LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain's love affair with nursery rhymes is cooling, with parents telling a new survey that they are too old-fashioned to engage their children, a trend which educationalists say could damage reading skills.
Just 36 percent of parents regularly sing nursery rhymes to their children and almost a quarter say they never have, the poll of more than 2,500 people from charity Booktrust found.
But for those who still believe, the favorite has proved to be "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" ahead of "Incey Wincey Spider" and "Round and Round the Garden."
A third of young parents aged between 16-24 said nursery rhymes were too old-fashioned to interest their children, while 20 percent of this age-group thought they were not educational.
But academics dispute this view, pointing to the important role listening to nursery rhymes, and in many cases watching the accompanying actions, can have in language acquisition.
"The general public may see reading as a primarily visual process," said Roger Beard, professor of primary education at the Institute of Education at the University of London.
"But actually the ability to listen and discriminate between sounds in the language is an important predictor of children's later success in learning to read, and of course rhymes can play an important part in that."
Nursery rhymes are less popular among men than women in Britain, the survey found. Some 32 percent of men never recite nursery rhymes to their kids compared to 16 percent of women.
But those who do not recite Baa Baa Black Sheep or Humpty Dumpty to their offspring are foregoing a simple, formative and universally accessible resource, Beard said.
"The advantage of nursery rhymes is that it's free and it's easily soaked up whatever the circumstances and whoever the individuals," he said.
"They are quite short, they have their own individuality, their own quality... there's a wholeness and unity about rhymes that adds to the appeal of sharing and handing to the next generation."
The survey was run for National Bookstart Day, which gives free packs of books to every child in the UK and encourages sharing books and rhymes with children from as young an age as possible.
The favorite top ten:
1. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
2. Incey Wincey Spider
3. Round and Round the Garden
4. Baa Baa Black Sheep
5. The Grand Old Duke of York
6. If You're Happy and You Know It
7. Humpty Dumpty
8. This Little Piggy
9. Ring a Ring a Roses
10. I'm a Little Teapot
Additional reporting by Stephen Addison; Editing by Paul Casciato