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Mother Goose Builds Babies’ Brains

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“Tick-tock, tick-tock, I’m a little cuckoo clock…”  Babies just a few months old are sitting on the lap of a mother, father or grandparent, while the adult gently tilts them from side to side.  “Now it’s striking three o’clock, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo,” loving arms raise the babies three times in the air.  Toddlers sometimes speak along with parents in a cadence, or they create their own unique movements to the rhyme.  Everyone is sitting casually in a circle upon the floor, following a volunteer leader through an hour of songs, rhymes and silliness.  It looks like play time.  Sometimes the group plays with colorful balls, parachutes or other toys.  Sometimes they play outdoors in a park setting.  At the center of this particular Mother Goose group is mom Lori Murphree, whose easy presence doesn’t always reveal the serious work that’s happening verse by verse.

Lori Murphree and Kim Yount leading group

“Research shows that reading and rhyming go together,” explains Murphree.  “Children who understand rhyming have an easier time understanding word families.  And children who appreciate the rhythm of language — through activities like bouncing, clapping, tapping, and walking to the words of a rhyme — are better writers.”  So tiptoeing like a mouse, or tapping on a drum, or listening to a new song while learning the motions are all ways that preschoolers can learn volumes, long before they start reading books independently.

No baby is too young to learn through these activities with a parent, grandparent or other caregiver.  “Children involved in Mother Goose are learning many things as the language pathways in their brains are becoming stronger and stronger, ” shares Murphree.  A blessed confluence of her journalism background, stint as a preschool teacher and years of volunteering with her children’s school and scout groups uniquely qualifies her to work with children and families.  She was a Family Support Worker who visited at-risk families at home during the years her local community in Anderson County, Tennessee could find funding for such a program.  That funding has dried up.  Yet, for the past five years Murphee and another mom, Tammy Calloway, have organized and trained other volunteers to continue the Mother Goose classes at no charge to families.  A local church now donates meeting space and overhead expenses.

Each group activity has a particular purpose that relates to a child’s early development.  Murphree explains in detail, “They’re learning to regulate their emotions as they move from gentle activities like our touch rhymes to more exciting ones like our circle games and then calm down again for a fingerplay or story song. Their listening skills are sharpened by hearing the tick-tock, click-clack, jingle, boom and tapping of our musical instruments and as they learn to follow directions in our dancing and singing games. They learn patience and cooperation through the parachute games and by helping to clean up and put away things in the class. They’re also developing fine motor skills by using their hands and fingers purposefully to play instruments and do the motions to rhymes and songs. And gross motor skills are enhanced as they tiptoe, stomp, wave a ribbon wand or pat the floor to the rhythm of a rhyme.”
Lori Murphree
Parents benefit from the positive atmosphere and social interaction as much as the children do. Parents learn skills to try at home with their babies, and they can connect with other parents. Murphree says, “Many parents have ‘made my day’ by telling me that their children like to ‘play’ Mother Goose away from class.” Parents can create their own notebooks filled with the simple rhymes find even more resources online.  You can go to the website for Mother Goose in Canada, where the program began.  Here’s a video link to Canadian co-founder Salley Jaeger leading a group.  Here’s a place to check out musician Kathey Reid-Naiman’s works that have often been used with Mother Goose.  Murphree recommends author Mem Fox’s book, Reading Magic, as inspiration for using language play with young children.

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