While older children may be ready to dive into Shakespeare's sonnets, our littlest ones need a little more support to create some poetry of their own. It's doubtful that many of our children will grow up to be poets, but they all do need to grow up to be readers, and creating poetry helps children work on different literacy skills in novel ways.
Rhyming not only focuses on the individual sounds in words, it also allows children to play with those sounds and find other words with them. This discrimination of sounds is a major tool in the reading tool box and is also one of the more fun ones for new readers to work with.
Acrostic poetry, a type of poetry where the first letters in a line spell out a word, is another form of poetry perfect for new readers. Writing it works on recognizing letter sounds and boosts vocabulary.
Here are a few tips for creating poetry with preschoolers.
1. Use familiar rhymes and make them your own.
We like to use Down by The Bay or the old classic Roses are Red as a starting off point. I will model how to make the rhymes, and then either trade off with one child or go around the circle with a group. One thing you may notice is that when children can't find a rhyme, they may simply repeat the first word. For example you will say, "Have you ever seen a bat wearing a ___" and instead of saying hat or another rhyming word, they repeat bat. That's OK. They know that bat and bat both have the same last sound. If they say a word that doesn't rhyme at all more than once, this activity might be too hard for them. In that case, there are two things you can do. First, try making them say the initial rhyme, and you can model the matching one. Or if that doesn't work, you can just move on.
2. Make the poems visual.
Write out a simple poem and leave a large blank spot for children to make it personal. Have your child draw a picture of the missing word. This is a great way to create poetry with pre-writers. I did this activity with a class of Pre-Kindergarten students with this simple poem:
We're a little classroom
bright and bold.
We are all four and five years old.
When we get learning hear us say
"We learned all about _________________ today!"
3. Make acrostics all about them.
When introducing acrostic poetry, use the children's names and focus on things they like to do. For young preschoolers, have them focus on writing their name and, working one-on-one, and writing the poem with help. Use a word wall as a support for children looking for words for their poem. At home, you can brainstorm different words together that fit the theme of your acrostic before sitting down to write.