“All pedagogical art is bad art, but all good art is pedagogical,” said Swedish writer Lennart Hellsing in a lecture on Scandinavian children’s literature. I had been pondering this statement when I heard two more stories that gave me a new way of thinking about this.
Dr. David Agus, the author of The End of Illness gave a talk on NPR in which he pointed out that our human bodies love regularity so much that when we don’t follow a schedule, be it for meals, exercise, or sleep our stress hormones soar and we become susceptible to illness. Even more striking is the effect of a regular schedule on cognition. In a study of 600 children, half were put to bed at a set time every night and the other half were allowed to go to bed whenever they pleased. Almost at once, cognitive function went up 31% in the group that had a regular, fixed bedtime. Now that puts a new spin on those bedtime rituals.
Then I listened to 40,000 of my fellow Norwegians who took to the streets to sing in order to express their feelings in the face of the utter lack of emotion and regret from mass killer Anders Behring Breivik. What a great response, to burst into song rather than erupt into anger. I hummed along, singing the refrain over and over again. And I thought about the power of song with its rhythm, rhyme and refrain, its patterns that are so regular and so soothing. And I thought how the best thing in the world, is for children is to be tucked into a lap or into a circle to sing folksongs, chant nursery rhymes or listen to nursery tales. These poems, songs and stories are marked by strong patterns, rhythm and rhyme, elements that not only lower stress hormones, they actually help improve cognition. No wonder children always want to hear “one more.” And perhaps, if they hear enough of these they just might burst into song rather than rage when confronted with difficulty.
Hand Rhymes by Marc Brown
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag.
The Three Bears, The Little Red Hen, The Gingerbread Boy, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Three Little Kittens, The Three Little Pigs have all been reissued with Paul Galdone’s lovely illustrations so that a new generation of children can enjoy them.