Francine C. Coss
Early American verse is a highly neglected form of expression in the primary grades, especially in Kindergarten. The opportunities for exposure to Early American verse are very often overlooked or replaced by other curriculum-required poetry. Most Kindergarten students are steered toward less meaningful forms of rhyme, such as nursery rhymes and fingerplays. The sing-song, meaningless rhymes of today’s Kindergarten curriculum reflect the fear of teaching topics that seem doctrinaire to diversity-minded planners of curricula The religion-fortified rhymes of old have been currently replaced with fluff-filled fingerplays. This could be due to the shift from in-school religion to the taboo on religion in the classroom. However, it could also be due to the lack of personal understanding and comprehension of such verse among classroom teachers. Due to the religion taboo, many teachers shy away from poems not found in the Language Arts or Social Development curriculum. The fear of controversy prevents the classroom teacher from experimenting with a non-curriculum based topic. Sticking to the planned and segmented curriculum areas becomes the teacher’s only guarantee of parental happiness. Expected, however, to carry through a Social Development and a Language Arts curriculum in the classroom, I find it appropriate to fill the void of Early American verse for Kindergartners and for Kindergarten level teachers by offering a morality-based, alphabet rhyme of old as a contribution to issues in Social Development and to concepts in Language Arts. I plan to increase awareness of the education and lifestyles of Early American life. I also expect to encourage the study of the Early American verse as a resource for reinforcing proper social and moral behavior by exposing other teachers and students to the characters and virtuous personalities found in a typical Early American alphabet rhyme.
Kindergarten and the primary grades encourage the use of hands-on activities in the classroom curriculum. Early American verse yearns for the opportunity to relate its topics in a hands-on fashion. The morality-based rhymes of old were created to commit topics to memory as well as to pass the time during particularly tedious chores (i.e., churning cream to butter and carding wool for spinning to thread). Planning and structuring a full-bodied, hands-on curriculum unit for the study of Early American school-rhymes in grade K is meant to do the same. To this end,
Verse and Virtue through an Early American Alphabet Rhyme
will provide the necessary research and comfort level of knowledge to pursue the study of Early American verse in the classroom.
Placing a strong emphasis on Phonics-based activities, this unit will be used in conjunction with the regular social development strategies taught throughout the school year. The unit’s objectives will be implemented through integration with phonics methods used in the present Kindergarten Language Arts curriculum. Beginning in early September, students will review the well known ABC Song (See Figure A). An alphabet book will be made containing only the letters of the alphabet and the rhyming phrase at the end of the ABC Song (See Appendix A). Once the introduction to the entire alphabet is complete, one letter of the alphabet, beginning with A, will be taught each week. All aspects of each letter will be taught (i.e., sound, symbol, usage) and objects beginning with the letter under study will be emphasized The meaningless symbols, or letters, in the alphabet book will be reviewed as each new letter is introduced. Future recitations of the ABC Song will also be used as a rote method of review. To enhance the traditional phonics strategies, an Early American alphabet rhyme will be read (See Appendix B) and a coloring book containing illustrations for the Early American alphabet rhyme1 will be used for reinforcement and hands-on activities. A comparison of the two alphabet books will allow the students to determine the similarities and differences between the two rhymes. The original ABC Song book, with its letter symbols and nonsense rhymes, will become a stepping stone to hands-on phonics activities. New terminology and vocabulary found in the Early American alphabet rhyme book will be defined with the introduction of each new letter of the alphabet. Historic references found in each stanza will be discussed and related to modern, familiar terms. Each letter-story, or stanza, within the Early American alphabet rhyme will be mimed by the students for further understanding. Occupations and behaviors mentioned in the Early American alphabet rhyme will be illustrated through active participation and present-day examples. The rote method of learning the symbol and sound for each letter of the alphabet will be supplemented with a fullbodied, hands-on approach of virtue-teaching verse. Each child will embrace each letter sound and symbol through the characters and personalities defined in the Early American alphabet rhyme. Alas, the alphabet rhyme satisfies the necessary Language Arts and Social Development curriculum simultaneously.
A, B. C, D, E, F. G...
H. I, J. K-
L, M, N. O. P...
T, U. V-
W, X, Y and Z.
Now I know my ABCs, next time won’t you sing with me?1
After twenty-six weeks of study, each letter-story in the Early American alphabet rhyme will be familiar and almost common knowledge to the students. With the historic background filled in for each letter-story of the poem, an insight about Early American life will come to fruition in mid-April. As a method of phonetic review and unit closure, a tour of the Pardee-Morris House will be planned to provide concrete examples of life in Early America, especially in New Haven. As each character in the rhyme is mentioned during the tour, the students will remember not only the personality traits of the historic character but the letter symbol and sound that begins their name. A guest speaker on Colonial times from the New Haven Colony Historical Society will also be scheduled to supply a strong foundation and historical review in preparation for the Pardee-Morris House tour.
The Nineteenth Century Schoolhouse program offered by the New Haven Colony Historical Society will be used as a precursor for the culminating activity of the unit: A visit to the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse in New London, Connecticut. Poems and verse relating directly to school life and childhood chores will be explored following the eight month unit on Early American life. Rhymes regarding school work, getting to school on time and expectations for boys and for girls in Early America will enhance the foundation laid by the study of the Early American alphabet rhyme.
The unit will end with the completion of the two alphabet rhymes. A review of all Early American life topics and concepts will occur through participation in a schoolwide Poetry Fair. The students will be assigned to miscellaneous projects which revolve around the various occupations and behaviors mentioned in the Early American alphabet rhyme. Some students will recite moral-based rhymes revealing modes of behavior which will be dramatized by other students. Still other students will complete actual household chores, such as churning butter while singing a butter song or stitching a sampler while reciting an alphabet rhyme.
The Early American verse void will disappear as other students notice the newfound knowledge displayed by Kindergarten students in their own school. Other teachers will become more interested in studying Early American verse topics with their own classes when they witness the enthusiasm shown by my Kindergarten students. Primary (and possibly even secondary) teachers will no longer opt to avoid Early American Verse; they will encourage its use and feel at ease teaching Early American verse in their classrooms. The separation of Social Development as a school subject will dissolve as it is successfully integrated with the unrelated subject area of Phonics. The creativity-stifling, rote methods of learning letter sounds and symbols will be incorporated into the foundation for the hands-on exploration highlighted through the use of an Early American alphabet rhyme. Verse and virtue will again go hand-in-hand in school curriculum, and the meaningless, fluff-filled rhymes will be viewed as inadequate for promoting proper social development.
1-. The ABC Coloring Book. Scotia, New York: Americana Review,(Reproduced from The Picture Alphabet Book of 1830) 1963.
(figures available in print form)