne, we can have LOTS of fun dishing out the best in life without being persnickety about it! ;)

    amy in peru

  8. I also smiled at your description of us serious CM parents! I am grateful that I am not a purist and that I can keep adding more CM ways to our approach. Your reminder of these songs is lovely!


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