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I first came across this paperback treasury of 'nursery rhymes, songs and games' many years ago when I was a young student training to be a Speech Therapist. [Speech and Language Therapist today] Our tutors informed us that this was a must-have tome and, being quite a compliant individual by nature, I soon bought a copy from the college bookshop. I've still got it, and later I bought the 'fully revised and updated edition', neither of which are the version illustrated! The newer one is dated 1991, the original 1969 - not the year I bought it! This is an indicator of the success of this little masterpiece. For the purposes of this review I shall concentrate on the 1991 edition, as it seems to me that there is little difference between it and the one illustrated, when using the Amazon 'Look Inside' facility.
This isn't so much a book to share directly with children as a resource for adults to dip into. The 1st page of the book states that Elizabeth Matterson was a tutor on an NNEB course, a playgroup course tutor and also taught on courses for childminders and parents. I smiled to myself on reading this again, as the terminology in the early years sector has changed so much since this was written. She had also been a playgroup leader and worked with children and families who had special needs. As I managed a preschool myself until recently, I feel I know where she is coming from. With that kind of background she would be well positioned to understand the value and importance of such rhymes, songs etc to young children's development.
~~ The Contents ~~
There is a six page introduction from Matterson where she puts up a robust argument for the value of using music and rhymes with young children. I like that she has stated mutual enjoyment as the first and foremost reason, as that's my view, too. She presents the other reasons convincingly, even if, again, the terminology seems a bit dated - it still makes a good read. While I would say that I feel it is primarily written for those professionals who work with small children, it's quite easy for parents, grandparents etc to use it. Matterson also explains the changes in this edition, the most significant of which seems to be the involvement of the musician Sue Whitham, whose 'brief was to provide just enough "user-friendly" music to enable anyone to learn the tune for a song, in a key that was comfortable for most adults and children to sing.' In my opinion many adults tend to pitch songs too low for the children, and having a suggested key is helpful if anyone can play keyboards or guitar. It's not a lot of help, though, if there is no-one who can do this; in my experience this is what often happens, but surely it's more important for children and adults to enjoy singing together than to worry overmuch about tunefulness etc. Nevertheless it's useful to have the melody lines with basic guitar chords for some of the songs, and I speak as a mediocre guitarist.
The book is divided into 16 chapters which serve as categories for the rhymes. It starts with the simplest, in 'Baby Games'. I like the way each chapter has its own subheadings, such as 'Hands, Feet & Faces; Tickly Rhymes; Peep-Bo Games; Knee and Shoulder Rides; Through The Day; Bedtime' for this chapter, which starts with the well-known 'This little pig went to market' and has the less familiar, to me at least, 'Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire.' I won't list the chapters, but they range from 'Nursery Rhymes and Variations' to 'Animals', 'Things We like to Eat' and 'Singing & Dancing'. I can't find a reference to the total number of songs & rhymes, and to be honest I wasn't really prepared to try to count them myself, but the index runs to 7 pages, one of which had 42 listed, to give you some idea. One nice touch is the inclusion of a number of blank pages at the end, after the lengthy acknowledgements, as 'A Space to Add Your Own Favourite Songs'. Songs like this tend to evolve in the true tradition of folk music, and I have often been introduced to new songs or variations on old ones by the children I work with - and some are quite adept at making up their own!
~~ Applications ~~
Concerns are frequently expressed about the abilities of young children to communicate effectively. It has been so as long as I can remember, but currently reports seem to indicate that increased use of technology, as well as children not only watching lots of TV but having sets in their own rooms, may be instrumental in creating a generation of children with very poor communication skills. If this is the case on school entry there is genuine concern that they may never really 'catch up'. There have been a string of initiatives, most recently Every Child A Talker [ECAT] which have sought to address these issues. 'This Little Puffin' equips anyone who works with young children - family members and professionals - to engage children in fun activities that promote communication skills. As Matterson states, these rhymes etc increase vocabulary, give children experience of repeated patterns and sequences of words and develop memory skills. If she were writing today she would probably have mentioned their importance in children's phonological development, as there is such an emphasis on this in educational circles today.
Equally important - and more so if you follow models such as Maslow's Hierarchy- is the potential impact of such activities on children's emotional and social development, i.e. the child who feels happy, secure etc is the one who is most empowered to learn. Many of us will have known individuals who stammered when speaking but were fluent when singing. Singing can also calm an upset child, help pass time on tedious journeys, create a happy, relaxed atmosphere, cross cultural and generational gaps and so on. I could go on, but to keep my discussion relevant to reviewing this book I will just say I feel it is an invaluable source to promote those experiences I have mentioned.
I said at the start that this isn't particularly aimed as a book to share with children, although you could do that. Where there are action or finger rhymes, directions for these are given alongside the text. Really, though, there are other books that are probably better for sharing, such as the Mother Goose compendiums or the works by Robert & Iona Opie, who have done a tremendous work in collating traditional rhymes, folklore etc. You could use it, though, in a situation where a child was interested in a specific thing like trains, for instance, and use that as an opportunity to enjoy a familiar rhyme/song or learn a new one together. You could use the seasonal chapter to learn new rhymes about Easter. There are many possibilities.
I have majored on applications in a one-to-one situation as this isn't the focus of the book's introduction so much as the group situation. I won't go into the latter in depth, other than to point out how helpful it can be for a young child to go into a group situation for the first time knowing lots of songs & rhymes; so much the better if families & workers share the child's 'repertoire' and use this information to settle and feel part of the group.
I have used This Little Puffin, in one form or another, while working with preschool-aged children for over twenty years. I still use it today. That's not to say I have used all the rhymes etc, because, as with any compendium like this, there are some I dislike and some which I just don't think would work with today's children - for instance, the party songs with their references to jelly paper hats etc. Most of the children I work with wouldn't recognise this kind of party. Another minor niggle is that occasionally I look for songs in one category and find them in another; some songs that I think are about animals are actually in the Farm chapter, and so on. That's a pretty minor gripe, though, and doesn't detract from the book's overall usefulness.
~~ Buying a Copy ~~
I see This Little Puffin is currently available from Amazon UK for the reduced price of £5.59 & it's eligible for free delivery. It's also possible to pick up copies for £0.01 - what a bargain - though I think this might be for the earliest edition. Through the 'Look Inside' facility you can view some of the Introduction, part of the Baby Games chapter, and the Index. It does give you a great idea of what the rest of the book is about.
Published by Puffin
ISBN 0-14-034048-3 [my 1991 copy]
Compiled by Elizabeth Matterson
Music Arrangements by Elizabeth Matterson and Sue Whitham
Illustrated by Claudio Muñoz
Diagrams by David Woodroffe.
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