Many times parents and children alike view the study of poetry as they might think of taking cough syrup: “I don’t like it, but I know I need it.” However, this negative perspective does not have to be the case. Poetry can be fun, engaging, and educational, but it all depends on where you begin.
A better analogy for poetry might be that it is like trying a new food. You are hesitant, unsure, and a little afraid at first, but the results are delicious, and the food can become a new favorite. If we present poetry to our children in a way that is fun and engaging, it will help lay the basis for more serious poetry study in the future. When they are tweens and teens, they will not shy away from poetry because this genre is already an old friend.
A Silly Start
The best way to introduce children to poetry is to start with some of the more humorous poets who write specifically for children such as Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. When you can get kids to laugh out loud over a poem, you’ve practically won the battle!
My kids adored Shel Silverstein, and we had to read all of his poetry books. I still find them grabbing one off the shelf and curling up with it as part of their recreational reading. We have since moved on to more serious poems and poets, but I know their initial love of poetry came from laughter.
One day when our poetry schedule had us reading through a Jack Prelutsky book, we encountered our first limerick. It suddenly made me remember how much I loved limericks when I was a child, so I decided to help the kids write their own limericks.
Writing a limerick about each member of our family became our literature, grammar, and spelling lesson for the day! This fun, spontaneous assignment began a trend of mine where I will occasionally ask the kids to imitate a poetry style such as limerick, iambic pentameter, haiku, etc. Alternatively they imitate the topic or structure of a beloved poem; Jimmy Jet and His TV Set became a model for Dad and His iPad.
Switch it Out
Sometimes instead of imitating poetry masters, it’s fun to let the kids actually play around with original, famous poems. One fun activity we did recently was to take Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and change the setting. I copied the poem word for word but left out any words that talked about being in the woods or winter.
We came up with Stopping By the Beach on a Summer Evening. It was great fun to make sure the words rhymed where they should and to use different characters. Instead of a horse and sleigh, we used a bicycle as our mode of transportation. My kids also learned that changing the setting of the poem really changed the feel and tone of the poem, so we were able to talk about why Frost would have used being in the woods at night in the winter to illustrate his point instead of using our beach setting.
Our favorite poetry activity is when we write a poem cooperatively as a family. Usually we brainstorm topics, pick one final seletion out of a hat, and then we proceed to write a poem with each of us only contributing one line at a time. I start by copmposing the first line; then I pass the paper to the next child. The paper is passed to the next and so on until it comes back to me where I either pass it around again or finish it up.
Usually I give some kind of parameter to our poetry writing that goes along with things we’ve been learning such as following a certain rhyme scheme or using alliteration as much as possible. We laugh and giggle as our poem slowly comes together.
As my oldest begins to tackle more difficult poems in her studies, the fruit of my initial playful approach to poetry is beginning to show. She is not intimidated by tackling longer, more intense poems. In fact, she loves poetry and writes and reads poetry in her spare time. I firmly believe a fun start to reading and enjoying poetry takes much of the boring or not understanding factor completely out of the equation. Fun poetry lessons give children and adults confidence to approach a new poem expecting something delightful awaits, not something dreadful. And poetry almost never disappoints.
Poetry is part of BookShark Language Arts. See all Language Arts programs here and download samples of the first three week of Instructor's Guides here.
About the Author
Chelli has been homeschooling for seven years and married for thirteen. She has three children Grace (5th grade), Sophia (2nd grade), and Levi (5 years old). When she's not educating or blogging at The Planted Trees, you can generally find her with her nose in a book, cooking up something yummy in the kitchen, or if she's really lucky, you can't find her at all because she's traveling with friends and family.