As a compassionate teacher, you’ve likely been there: You’re sitting with your students, singing one of the many nursery rhymes you learned growing up, only to cringe as you realize that its message is one you don’t want to share with your class.
Attitudes toward animals have changed a lot in the hundreds of years since many nursery rhymes were written. And in the same way old songs and fairy tales have been given much-needed makeovers to replace racist, sexist, and otherwise insensitive language, we should make sure nursery rhymes are relevant for kids today and don’t encourage speciesism, cruelty to animals, or fear of them.
Animals are intelligent individuals capable of joy and suffering. They’re not ours to exploit, and our language must evolve to reflect this. As educators, we know kids are like sponges, soaking up everything they see and hear. Just as we try to be careful not to use certain words that we don’t want our students repeating, we must consider what messages about animals we’re imparting to them through traditional nursery rhymes.
Our Words Matter
While things may have been different long ago, we now know that sheep used for wool are bred to grow much more wool than they ever would naturally and are abused and even killed during shearing. Sheep need their wool—it’s not ours to take, and a nursery rhyme like “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” should be updated to reflect that.
Animal-Friendly Versions of Outdated Nursery Rhymes
What You Can Do
As a teacher, you influence your students’ development and their outlook on life. When singing one of these super-popular nursery rhymes to your class, exchange the outdated lyrics for the compassionate new ones to teach that it’s not OK to be cruel to animals. Let’s ensure that we’re instilling empathy in our students at every opportunity and building the kindest generation yet.