Favourite Nursery Rhymes and Lullabies to Sing to your Children

Nursery rhymes and lullabies to sing with kids
Babies and young children love their parents to sing to them. Nursery rhymes are a wonderful means of helping our little ones learn through play, while lullabies soothe them off to sleep at night.

Most of us know the songs for Twinkle Star and Hush a Bye Baby, though in this age of media and technology it seems many traditional rhymes are being phased out in favour of pop songs or the lyrics to children's television programmes.

It seems such a shame to allow these classic rhymes to fade into extinction, so with the aid of modern technology (namely YouTube videos!) I've collected some of our favourite nursery songs for you and your children to enjoy.


Rock a Bye Baby

Almost everyone knows this popular lullaby, whose origins date back to the 17th century. It's suggested that the rhyme was written by an English immigrant who observed the way native-American women rocked their babies in birch-bark cradles, which were suspended from the branches of trees, allowing the wind to rock the baby to sleep.

Hush a bye-baby
On the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all.



Hey Diddle Diddle

This eighteenth century rhyme has numerous suggested origins, though scholars agree it was probably invented to be "nonsensical":

Hey diddle diddle,
The Cat and the fiddle,
The Cow jumped over the moon,
The little Dog laughed
To see such craft,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon

Some versions substitute "craft" for "sport" or "fun" though personally I prefer the AABCCB rhyming structure of the lyrics above.


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Once I caught a Fish Alive

My eldest (now sixteen) loved this nursery rhyme as a toddler when Nan sang it while bouncing him upon her knee. We now sing it to Babyman, who seems to have developed a fascination with numbers!

One, two, three four five
Once I caught a fish alive
Six, seven, eight nine ten
Then I let it go again.
Why did you let it go?
Because it bit my finger so!
Which finger did it bite?
This little finger on my right.


London Bridge is Falling Down

One of the most popular rhymes in English-speaking cultures, London Bridge was first published in the mid-Eighteenth century and in all likelihood is linked to the difficulties experienced in bridging the River Thames

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

Build it up with wood and clay,
Wood and clay, wood and clay,
Build it up with wood and clay,
My fair lady.

Wood and clay will wash away,
Wash away, wash away,
Wood and clay will wash away,
My fair lady.

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

Build it up with silver and gold,
Silver and gold, silver and gold,
Build it up with silver and gold,
My fair lady.

Gold and silver I have none,
I have none, I have none.
Gold and silver I have none,
My fair lady.

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
 London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

Build it up with iron bars,
Iron bars, iron bars,
Build it up with iron bars,
My fair lady.


The Grand Old Duke of York

This is a favourite "action" rhyme for young children who can act out the lyrics by marching, standing up and sitting down.

Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.



Baa Baa Black Sheep

Dating back to the early eighteenth century, this rhyme may have been devised as a complaint against Medieval English taxes on wool. My daughter likes to add on an extra verse when we sing this at bedtime ("Thank you said the master, thank you said the dame..") as she's convinced the original must have been longer than eight lines!

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
And one for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.




Sing a song of sixpence

When researching the origins of this whimsical rhyme I was fascinated to discover that live birds were indeed put into pies in the sixteenth century - for entertainment purposes of course! References to Sing a Song of Sixpence have been discovered as far back as Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, first published in 1602 making it one of the oldest nursery rhymes in this collection.


Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.



Brahm's Lullaby

Johann Brahm's Op. 49 No. 4 is commonly known as the melody for "Brahm's Lullaby", a piece composed for Brahm's friend, Bertha Faber, to celebrate the birth of her first son. The original lyrics accompanying the song were derived from a collection of German folk poems and enhanced by Georg Scherer in 1849, though I have included the lyrics most commonly used by English speakers below.

Lullaby and good night, with roses bedight
With lilies o'er spread is baby's wee bed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed

Lullaby and good night, thy mother's delight
Bright angels beside my darling abide
They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast
They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast



Final thoughts

Nursery rhymes and lullabies are a wonderful means of helping young children learn the nuances of language through rhythm, tone and rhyme.

The selection in this post are but a small fraction of the myriad of childhood rhymes which have been sung to infants across the ages. Have you any favourite rhymes to sing to your children which are not included here?

Please feel free to join the conversation by telling us about your favourite songs and rhymes for children in the comments section below.

Image credit: Nanagyei, via Flickr