Educator writes the book on teaching with rhymes

By AMANDA CUDA, Staff writer, CT Post

BRIDGEPORT — “ Rock­a- bye baby, in the treetop, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock...”

As Joyce Gerber sang the words to that familiar nurs­ery rhyme, she gently rocked an imaginary baby in her arms. Tentatively, the group of nearly a dozen preschool- aged children gathered in a classroom at Housatonic Community College’s Early Childhood Laboratory School began to follow suit.

When they were done singing the song, Gerber had them do it again. But this time, she had the chil­dren pair up. Gerber told them to sit, legs out­stretched, feet touching, and hold hands. The kids then rocked back and forth while singing the soothing nursery rhyme.

Then, Gerber decided to read the kids a new nursery rhyme. But the tykes still had the previous tune caught in their heads, and some continued humming “ Rock- a- Bye Baby” after Gerber had moved on. “ You really liked that ‘ Rock- a­Bye Baby,’” she mused.

Gerber wasn’t surprised that the children responded so strongly to the simple tune. The longtime educa­tor and Connecticut native is the author of the soon- to­be- released book “ Teaching with Heart: Educational Ac­tivities for Teachers & Par­ents using Traditional Nursery Rhymes.”

The book contains a number of beloved nursery rhymes, including “ Rock- a­Bye Baby,” along with vivid, colorful illustrations by Gerber’s friend Caroline Lygo and a bevy of hands­on activities centered on the rhymes.

Gerber, a retired profes­sor and coordinator of early childhood education at Hou­satonic, has more than 30 years of teaching experi­ence. “ Teaching with Heart” is her first book, and she wrote it with the intent of helping parents and teach­ers encourage child devel­opment through the use of nursery rhymes, which she sees as a valuable educa­tional tool. “ I always felt nursery rhymes were important,” Gerber said. “ They’re done with very simplistic lan­guage. They have a meter to them. They give chil­dren an understanding of language.”

Though she now lives in Maryland, Gerber travels to Connecticut frequently to work as an education con­sultant at area schools. That includes occasional stops by her former place of em­ployment, Housatonic. On Tuesday she was at the Lab­oratory School to read to the children and do some of the activities from her book. The school is part of HCC’s Early Childhood Education Program, and is a fully functional preschool for the children of students, facul­ty, staff and community members.

The classroom where Gerber read was helmed by teacher Yotisse Williams, a former pupil of Gerber’s. Williams agreed with Ger­ber that nursery rhymes are useful for teachers, par­ticularly those working with young children who are still developing their language skills. “ There’s a predictable pattern of words,” he said, of the rhymes.

That pattern makes the ditties easy for the kids to learn and understand. Gerber said that learning is enhanced when children can act out the rhymes, as they did when “ rocking” that imaginary baby.

But nursery rhymes can be used to teach chil­dren a lot more than lan­guage. If used correctly, they can also encourage critical thinking, social­ization and physical de­velopment. In the book, each rhyme is accompa­nied by activities that focus on these different areas of learning. For in­stance, when Gerber had the children at Housatonic rock back and forth while s i n g i n g “ Ro c k - a - B ye Baby,” she was helping them hone motor skills through simple move ­ments.

Of course, the kids at Housatonic’s Laboratory School didn’t know that. They were just having fun playing and reciting the rhymes. Along with “ Rock­a- bye,” Gerber also read the children “ This Little Piggy,” and “ Little Jack Horner.”

When she was done, she left a copy of the book be­hind for the class. Wil­liams said he enjoyed the reading and liked the ways that the activities in the book can be used to en­courage different areas of learning. “ There’s a lot of possibilities there,” Wil­liams said.

“ Teaching with Heart” is scheduled to be released next week. To order a copy, or for more information, visit www.teachingwith­heart.

net.

Nursery rhymes can be used to teach children a lot more than language. If used correctly, they can also encourage critical thinking, socialization and physical development.