How to nurture and encourage the little poet in your life.
Poetry is often overlooked in favour of prose, but its rhythmic nature and the variety of forms it can take makes it perfect for children. You’re probably already using poetry with your kids, by singing nursery rhymes and lullabies or reading aloud books that make use of verse. It’s a way to communicate a lot in a small number of words, and its sing-along nature is soothing and delightful.
But more than that, poetry is a form of expression that research has shown can benefit young children greatly, helping them develop creative language skills and become sophisticated thinkers. In honour of World Poetry Day, we’re celebrating that creative expression and imaginative language with you and your little ones.
Read more: How To Introduce Your Children To Art
Why should you introduce poetry to your child?
The idea that poetry could be something your child needs can feel a little far-fetched. We already know how key reading is for little ones, but the importance of rhyme and verse might not be as convincing. Why should it matter if your children enjoy poetry? Is it really that significant?
As adults, poetry reading and interpretation makes use of our analysis and critical thinking skills – basically, it’s good for us! So it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that it’s also highly beneficial for our children. Think of poetry as a natural extension of lullabies and nursery rhymes. Children will respond to the short playful language, even if they’re too young to understand its meaning.
Poetry is best known for aiding memory and language development. Rhyming makes it easier for your child to learn words, which can be achieved through both audible and visual means; poems being read aloud and the act of reading them on paper. The structure of poetry makes use of pattern and sequence, creating a familiar context for unfamiliar language. Reading aloud helps your child practice the way they pronounce words, and how they lend emotion to them through volume and pitch. Essentially, it all works to improve phonological and phonemic awareness (to you and me, that’s the ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words) which allows your child to become a successful reader, and aids them in speaking.
Your children will learn that there are words which sound alike but mean different things, and also which words are synonymous. As a nice bonus, the use of recognisable pattern and sequence in poetry aids mathematic skills later on!
Poetry is widely known as a form of self-expression, so it can teach your child more about themselves and their emotions. It’s a healthy way for them to express themselves and cultivate valuable qualities like compassion and empathy. It also shows your child how to tell stories and how to look at everyday experiences in different ways.
How to introduce poetry to your child
Start by reaching for the books you already have on your shelves and read aloud to your little audience! We’re big fans of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein as starter points and for when your child is a little older. You can read and help them memorise shorter poems, gradually moving on to more complex ones. Younger children might not have the skills to read themselves, but they’ll still enjoy listening and, as mentioned before, it’ll help them learn new words. Not sure where to begin? We’ve rounded up some easy ones to get you started:
Suitable for ages 4, 5 and 6+
- Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky“, an old classic “nonsense” poem that gave us playful English words such as “chortle” (age 4+).
- Michio Mado’s “The Magic Pocket: Selected Poems“. This Japanese poet was the recipient of the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1994 for his “lasting contribution to children’s literature (age 4+).
- Shel Silverstein’s “Dirty Face“. Silverstein is just one of the many poets under Ursula Nordstrom who helped children’s literature move from morality tales, to becoming something that appealed to children’s imaginations and emotions (age 4+).
- Judith Viorst’s “Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog“. You might know Viorst as the author of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” (age 5+).
- Jacqueline Woodson’s “The Day You Begin” picture book. The Young People’s Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017, Woodson is critically acclaimed and a contemporary master of children’s literature (age 5+).
- Roald Dahl’s “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf“, a reinterpretation of the fairytale, found in his very brilliant “Revolting Rhymes” (age 6+).
Suitable for ages 7 and 8+
- Allan Ahlberg’s “Please Mrs Butler“, from his same-titled collection of school poems that are all kid-friendly and good fun (age 7+)!
- Francisco X. Alarcón’s “Ode to My Shoes“. Alarcón once said that “children from the third grade to the sixth grade are truly excellent natural poets“ (age 7+).
- Naomi Shihab Nye’s “How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?“. Nye is Palestinian-American and her writing consistently interweaves identity and heritage (age 8+).
- Nikki Giovanni’s “Spin a Soft Black Song“. Part of the Black Arts movement, Giovanni published her first book of poetry for children in 1971 (age 8+).
Note: Though the poems listed are great for children, do double check the content to make sure you’re comfortable with it prior to sharing!
Encourage your budding poets
You don’t need us to tell you about all the weird and wonderful ways in which children’s imaginations work, but here are some things you can do to help bring out their creative side:
- Play games. Throw your child a line and help them come up with one in reply that rhymes. We also like word association games which help children create similes, metaphors, and analogies.
- Tell stories by writing down those rhyming couplets you came up with earlier, and create more to tell a story.
- Write a poem together. Try something fictional, something based on a real story, and something specifically for a special occasion.
- Experiment with different types of poetry. For example, with a haiku (which generally consists of three lines with 5-7-5 syllables) where you can sound out long words, and clap along to break them down, challenging your child to stay within a particular style form. We also like acrostic poems (where the first letter of each line spells out a word or message) – you can start out with names or specific themes!
- Incorporate your own cultural traditions. If you can speak another language, try adding in words from that tongue, or translations of your favourite words into writing. Do you have very special family stories or pastimes? Add them in. This is a fun way to teach your child more about themselves.
The most important thing to remember is to relax, enjoy and have fun!