Why DO songs rhyme?

Imagination is a powerful tool
It’s super awesome and really cool
Kids use it all the time
Hey, why do songs rhyme?

This song was composed by my 8 year old son and his friend when they were playing at our house the other day: they came up with it together, rehearsed and then performed it for me. (They cracked themselves up with their punchline.)

In the Infinite Learning module lecture, Stephens quotes Thomas and Brown that “Where imaginations play, learning happens” (Stephens, 2014). Learning based on play can allow more real learning than the rote learning that is what we think of as “real”—that is, formal learning. I’ve always liked most formal learning (geometry being a major exception, shudder), but the learning that sticks with you the most is what happens in the teachable moment, when fully engaged in a way that play facilitates.

In the guest lecture, Peter Morville talks about the need for education to address not just the WHAT but the WHY (Morville, 2013). Why would you want to calculate the area of a circle? (I don’t, see above). Why DO songs rhyme? Kids wonder all sorts of “whys” about how things are, before formal learning beats it out of them. There’s a lot of potential learning in “why do songs rhyme”—language patterns, music patterns, how rhyme and other sound characteristics of words help us memorize and transmit them—especially before writing was invented. It’s not an EASY question to answer, but it would be a productive one to explore and discuss, without necessarily having “an” answer. The “self-paced student-centered model” Morville discusses could work WITH the natural tendency to ask why, instead of focusing on getting students to just shut up and listen.

Morville’s lecture also led me to the animation of Ken Robinson’s lecture on the troubles with our current school system (The RSA, 2010).

For those who don’t want to watch the whole video, it discusses the ways our education system is modeled on 18th and 19th century models (Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution thinking) that don’t fully work anymore, especially the factory model of churning out groups of children in batches by age, treating children as if the most significant thing about them is their “date of manufacture”—quite a contrast to the “mastery” model where the development of understanding is the constant and time is the variable (Rosenberg, 2013).

Conformity and standardization are a priority in the traditional model. If conformity and standardization are a priority, then the childlike habit of asking “why” is a problem, and childlike energy and enthusiasm—if they are not for the “correct” things—are a problem. Stephens writes, “Space for learning should be safe and encourage play and exploration – along with those comes chaos and messiness” (Stephens, 2012). The traditional model of schooling doesn’t accept that chaos and messiness very well.

Robinson includes a shocking map of ADHD diagnosis in the United States—how it intensifies by geography—from west to east. Apparently kids get more hyper as you get close to the Atlantic Ocean, who knew? The original maps are here:

(It’s even more shocking if you click back through the older data and see how quickly both diagnosis and medication of children rises from 2003 to 2011).

Percent of Youth 4-17 Ever Diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder by State: National Survey of Children's Health

Percent of Youth 4-17 Ever Diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder by State: National Survey of Children’s Health

Percent of Youth Aged 4-17 Years Currently Taking Medication for ADHD by State: National Survey of Children’s Health

According to Robinson, the “aesthetic experience” is when our senses are all engaged, and we are fully alive, “resonating with the excitement of this thing you are experiencing.” This is transformative learning. The opposite of the “aesthetic” experience is the “anaesthetic” experience—when your senses are shut off, rather than engaged. Robinson says “we are getting our children through education by anaesthetizing them” with ADHD medications.

My children are fond of pointing out to me that kids have a lot of imagination and grownups (yawn) don’t. Turns out they have research on their side. Robinson also mentions a longitudinal study of divergent thinking–an aspect of creativity. Children, beginning as kindergarteners, were followed over several years and given a test for “divergent thinking”—an aspect of creative thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to brainstorm many possibilities and solutions—to think outside the box. The test they were given identified a “genius” level of divergent thinking. The percentage of kindergarten children who measured at this “genius” level was 98 percent. At the age of 8 to 10, only 32 percent of the same children were geniuses at divergent thinking. At ages 13 to 15, it was down to 10 percent. An adult control group of people over 25 years tested abysmally at divergent thinking, with only 2 percent at the genius level (Robinson remarked dryly, “these are the people you’re hiring”).

So we all start with this creative thinking ability and then have it educated out of us.

“We shouldn’t be putting them to sleep, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves.” (Ken Robinson, in RSA, 2010). Infinite learning—connected, student focused learning—has tremendous power to wake people up instead of putting them to sleep. We need to build places for learning and exploration where you don’t worry about getting the answers “wrong.” Libraries have always been places for self-chosen learning; it’s a history that can be built on in helping with a transformation of learning for the future. “The library is an act of inspiration architecture and a keystone of culture” (Morville, 2013). Infinite learning is what we should be about.


Morville, P. (2013). Architects of Learning [Slideshare presentation]. Retrieved from: http://www.slideshare.net/morville/architects-of-learning

Rosenberg, T. (2013, October 23). In ‘flipped’ classrooms, a method for mastery [Web log post]. Opinionator: The New York Times. Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/in-flipped-classrooms-a-method-for-mastery/?smid=tw-share&_r=1

RSA (October 14, 2010). RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms [YouTube video]. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

Stephens, M. (2012, November). Learning everywhere: A roadmap (Report). ACCESS, 26(4). Reprinted in Tame The Web (TTW). Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2012/11/29/learning-everywhere-a-roadmap-article-from-access-australian-school-library-association-2012/

Stephens, M.  (2014) The Hyperlinked Library:  Learning Everywhere. [PanOpto]  Retrieved from http://hanakoa.sjsu.edu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer/Default.aspx?id=60d996ff-d334-4fb8-aae0-9003c9146b02



About mollificence

library student, writer, mom, Kindle addict View all posts by mollificence

6 responses to “Why DO songs rhyme?

  • Madeleine Pressley

    YES to everything you have said here! I was literally saying YES aloud as I read this. The divergent thinking study is so interesting and it really made everything come full circle for me, since I mentioned on my blog earlier this semester that I think I was so much more creative as a child and I have lost that spark bit by bit. I had some fabulous teachers that connected learning with play and that is what really stuck with me through the years and probably why for a short time I considered becoming a teacher as well.
    The school where I work is trying to connect the curriculum with the arts, however, there is only institutional support for certain types of art – i.e. the pastel and paint kind, which still doesn’t resonate with every student. My mom works with teachers to incorporate the dramatic approach to their lessons, which is basically engaging students’ imaginations as they read by acting out what they are reading and imagining it truly taking place. She does all this as a volunteer. When I’m not subbing in another building on campus, I sometimes help her with activities and I help lead the drama clubs in the afternoons. It is so sad to hear some of the kids even as young as third grade say that they are too old to use their imagination or that they don’t know how anymore. Didn’t mean to write a novel as a comment, but I could go on for days about this!
    Great post @MollyMcKinney!

    • Molly McKinney

      @mpressley I could also go on (and on and on) about this! 🙂 I run an music/art program at our elementary school and it is both wonderful and yet heartbreaking to see how some kids light up when I show up (once a month) to teach the lessons. Some of the less “star” students ARE stars at art, and it gives them an experience of success they don’t always have. It really makes you realize how schools tend to focus in narrowly on certain skills and don’t provide enough different pathways for mastery and fulfillment. I’m reading “Better Than Normal” right now which also influenced my thinking on this post…the overall gist being we shouldn’t try to be “normal” we should try to be our best unique selves with our passions, interests and inclinations. I wish we had more dramatic arts at the school but I think that takes even more time investment than fine arts.

      Thanks for your comments!! 🙂

  • Michael Stephens

    I was saying “Yes!” too! What a wonderful framework for this post – why do songs rhyme? 🙂

  • Felicia Johnson

    Hi Molly, what a terrific post. I agree and have experienced this type of thinking especially when I went into the job force after graduation, and realized there was a set of politics in place I had to follow in order to succeed. So this type of teaching doesn’t end with school.

    • Molly McKinney

      @feliciaj Thanks! True, it applies to adults as well. Divergent thinking can be hard to fit into rigid models of how things are done, whether that is a work or school environment. 🙂

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