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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary {Nursery Rhyme Invitation to Play}

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This post is a part of the Nursery Rhymes Crafts and Activities for Kids series.

I am so thrilled to be a part of this series.  It has challenged me to think outside the box while teaching literacy.  It is no secret that I love recitation and memorization practice for little ones {check out our free recitation cards!}.  Nursery rhymes provide valuable literacy learning — they teach rhymes, repetition, phonemic awareness, and historical/cultural awareness!  What better way for children to learn nursery rhymes than through sensory play?!

I chose the “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” Nursery Rhyme because this was the first nursery rhyme that my son ever memorized.  When he was two!, I remember him chanting this rhyme by memory and I was so, so proud.  He still loves this rhyme, this, along with Frere Jacques, are his favorites.

History behind the Nursery Rhyme

This nursery rhyme is dark.  I mean a bit creepy.  But I think most nursery rhymes are.  They were all passed down through generations through word of mouth during some very tough times.  It is thought to be a representation of Catholicism, or the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, or Mary I of England.  The first printed {slightly different} version of the Mary Mary was published in 1744, but the; Wikipedia has some interesting facts about it.

Mary Mary quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells, 

And cockle shells,

And pretty maids all in a row.


Preparation for Mary Mary Activity

{This post contains affiliate links, please see my disclosure policy.} 

I decided that I wanted to focus our activity on gardening.  We love gardening around here {check out our Gardening post}.  And gardening with silver bells, cockle shells, and pretty maids seemed like a great, memorable way to extend the poem.

As I was getting my supplies together, I put out some little coloring sheets {link below} for my children to color with simple markers.  My son wasn’t interested, but my daughter was oh so excited!!


I wrote the poem on our big paper pad and set it out on the easel.  I glued/taped on the three elements to emphasize their importance.  This was also to show their positioning in the poem and to teach beginning sound recognition.


May {now two years old!} also helped color the “maids” clothespins which added a fun element to the play time.  {That’s John playing with our fall play dough in the background ;)}


Then we set off with our shovels and spades to the garden to get some fresh dirt for the activity.  We filled two bins up, one for each child.

We had the play supplies together, ready, on the mat.  A bowl each of:

Invitation to Play

The children were each given a tub of dirt, in an effort to encourage each of them to create their own garden, like Mary. We set out our activity on a sheet in our backyard.  I set out the tubs of dirt, a basket of spades, and the three bowls with bells, shells, and maids.

DSC03502 We read the poem aloud from our big easel and the children “dug” in :)  {Yes, that’s superman…}


My son was so thrilled about the activity.  He kept chanting the poem over and over while he dug in the dirt — I told you he loves this poem!!



May loved the bells the most.



John kept burying his bells and maid and shells.  And he began counting them.  He added one bell, then two, then three, all the way up to six.


They played for longer than I expected.  It was wonderful to sit back and watch them ignite with creativity.

DSC03521 DSC03528 DSC03538 DSC03547


There is a beautiful free printable of Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary over at PreKinders.

Or you could try making these cute pop-up flowers from My Little 3 and me.


Check out more Nursery Rhyme Craft & Activities for Kids!

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  1. oh man! What a cute little activity. I like your interpretation. It’s fun to have something pretty specific to use as a creative launching point for an activity

  2. Its great as your other posts : D, thankyou for posting . “I catnap now and then, but I think while I nap, so it’s not a waste of time.” by Martha Stewart.

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