Teaching poetry to children? Help!

Despite have been born in and growing up in Israel, my six-year-old speaks, reads, and writes English better than she does Hebrew. In fact, I think she also writes and reads (and maybe speaks) better Russian than Hebrew, thanks to her mother’s efforts.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned in passing, our little girl is well aware that I write poems for this blog of mine; and she’s taken to rhyming words all day long herself. Sometimes she’ll unintentionally make off-rhymes, pause thoughtfully, sound them out to herself aloud, and then say, “well, that’s just an off-rhyme, but we could still use it in a poem.”

Now, I have done all sorts of fun writing exercises with her in English, and my mother in America has also taken to writing snippets of short stories back-and-forth with her on Facebook Messenger. Her grammar and punctuation aren’t perfect, but she’s learning very quickly. Just recently, for example, she asked me to show her how to write lowercase letters by hand because she knows that her penmanship needs work too.

Several days ago, out of the blue, she asked to write some poems with me on my computer (we used Microsoft Word) and was very intent about having me share them on my blog. She even asked me, “So what tags are you going to assign them? When will you decide? When will other people read them?”

Our three poems are below, in case you’re curious; but I am actually drafting this blog post primarily because I want your feedback: how do I teach her to write poetry?

Here’s where she’s at right now:

  • As I mentioned above, she is very comfortable with rhyme
    • For example, for one of the poems below, she suggested the word ‘coffee’ instead of ‘tea’ because she realized that the second syllable of ‘coffee’ rhymes with ‘tea’, and we had already used the word ‘tea’ in the previous poem.
  • She is less comfortable with rhythm and counting syllables per line, although I tried demonstrating those concepts to her while we were writing the short poems below. This is something that I don’t quite know how to get across to her.
    • I tried explaining these concepts by counting the syllables aloud with her and tapping my fingers on the table, while saying, “bum, bum, bum-bum, bum.”
    • Still, she tends to write lines of inconsistent lengths and rhythms if left to her own devices, as long as they include (and especially end with) rhyming words.
  • Also, I am having difficulty with teaching her about creative imagery and devices like alliteration, assonance, etc. She’s very bright so when I manage to explain things well, she usually gets them, but it’s not so easy for me to convert and upload my thoughts into her child brain.
    • To her credit, she was able to understand what I meant by ‘metaphor’ when I explained my last nature haiku to her and pointed out that the language of the poem was making a comparison between plants and poetry with its use of the word ‘seeding’.
  • Lastly, since she’s so focused on rhyming, she doesn’t quite understand how to write non-rhyming poetry. She has finally accepted that such a concept exists, but it remains fairly hard for her to grasp. How would she go about writing a non-rhyming poem, she wonders?

Three poems, a collaboration

by David (41) and Liorah (6)

1.

The dog found a log 
that fell from a tree 

She sat on the log, 
happy as can be 

Then there was a fog 
‘twas too hard to see 

She sobbed in the fog, 
wishing she could flee 

She got off the log, 
squinting hopefully 

Wind blew away the fog; 
dog whistled happily

2.

Then there was a squirrel, 
sipping a cup of tea 

Squirrel saw a girl 
swimming in the sea 

Then the waters whirled 
very dangerously 

Quickly, ran the squirrel, 
reaching desperately 

Stretched out her hand, 
poor girl, begging – please save me! 

They ate ice cream swirls 
once he pulled her free

3.

The cat found a hat 
and thought, “This is for me!” 

Then came out a bat 
and offered her coffee 

On her head she sat 
stirring daintily 

Then came out a rat 
Sniffing greedily 

They said, “GET AWAY, RAT!” 
and he cried tearfully 

When they noticed that, 
they felt so, so sorry!

131 thoughts on “Teaching poetry to children? Help!”

  1. Well done to you! Best way forward is to encourage her to read more to build her vocabulary and imagination, and learn how to form sentences and play with lines in poetry. Also, encourage her to look at her surroundings and describe the things she sees. Get her poetry books for her age and join her in reading them out loud. Encourage, encourage, and support. You’re both doing well!

  2. The poems are delightful! So nice to see you encouraging this passion. Rhyming poetry is always nice and I must admit I often prefer this to the other forms for the bouncing way it can lead people along. Poetry is also about acute observation and insight. I have come late to poetry but I am learning to appreciate the power of description that is condensed into short phrases which can be pulled through into other work.
    It is perhaps a little high brow for your daughter but I thoroughly recommend a book by Mark Forsyth called ‘The Elements of Eloquence’ it explains many of the articles of rhetoric (a lot of which were used by Shakespeare) and also some of the structure of poetic verse. You might enjoy the book yourself and perhaps repurpose some of the items in there to relate to your daughter.
    Personally I think children are more adaptable than we give them credit for sometimes, I still find many people who do not know what soporific means, yet I read about this in one of Beatrix Potters tales for children. Long words are nothing more than extra syllables and children delight in knowing these more impressive terms. I hope that helps.

    1. Chris – this is so helpful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I will definitely look into ‘The Elements of Eloquence’ – and I totally agree with you – children like the challenge (at least judging by my daughter) as long as it is surmountable for them. I treat her as if I believe that she can understand and arrive at complicated concepts and she almost always rises to that level! Adaptable is the perfect word.

      Sincerely,
      David

  3. How to teach a little girl poetry? How do we teach someone to breathe?
    Let her be a feeling creature. Be one yourself, too. Play. Have fun. Make new connections. Share new and interesting things with her. Let there be stillness. Let there be structure and order to your relationship and let there be flow and free-form.
    Take her to new and interesting places. Share the art of observation. Ask her questions that you don’t already have an answer for. Don’t try to answer every question. Let her be wrong. Let you be wrong. There’s no denying what is right.
    A poet is a poet, whatever you do. It is a force of nature that can be dimmed, hidden, or dammed up awhile but cannot be stopped. Tread with her in ways that don’t dim her, hide her, or dam her up.
    My dad left when I was four. I am still a poet.
    You can’t get it wrong.

  4. The relationship you are building between your daughter and yourself is great. It seems like you are exploring the beauty of languages together. Let that be it. It’s the journey. One other comment said that you should allow her room to explore. I agree with that completely. As far as free verse goes, let her explore how an image makes her feel and write that down making sure to describe the subject. Playing, always playing. She sounds like a great poet!😃

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