Many kids are naturally drawn to poetry because of its emphasis on feelings, rhymes, and brevity.
“Some kids really love poetry and respond so positively to it," said one elementary school teacher. “Others, it is just so far removed from their understanding. They will go through the motions, pretending they understand it."
Whether or not poetry appeals to your child, it is more than pretty verse and distilled writing. As a form, it teaches kids to hunt for just the right word to deliver an idea. The structure, rhythm, and rhyme hone memorization skills. Poetry also relies on focused writing, a skill kids can harness in their essays or communication.
In school, children will likely learn about some of the very basic and popular poetry forms, such as the acrostic, the cinquain, and alternate. As parents, poetry is a great way to have fun with words with your child.
Some of the disconnect between poetry and kids at school is that it often takes nurturing and some one-on-one time to truly comprehend it. You don’t just start writing sestinas, either.
The first step is to read poetry. You can start with classics or with silly books, like “Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein. If you read to your children at night, tack on a poem to the end of story time. You are delaying bedtime, so kids will appreciate it and enjoy a short discussion about the poem.
Poetry needn’t be like the moon to children. If you know poetry, put it out there. If you are hiking through the trees, perhaps you can launch into “Whose woods are these I think I know…."
Find poetry in all forms. If your child likes baseball, try Casey at the Bat. If your child likes a Katy Perry song, find the lyrics and look at them as a poem. See if your child can write a welcome poem for a family member’s visit.
The easiest poetry game is just simple rhymes. A person says a word, and others try to think of words that rhyme with it, e.g. “Marshmallow rhymes with hello!" Play the game often enough with a young child, and you will be amazed at what she starts to come up with (Chihuahua + arugula, butt + King Tut).
Some kids have difficulty thinking of rhymes, and it may take away from how they feel about poetry. Give her time to practice; get a pocket rhyming dictionary or use a rhyming app to experiment.
Pick up a children’s book of classic poems and read aloud. In rhyming couplet, leave off the last word of the stanza and have your child guess what the word will be.
Most poems have a specific form. One of the shortest is the haiku, which is a three-line poem of five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the next, and five syllables in the last line. Haikus convey what the writer sees or feels.
Find something in the house, like a favorite stuffed animal or a strange woodshop tool, and put it under a towel. Remove the towel (with a flourish) and have your child write a timed haiku about it. If she’s not into this game, try putting some candy on the table and have her write about that.
As with many writing exercises, often the difficult part is the very start. Start by having a parent write an intitial basic line, such as “The day was sunny and so bright." Pass the line to the child who then writes the next line.
The child, or really any person, who understands poetry is gifted with a sense of awareness. In the clarity of poems lies so much uncertainty; the words can mean many different things to different people. To teach poetry to your child is to guide her towards imaginative language and a greater understanding of self.
International Reading Association. ReadWriteThink.org. Classroom resources: Acrostic Poems. Retrieved from ReadWriteThink
Poetry Teachers. How to Teach Poetry. Retrieved from Poetry Teachers
Silverstein, Shel. Teaching Shel. Writing Guide and Activities. HarperCollins. Retrieved from Shel Silverstein
Wise, Jessie; Bauer, Susan Wise. Poetry Memorization: Methods and Resources. The Well-Trained Mind. Retrieved from: Well-Trained Mind