Let’s talk poetry.
Hark! I hear crickets chirping!
But I think you’ll find it’s not a boring topic at all, especially when we talk poetry and kids. Poetry and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly. I predict you’ll be so revved up by the time we’re through chatting, kids across the land this week (whose moms read PBOK) are going to find themselves reading and writing poems like crazy.
Oh, I hope so!
How many of you reveled in those Mother Goose rhymes when you were really little? I still remember squatting on my haunches in the driveway, holding a huge, dog-eared book of poetry, and basking in a gorgeous picture and the text of the poem about Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. It was one of my favorites. And I distinctly remember turning all those large pages to make friends again with the characters and props I encountered in other poems: Jack and his candlestick, the old woman in the ginormous shoe (she especially fascinated me), as well as bakers, buns, broken eggs, cats under thrones, black sheep, spiders, and princesses.
Later in fourth grade, I had to memorize Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and Robert Burns’s “My Heart’s in the Highlands.” In fifth grade, it was “Casey at the Bat:” The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day….
I still love rattling off the few lines I remember.
Big sigh. I want to take the time to go back and memorize “Casey at the Bat” again. I want the whole thing to be mine once more. Let’s add it to my list of challenges, and may I move it to the top!
Ah, poems and their cadences and their bursts of imagery and their messages! They’re every child’s delight. Older kids—and I mean high schoolers–might at first pretend they’re not, but just open a book of Shel Silverstein poems and see what happens at any age. And then those high schoolers really get into modern poetry in a big way. They find it in song lyrics, too, and go especially crazy for love poems and anything about discovering their identities.
When I taught school, poetry units were the segments of learning that every single child bought into. If that doesn’t tell you something about its power, I don’t know what does.
For a long while in the educational world (post-1960’s), memorization of poems was considered grunt work not worthy of our darling young population, but the practice is coming back strong as teachers realize the value of memorization—but also the value of “owning” a poem. What a feeling of accomplishment and pride I got from knowing the words to a poem!
Heck, I’m still proud and still “own” my poems. I even put “My Heart’s in the Highlands” in my fourth book for St. Martin’s Press, If You Give a Girl a Viscount. As a matter of fact, all my Impossible Bachelors series books contain poems.
Because poems we learn in our childhoods are like ice cream cones. Brief moments in which we stop everything we’re doing to experience a passing pleasure. But these are special moments, too, in that they also carry the cozy weight of warm memories.
So however old your child is, read poetry together–and write it. Put your favorite poems—both your own and well-known, beloved ones–up on your walls. And don’t forget that a lot of poetry has a visual aspect to it. You can do acrostic poetry, for example, where you write a word like LOVE vertically, and then horizontally across the page, you write lines that start with L, then O, then V, and then E. Or you can write a poem about a snake and make the words look like a snake curling itself up or dancing across the grass. You can also make your own books of poems, with themes. Summer, Winter, Spring, and Fall are great themes to start with. Kids can collect poems for each season, both ones they discover in published books of poetry and ones they write themselves. They can add drawings, and you can laminate the book and keep it forever.
There are tons of books on the internet—and free articles often written by teachers–about how to get kids writing and reading poems. Check with your classroom teacher, too. He or she will have great ideas.
In high school, I lived in a very old trailer while our dad built our house. It wasn’t the Taj Mahal. But to cheer it up, on our kitchen cabinets, I taped colorful pieces of construction paper displaying poems from my favorite poets. In college, I did the same thing. I was annoyed with how much reading I had to do one semester, so on my bulletin board I put up the poem about the astronomer who dumped his books and went outside to look at the stars.
(Whoever first names the title of that poem and its American author in the comments section will get a signed book from me).
Many of you might already memorize Bible verses, which I consider some of the most beautiful poems in the world. Even if you don’t read the Bible for religious reasons, it’s considered a part of the canon of great literature. So check out Psalms in the Old Testament. It’s rockin’ with beautiful imagery!
All righty, now, the teacher in me is crossing her fingers that you’ll be sharing some poems with your kids over the next month. I hope you’ll get a Shel Silverstein book if you don’t have one already. And then there are the sweet, old-fashioned poems you can find in anthologies like The Children’s Book of Virtues and on kids’ poetry shelves at your nearest bookstore. Don’t forget e.e. cummings, too, and all those poets whose poems, chock-full of powerful imagery, don’t necessarily rhyme.
Finally, pull out the Mother Goose. Some of those poems are strange, aren’t they? But it’s good for kids to imagine worlds in which giant eggs can fall off walls, cows can jump over the moon, and dishes can run away with spoons.
Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
I think that’s a bit of poetry right there, don’t you?
And now I’d love it if you share with us in the comments your thoughts, your memories…anything you want to say about poems!
Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. I try to teach my kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job.
My oldest guy, Dragon, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a junior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college sophomore; and my youngest, Nighthawk, is in ninth grade. My kids are great people–and they turned out that way even though I wasn’t June Cleaver. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy.