Letters Teacher Guide to Nursery Rhymes

When you are a child playing in the yard you don't think about what the words mean behind some of the well know Nursery Rhymes.

You are just interested in holding hands and turning wildly in a circle while screaming out, "Ring around the rosy, A pocketful of posies, 'Ashes, Ashes,' We all fall down!" I think this Nursery Rhyme has one of the most interesting histories, although it is a bit morbid.

Ring around the Rosy

This well known Nursery Rhyme is English in origin. The meaning of 'Ring around the rosy' comes from the rosy red rash that would show up in the shape of a ring on someone's skin during the time of the Bubonic Plague. With the death rate for the "Black Death" at over 60%, seeing this ring on someone was not a good thing.

The Bubonic Plague hit London in 1665. Many people at the time thought they were getting the disease from the bad smells, so they started carrying little pouches of sweet-smelling flowers or herbs in their pockets. These little pouches are called posies. Hence, 'pocket full of posies.' Eventually, people discovered that the bubonic plague was actually transmitted by rats, not the smell.

When someone died of bubonic plague, they were cremated. People hoped that cremating them would stop the disease from spreading. 'Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down,' refers to burning the bodies and turning them to ashes. The disease was stopped when London basically burned to the ground in the year 1666. The fire destroyed almost all of the rats.

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

A well known Nursery Rhyme that is believed to have originated in the United States. During many periods of American history there have been immigrants. German immigrants came to the US in very large numbers. Schmidt is a German name, as is the end of Jingle-heimer. Heimer was a popular German surname suffix. Even though Jingleheimer isn't a German word or real last name, it was probably put in the song to make fun of, or mock how long German last names could be.

This type of Nursery Rhyme is sometimes called a "Bus Song." Can you guess why? When was the last time you sang, 'John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, His name is my name too. Whenever we go out, The people always shout, There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. Dah dah dah dah, dah dah dah.'

Humpty Dumpty

One of the most well know nursery rhymes, you might be surprised to find out the meaning of this one. Humpty Dumpty was a large cannon that was used in England during a Civil War that took place between 1642 and 1649. This Humpty Dumpty cannon sat on the wall that was right next to a church and in 1648 this church and Humpty Dumpty the cannon was blown to smithereens. That is the meaning behind his great fall. English soldiers that were called Royalists because they served the King, 'all the kings men,' and rode horses, 'all the kings horses,' couldn't put the cannon back together enough or get it back up on the wall. So,

'Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King's horses, And all the King's men, Couldn't put Humpty together again!'

And that's the meaning behind three of the most well known nursery rhymes.

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