Monday, November 29, 2021

"Going to Saint Ives": A Read-Aloud-Rhyme

Click to see Vol. I, Issue 5 of the newsletter in which this article first appeared.

Listen to the audio of this article!

Parents and teachers can read these rhymes aloud, and encourage little ones to repeat and even memorize them (I did when I was a kid!)

This old rhyme poses a "simple" question. But the answer may not be as easy as it seems!

As I was going to Saint Ives
I met a man with seven wives.
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits.
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were going to Saint Ives?


Some words to talk about:

  • sacks: bags
  • kits: kittens (baby cats)


Ask your kid to mime the various actions: the speaker meeting a "man"; the wives carrying sacks; the cats (or kits) inside the sacks; and anything else you can think of. (How big would a sack be with seven cats and 49 kittens?)

Another fun thing you can do: memorize the rhyme, then try saying it as fast as possible!

Discussion: Ask your kid what his or her answer is to the question of "how many?". Then discuss some of the several answers!

  • 1: This is the traditional answer. The speaker ("I") was going to Saint Ives; the people she or he "met" were going the other way.
  • 2,802: one man + seven wives + 49 sacks + 343 cats + 2,401 kits, PLUS the speaker. This is the answer the traditional rhyme wants to trick you into figuring out, but really: who says they're not going to Saint Ives?
  • 2,800: The rhyme actually asks for the total of "kits, cats, sacks, and wives," excluding the man and the speaker.
  • 0: Again, if we want only "kits, cats, sacks, and wives," and they were coming from Saint Ives, then the answer is zero; the speaker cannot be counted.
  • 9: Only the speaker, the man, and the seven wives were "going"; the sacks, cats, and kits were all being carried!
  • 2: The man the speaker met had seven wives (who had sacks, cats, and kits) but they weren't with him at the time; at most, only the man and the speaker were going.
  • An unknown number: How do we know the speaker was traveling alone?

Of course, no child of "nursery rhyme" age can appreciate all of this. But I would ask the kid for her or his answer, then maybe start with "1," and perhaps talk about 2,802 (since we don't know which way "the man" and his "wives" were going).

Please leave a comment - I can't WAIT to hear from you!