Quiz: Just how good is your knowledge of nursery rhymes?

Always room for a cake photo. This by Sylvia Chan via Flickr.
This is a cake! Yum. Photo by Sylvia Chan via Flickr.

I thought it would finally be an element of parenthood that I could actually do – and do well. I like to sing (though others might not find quite as much pleasure in that as me) and even though it has been a good 30 years or so since I last needed a repertoire of nursery rhymes, I expected it to be like riding a bike.

It wasn’t.

The first time it became clear that my skills were sadly lacking was during a Bounce and Rhyme class at our local library when Freya was a few months old. It didn’t matter as much then because I could easily just mumble along and when it got to a bit I didn’t know pretend the baby needed attention. However, now that she is off rampaging with the rest of the toddler army while the adults sit (or sometimes mix it up by marching on the spot) and sing, it is much clearer that I. Don’t. Know. The. Words.

In fact, half the time I don’t even know the songs. Who is this mysterious Tommy Thumb (is he Tom Thumb before he shortened his name so he could be one of the cool kids?) and why are we trying to wake up sleeping bunnies – surely they are just like sleeping babies with a big DO NOT DISTURB cordon around them? Also, does anyone else find a turtle with a bar of soap stuck in his throat a bit disturbing (where is the line about calling the vet)?

Aside from the ones I simply don’t know, there are also the ones I have a vague recollection of – which is possibly even worse. I Hear Thunder had a mysterious line of French in it until I realised it was the same tune as Frere Jacques but then Frere Jacques seemed to have “soggy semolina, soggy semolina” as one of its lines.

I thought I had done really well with One, Two Buckle My Shoe. It went like this:

One, two buckle my shoe.

Three, four knock on the door.

Five, six stack up the bricks.

Seven, eight set them out straight.

Nine, 10 a big noisy hen.

13, 14 maids are cavorting.

15, 16 elves are stitching.

17, 18 ladies are skating.

19, 20 my plate is empty.

I missed out 11 and 12 entirely, which bodes well for future maths homework. While I tried to tell myself that everyone else was wrong, in the end I had to concede that it probably was me.

After a particularly embarrassing incident at baby massage where I continued singing when everyone else had stopped, I thought I had better make the effort to actually learn the words.

And it has been something of an education. I thought nursery rhymes were just about getting children to learn their ABCs, numbers or GO TO SLEEP but many, and maybe you already knew this, reflect actual historical events. It was also used: “as a seemingly innocent vehicle to quickly spread subversive messages”.

Photo by Sylvia Chan via Flickr.
More cake! Photo by Sylvia Chan via Flickr.

Baa Baa Black Sheep (one I thought I did know), which dates from 1731, is said to be either about Medieval English taxes on wool or the slave trade. The words haven’t changed much across the centuries, although they have come under scrutiny recently and “black” is sometimes changed to “rainbow” or “little” these days.

Then there is Ring a Ring ‘o Roses (which I always sang as rosies). There is some debate about whether this is about the Great Plague of 1665 or whether it was sung long before that. Posies of herbs were apparently carried to ward of the smell of disease, according to the Wiki link, and “we all fall down” is said to be about collapsing and dying. Nice! (I used to love dancing in a circle to this happy tune in the playground. Little did I know that when I “atchoood” I was probably transferring Black Death to the child opposite).

While we are on a darker note, whatever you do don’t read about Jack and Jill unless you want this rhyme ruined forever.

Anyway, there I was with all this new found knowledge but with nothing to do with it so I thought: “I know, I’ll make up a little quiz”.

So, how well do you know your nursery rhymes? There isn’t a prize, other than a great feeling when you get them all right.

1. How many fiddlers did merry Old King Cole have?
2. What should you be doing in 11, 12 of One, Two Buckle My Shoe?
3. What do speckled frogs munch on? (yum yum).
4. Finish this line…Your tail goes swish….
5. Whose garden were the pretty maids growing in?
6. Where should you put your hands once you have finally Wound The Bobbin?
7. What is the third thing the old lady swallows?
8. What was the name of the turtle who ate the bar of soap?
9. What is the third line of Frere Jacques?
10. Finish this line… You owe me five farthings….

I’ll post the answers in the comments.

Do you struggle with remembering nursery rhymes? Or do you sing the naughty versions you learnt at school? Please join in below.

Also, if you get a moment, please like After The Rain on Facebook – it’s a bit lonely at the moment.

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18 thoughts on “Quiz: Just how good is your knowledge of nursery rhymes?

  1. The answers….

    1. Three.

    2. Dig and delve.

    3. Grubs.

    4. …and the wheels go round. (Horsey Horsey)

    5. Mary.

    6. On your knee.

    7. Birds.

    8. Tiny Tim.

    9. Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!

    10. Said the bells of St Martins.

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  2. Oh my word I totally suck at this too lol. But to be fair it doesn’t help that they are constantly changing the nursery rhymes on us. Hell did you know, that you now have to go off to story land to fetch a pale off glue to stick humpty dumpty back together again so that he’s now as good as new!

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    1. Wait, what? Oh my goodness, I’ve never heard that. I suppose it’s nice that he gets stuck back together but I’m not sure it fits in with the original meaning of the rhyme. Hope you’re having a good day. Thanks, as ever, for taking the time to comment, much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am unfortunately firmly with you in the ‘making words up’ camp. My little one’s only 4 months so I’ve got some time before she starts correcting me. The best to totally invent is ‘hush little baby don’t you cry’ (that’s not even the first line I discovered – it’s ‘hush little baby don’t say a word’). Thanks for the entertaining post on a wet Tuesday. Also reminded me that I need to broaden my repertoire!

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  4. If you think being befuddled about nursery rhymes and being put on the spot leading music time at the local Mother’s /toddler playgroup is a challenge, just wait till you get so brainwashed by Thomas the Tank Engine, or Babar, or Shaun the Sheep that you start questioning the Plot lines!! It happens!! You have got a lot to look forward to. ( I have to confess to writing down some rhymes in the beginning of my child’s first year, just so that I would sing them better!!!) LOL! Even now, the umpteen different verses of the Wheels on the bus go round and round is playing in my head! And don’t get me started about Snow white and the Six Dw… no… Little Men. Dw…rv..s is not allowed now.

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    1. Do they have In The Night Garden in Australia? That’s about the only thing she actually watches (although the TV is on at other times) and every episode I find myself thinking…”What?!” My husband and I have had discussions about the meaning behind certain bits of it.

      I have also written a few of the nursery rhymes down – it’s worse than school exams! Thanks for commenting 🙂

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      1. They may have, as we have many BBC shows here, but I can’t say that I have seen it. Mind you, I rather prefer a computer screen to a TV screen these days. If I notice that show on the TV I will have a look at it. What is the confusing part of it, for you?

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    1. Hehe, thank you. I just wonder how there are so many new ones? How do you write a nursery rhyme and then get people to sing it? Or maybe I’ve just forgotten them all with age? 🙂

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    1. I think they might just struggle on without it 😀 Although you be the judge, I give you…Tiny Tim 🙂

      I had a little Turtle,
      His name was Tiny Tim.
      I put him in the bathtub,
      To see if he could swim.

      He drank up all the water
      And ate a bar of soap.
      And now he’s in his bed,
      With bubbles in his throat.

      Bubble, Bubble, Bubble,
      Bubble, Bubble, Bubble,
      Bubble, Bubble, Bubble
      Bubble, POP!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, much appreciated.

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      1. Tiny Tim’s been modernised for the potentially fratricidal child, then. The version I learned was

        I had a little brother, his name was Tiny Tim
        I put him in the bathtub to teach him how to swim
        He drank up all the water and ate up all the soap
        And then he went to bed with bubbles in his throat

        Mother called the doctor, Doctor called the nurse
        The nurse called the lady with the alligator purse.
        “Dead,” said the doctor, “Dead” said the nurse,
        “Dead” said the lady with the alligator purse.

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      2. Hah! Yeah, no, still not one of my favourites. Also, you have taught me a new word. I’m not sure I will be able to use fratricidal in a sentence today (apart from this one) though 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

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  5. Nursery rhymes – wow – only got half of them!
    In the ‘One, two buckle my shoe’ rhyme I always sing ‘five, six pick up sticks’. Still, the origins and meanings behind some of them are scary; I used to sing my kids rock-a-bye-baby, but quickly changed the words, after I actually listened to what I was singing, to ‘when the bough breaks, the cradle will soar, then down will land baby, cradle and all’… glad they were still at the loving the ‘sound of your voice’ stage; when they were older, and knew the proper words, they thought it was fun (or funny) I sung it differently. There are lots of rhymes that have weird and unwonderful meanings, but as kids don’t always see the same meanings in things, as we do, sometimes that’s a good thing 🙂

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