As parents, most of us know how important it is to read to our children. We regularly share books with them and encourage them to borrow from the library. However, sometimes we forget to make sure our kids get a balanced reading diet. Sadly, poetry can be left off the menu, and that's such a shame. The good news is poems are often short so it's easy to slip a poem or rhyme into a spare moment in a day.
An easy way to start introducing poetry to kids is to find books of nursery rhymes for pre-school children. Local libraries will have some, perhaps in a special section of board books. Reading, memorizing, chanting, or singing nursery rhymes really helps little ones develop skills they need for reading. As Mem Fox says in Why Reading Really Is Magic, "…if kids know six nursery rhymes by the time they are four, they are more likely to be in the top reading group at school by age eight." We can incorporate poetry into play by encouraging our kids to use toys to act out "Humpty Dumpty" or "Little Miss Muffet." When we're walking to the park, it's fun to find a nursery rhyme that fits the rhythm of our footsteps and chant it aloud. Babies love rhymes like "Round and Round the Garden, or "I'm a Little Teapot" and toddlers can soon copy the words and actions.
Keep an eye open for poetry books for kids in the library or bookstore. Once you've found some poetry anthologies or books, try incorporating one into story time each day or evening. For children who might think they're too old for nursery rhymes, look for short, fun poems. Kids love poetry that makes them laugh. One great place to find material like this is Giggle Poetry, a website with lots of poems kids love. Kenn Nesbitt's Poetry4Kids is another cool online space for sharing poems with kids, and it includes a handy rhyming dictionary.
A special book to look out for is World Rat Day by former U.S. Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. It has a poem for some special (and bizarre!) days, with illustrations by Anna Raff that will also tickle children's funny bones. Celebrating these days with their corresponding poems is a nice, easy way to integrate more poetry into everyday family life.
When we share poems, I believe it's important to help children make connections with their own lives. We can ask questions like "Does it remind you of something?" "Have you ever felt the same way the poet did?" "Which part did you like best?"
Playing with words is an important part of adding more poetry to kids' lives. I love to take advantage of ANY situation to point out how fascinating and fun our language is. Puns, jokes, and riddles can all lead to discussions about words, the building blocks of language. A very simple activity to slip into the second or third read-aloud of a rhyming picture book is to change the rhyming word at the end of a sentence, and have kids correct you. Dads are great at this! You'll find some more word games on my Book Chook Bag of Tricks page that can be slipped into car trips and soon become family favorites.
Writing poetry with younger kids is important, too. This can be as simple as celebrating relatives' birthdays by co-writing a rhyming couplet or short verse for them. Another easy and fun idea is to take a rhyme or poem children know and innovate on it. That's a fancy way of saying we study the poet's words and change them slightly to invent a new poem. So we might take "Higglety, pigglety, pop / The dog has eaten the mop" and change it to "Gigglety, jigglety, jig / The pussycat danced with a pig."
Is poetry a regular part of your family's reading diet? Do you have any special poetry books or poems you and your kids love? Please share them on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page!