Rhymes for our times

Tracey Park (left) and Lisa Houghton
Tracey Park (left) and Lisa Houghton
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In the nurseries, primary school classrooms, libraries and playgrounds of the Fylde time travellers are at play.

The games they play, the words they say, would not be out of place centuries ago.

Nursery rhymes, in particular, represent a seamless link with the past.

Reciting rhymes is a childhood rite of passage- and a form of folklore still honoured in our high tech age.

Older more traditional nursery rhymes are a hit with modern parents, according to a survey of 1,000 parents by Talking Tots, one of the UK’s fastest-growing toddler activity groups.

The company, which offers pre-school activity, was set up by Lytham based Tracey Park and Lisa Houghton, paediatric speech and language experts.

Both hope to help bridge the gap exposed by government research which revealed up to 50 per cent of children starting primary school do not have the communication skills to learn effectively.

Lisa adds: “Common problems include children not speaking clearly in sentences, struggling to follow directions, and being unable to take turns with other children.”

The pair reckon nursery rhymes could hold the key. Their survey showed parents shared rhymes with their children that they had been taught by their own parents - and those before.

Most preferred to read the rhymes from proper books - and many did the accompanying actions too. Think of Round and Round the Garden and you get the picture. That’s Lisa’s favourite rhyme. “It brings back memories of tickles from my dad.”

Tracey, co-founder of Talking Tots, adds: “Parents often don’t realise how important traditional nursery rhymes are.

“Sharing rhymes with children stimulates their memory, vocabulary, social and emotional skills, giving them a real head start in their language development.

“A great rhyme can boost your child’s imagination – you’ll be amazed at the conversations you can have about their favourite ones.

“My favourite’s Oranges and Lemons which reminds me of my early birthday parties when we played a game which ended in a tug of war to accompany the song.”

Their research revealed the top nursery rhymes are: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - created by sisters Ann and Jane Taylor and published in 1806; Incey Wincey Spider - first published 1948; Round and Round the Garden - first published 1948; Baa Baa Black Sheep - first published and Hickory Dickory Dock - both published 1744.

Parents can download the top three Action Finger Nursery Rhymes and free guide and enter a competition to win £200 of toys. For more details, see www.talkingtots.info which also gives details on local classes.

All of which would delight Iona and the late Peter Opie - whose works include the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. They feared telly would mean the end of traditional children’s play so started to record rhymes and games in the 1950s. By the 1980s they had 70,000 research papers and sound recordings of 20,000 children aged seven to 12 across Britain. How, for the first time, their work is to made available to the public as well as academics as a major digitised resource. Sheffield University is setting up the Childhoods and Play website to assist anyone interested in the history of children’s games, songs and nursery rhymes. A specialist team will digitise the old Opie collection over the next five years and also go on the road to research the history of play and childhood cultures. Blackpool’s likely to feature large in the new child’s play and culture map. Project director Professor Jackie Marsh is also appealing for any locals who may have been involved in the original Opie project to contact her at j.a.marsh@sheffield.ac.uk. Fellow team member Dr Julia Bishop says the archives offer a “time capsule which throws light on the everyday lives of British children in the late 1950s-80s” but also stresses: “Play is changing but not dying out. We hope that adults may be inspired to note their memories of playing out in childhood, and some of the rhymes and sayings they had.”

It’s yet another coup for the university which has loaned Blackpool its specialist National Fairground Archive custodian Professor Vanessa Toulmin to commemorate the resort at play in the form of books celebrating our major attractions. She also presents the annual early season opener Showzam burlesque festival, the next, in February, being her last.

Vanessa’s latest book Blackpool Illuminations: The Greatest Free Show on Earth (Boco, £25) includes an introduction by Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn who draws on his childhood visits from East Lancashire - and the fun his own three children have “walking through the Illuminations, visiting the Pleasure Beach, riding donkeys and going up Blackpool Tower ... just as I, my parents and my grandparents have done before.” It’s also telling that nursery rhymes were among the early Lights features.