Reading poetry with kids can be a joyful experience, but first you have to get your littles interested. It can be hard, especially since we mamas often cringe at the thought of it.
Poetry is no longer as popular a form of writing as it once was. Hundreds of years ago, when not only were books inaccessible but literacy was a skill for only the wealthy (and predominantly male), it was easier to remember historical and other facts if they were set to rhythm and/or rhyme. People passed down songs, poems, chants, riddles, and other verse as a way to keep their histories intact and their culture united.
Flash forward a few hundred years to when books and literacy became common and reading was the most popular pastime of the age. Good verse became a competition (luckily for us) and the 19th and early 20th century produced some of the most profound poets in history. These brilliant men and women language as a tool to express emotion that might not be polite to express in society, and they spurred each other to write more and to hone a craft that has since fallen out of favor.
I just don’t get why it’s done so.
Because poetry has become a thing we briefly study in school and then often leave behind, it has become harder to understand. Using figurative language? Understanding meter? Carefully choosing alliteration? Not things the average mama worries about too much in the face of All The Other Things.
But you can make poetry fun for your littles and instill in them a love that will last their lifetimes, not just until they skate past it for the last time in college. What are the best ways to do that?
How to make poetry appealing to kids
Add visual beauty
One of the easiest ways to do this is to find a beautifully illustrated book of poems. My copy of Dean’s Mother Goose Book of Rhymes, illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, has captured my imagination since I was 6 years old. The pictures in this book are the kind that a little can stare at for hours. I bought a new copy a few years ago and captivated my boys with it. There are so books out there that combine poetry for children with Coupling such illustrations with poetry practically guarantees a child’s interest.
Can you say Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky? Both of these geniuses have written several books of poetry for kids that will leave your littles in stitches.
I still remember the very first time I ever heard of A Light in the Attic. I was 8. I now own 2 copies. Because it struck me as so amazing that someone would write a book of poems just for kids and that poetry could be funny. And cooler than cool, Amazon now has a Special Edition that has 12 new poems in it! So yeah yeah, I might have to own a 3rd.
My boys are huge fans of Prelutsky’s The New Kid on the Block. Prelutsky’s poems are especially hilarious for boys because they have that boy humor in them–you know, the kind mamas hope they don’t exhibit in public. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t all like that. But there’s enough. There’s enough.
And a spoonful of laughter helps the poetry go down. In the most delightful way.
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I lucked into my 1935 copy of Sung Under the Silver Umbrella at a yard sale for a quarter. This book is filled with poems for children by some of the greats–Christina Rossetti, Edward Lear, R.L. Stevenson, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, to name a few. Our Children’s Own Longfellow is from 1908. The boys love to read from these books and think about all the people who may have read them before. Plus, you know that great smell an old book has? Poetry.
Add a story
Who better to make you littles fall in love with poetry than Lewis Carroll? When a poem is inserted into a story as wonderful as Alice in Wonderland, suddenly your littles are wanting very much to read and understand it. We have a copy of The Jabberwocky on our classroom wall because it is one of our all-time favorites. Another incredible author who inserted songs and poetry into his work is (and it won’t surprise you that I would mention him) JRR Tolkien. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are packed with amazing poems that serve the same purposes for the inhabitants of Middle Earth as our early poetry did for us here in our world.
Notice I didn’t say the Real World. Who’s to say Middle Earth isn’t real?
Add a tea party
One of my favorite trends on the interweb right now is the poetry tea time. We even recently purchased a matching tea set to make ours more authentic. Serve a yummy, cozy tea, cuddle up with your kiddos, and read some good poetry. It doesn’t have to be deep stuff. Mother Goose, Silverstein or Prelutsky (or both!), a little Robert Louis Stevenson or some Christina Rosetti–you can fun and keep it simple. Plus, it’s a great excuse to spend some quiet time with your kids.
However you do it, now is the time to get your littles excited about poetry. It gives you a chance to create a lifelong love that they will always be grateful for and memories for them to take with them wherever they go.
P.S. If you didn’t take the survey, please scroll back up and answer those 5 quick questions. I really want to know how you feel about poetry.
Want more ideas for poetry with kids? Check out:
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