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!

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

  1. Like father, like daughter! Both of you are on right track. Keep it up. I liked the creativity in little soul.

  2. First of all: Bravo! For teaching your daughter poetry. It sounds like you are doing a great job. Don’t worry too much about teaching her the subtleties of metaphor and Free Verse: kids have a natural affinity with rhyme, and I think even as adults we enjoy rhyming poetry though we might be afraid to admit it! I love The Gruffalo…

  3. Off the top of my head I would say try to be as nonjudgmental as possible, and also be only sparingly systematic. So for example introduce different poetic devices & effects but more as things to play with than anything else.

    I’m thinking that the criterion of success (f such a thing is needed) should be more whether she’s happy with the result (as in: does that say what you want to say?) rather than any other standard.

    I guess also a way of playing with rhythms & numbers of syllables and so on could be, say, asking her if she could imagine what she’s just written as the words of a song, and what that song would sound like?

    (But I’m probably teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, as we say here – or used to.)

    1. teaching my grandmother to suck eggs

      LOL! I was unfamiliar with that expression (I had to look it up!)

      Thanks for all the advice, Chris, and no – you were not teaching your grandmother to suck eggs at all!

      Much appreciated food for thought!

      Thank you,
      David

    1. I have yet to introduce her to Ogdan Nash – are there any specific books of his that you would recommend to start with?

      Thank you!
      David

  4. Awww… This is so cute. 💗 Loved all the three poems. And I admire her for the poet that is growing inside her. Give her a big applause from me. 👏👏👏👏

    1. Thanks, Preeths. It’s totally cliché, but she is, indeed, the apple of my eye 🍎

      I’ll pass your kind compliments along to her!

      Yours,
      David

  5. It’s beautiful that you and your daughter are writing poetry together. I have two daughters, and I loved it when they used creativity to draw and write poetry and more.

    As for teaching, my suggestion would be to skip the formal techniques of rhythm, metaphor, format (such as haiku). Skip them for now — they can wait for later. I’d focus more on play. Have fun with words. That can mean thinking of words that sound silly together. They can rhyme, but they don’t have to. What if she wrote a little poem where the words start with the same letter? Or suggest she pick one thing and write a poem about it. A tree, a fruit, a house. How does that thing make her feel? Suggest she try to weave those feelings into the poem. A tree can be beautiful, an adventure in climbing it, shade when it’s sunny out, and more. To me, the idea is to have fun and play. That’s where creativity blossoms.

    1. Thanks so much for the advice, Dave. In general, she learns best by playing so you’re 100% on point! I will come up with some fun new ideas for her, as you suggest.


      David

  6. David, in all honesty methinks it is too early to teach her syllable counting! Forget about alliteration, assonance etc. for the time being.
    She is rhyming beautifully. Kids enjoy rhymes. Give her enough space to flourish as a rhymer. She is bright and will pick up the nuances of poetry writing soon for she has already fallen in love with poetry. Blessings to her. ❤️

  7. Nice! The dialogue in that last poem is a cool, underappreciated technique – dialogue in poetry is kind of awesome!

    I think one poetry skill to teach is reading poetry. Look for age-appropriate enough that the vocabulary wouldn’t be totally over her head, but enough so she can see examples of rhythm, meter, imagery, metaphor in other places. Also, never too young to start learning about the greats. If she likes music, you could look at songs/song lyrics as examples too.

    1. you know – that’s a good idea… most of the music she listens to is from Disney movies… but I could introduce her to the Beatles, for example…

      1. You could. She might still prefer Disney though. My parents tried expanding my six-year-old self’s music taste; it was a while before I could appreciate Billy Joel and Gordon Lightfoot.

  8. That’s awesome that you are teaching your daughter about poetry! I have a little bit of advice about syllables. As a teacher, there are two main ways we have kids recognize syllables in words. We either have them “clap it out,” clapping once for each syllable they hear, or we have them hold a hand just under their chin. Because our mouths open when we say English vowels and there is one vowel sound per syllable, you can feel the number of syllables based on how many times the chin touches that hand. Both of these ways can be really fun because they are kinesthetic methods of learning. In either case, you can talk about how lines in poetry should “feel the same” because they have the same number of claps or chin touches.

    1. Joy,

      Thank you so much for sharing your professional experience. Now that you mention it, I remember seeing that hand-chin technique before, but I can’t recall when/where… I’ll give it a shot! 💚

      Yours,
      David

  9. What a joy to read. 🙂
    I’m sorry I don’t have any tips for you though. Maybe just to have her read different types of poems often? I wrote my first poem at age 6. We started to learn different forms of them in my school & had to recite poems too. Maybe just by being exposed to different forms over time she will develop more of an understanding. Oh, & writing as much as she can of course. 🙂

    1. a thought: you probably thought about that but perhaps the ‘magnetic poetry’ might help her visualise what you are trying to teach? Otherwise, I’d say follow your own advice about not introducing new food? 🙂 and if you can’t get to a library now, perhaps there is children’s poetry online too? (Thinking of the poetry foundation web site?

      1. Barb,

        You know, she saw me playing with the online magnets… maybe I should suggest that she give it a shot. I’m only concerned that she’ll get distracted by the fun of moving the magnets around and forget about writing a poem… she gets distracted very easily!

        Yours,
        David

        1. …. let her play – you never know, you may like her non-sense poems she comes up with and/or reading them can get her back on track? Have fun,

  10. I love the poems! I don’t really know about teaching children, but maybe just try to read some child-friendly poetry to her and let her absorb by osmosis? Six seems a bit young to be formally teaching about rhythm, alliteration etc. I don’t know how easy they would be to get hold of in Israel, but Spike Milligan and Roger McGough come to mind as English language poets who wrote fun poems for children, and someone in the comments above mentioned Ogden Nash.

  11. Love it. Pretty cool especially for her age. Reminds me of my father’s poetry. Don’t worry about any of this. As to Hebrew, I am sure she will be fine. Be content. Above all, enjoy!

  12. This is just a thought but maybe you could create for her a blog of her own? I do not mean her logging on herself , but rather you creating a new blog through your WP account, so that you can publish her poems on that blog. But she can think about how to make it look, the visual style etc. It would presumably be a thrill for her to see her words on a web page, and I bet her friends would be jealous!
    In terms of writing constructs, most of the things you mention, I did not learn until secondary school, so it is very advanced. But possibly she can learn many things just by examples from you, where at the end you can say “there is a special name for that, it is called x”

  13. David, you already have great advice from previous commenters about helping your daughter develop her poetic talents. Some of my favorites: Reading aloud many different poets…Maybe she would enjoy having an anthology of her own. Play and experiences that give her inspiration. Clapping to music and the syllables of poetry. Your own example and involvement. I think you have a child prodigy on your hands and are doing an excellent job! Enjoy! ❤

  14. Sometimes tapping out with fingers still leaves it all in the head.
    It might be a very fun game to use a hopscotch pattern on the ground and have a jump for each syllable – try to create a clause up and then a clause back. Be really silly because it will be hard for both of you. But as you play you’ll learn to intuitively hit the mark with the syllable count.
    It might help her get the sense of rhythms and that might also help her recognize metered poetry that doesn’t rhyme.

    That’s my 2 cents. Oh – and Michael Rosen’s poems are so wonderfully silly – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1cfVQyrQ3Q
    loads of alliteration and rhyme and rhythm

  15. metaphors – forgot the “concepts” – just teach the activity.
    A deck of cards with nouns only – put them in two stacks and you each turn a card over at the same time. Like the card game of war, if you know that.

    The first of you to find and present a good “metaphor” wins. 🙂 (Of course, you don’t have to make it competitive but the poet-of-the-day crown could be fun)

    A ________ is like a ____________ because ————–

    get super silly and go fast because there will be accidentally wonderful gems …

      1. No 🙂 not exactly. I used to use a top hat with slips of paper and have the kids stand in a circle (with a whole class). I just twisted that idea.

      2. I’ve worked with kids who have trouble with terminology – there is a fancy word for it but I don’t know what it is in English. I focus on getting the students to experience the “thing” first – then when they know what the “thing” is/feels like – then they can more easily put a name to it. My approach to teaching is idea to terminology not : here is a “thing” we are going to learn – because they get hung up on doing it right, and the focus of the whole “learning” takes on a very odd angle. A task to complete rather than play.

  16. My mother was an elementary educator – her students were not introduced to writing poetry until 3rd grade… So your daughter is well ahead of the curve! Rhymes are fun and they develop the “ear” as does reading poetry out loud. Some of the best books for rhyming are Dr. Seuss who makes the rhyme fun and the story (or prose poem) engaging. I’d say let her steer the way for learning – when she hears alliteration and recognizes it as something special you can give it a name and encourage her to play with it…

  17. This is awesome David and I love the poems. Honestly, I think the fact that she is engaged is enough at the moment and following her lead as it takes her further which I imagaine it will.
    Love the idea of reading more and music in syllables! Good job dad.

    YAYYYYYYYY to your girl
    she is quite clever and smart
    Oh what a thrill!!!

    Congratulations to Daddy’s little prodigy
    A chip off the ole block
    with so much talent; oh how it pleases our W.P. community!!!!

    Nice job To you Daddy’s little girl!
    Bravo!!!!!

    💖👏👏👏👏👏👏

  18. David, this post warms my heart beyond measure. 💗
    I love that your poetic passion has evolved into a family affair. I smiled at the thought of you teaching her syllables. I taught seniors in HS and they struggle with this, which made learning iambic pentameter a challenge. However, I doubt many, if any of my students, had learned these lessons at home, at such a young age. Teaching (and learning) writing is a process. It sounds like she has a strong supportive start. Reading aloud whenever possible and providing her with examples to read, that are relatable to her, will extend her learning. I am sure you are already doing these things and more. Maybe she can start a virtual poetry night with her friends. Your daughter is a bright one with a bright future! Lovely post. 💓

  19. Honestly, just let her do what feels right. Read her enough poetry and she’ll figure it out. I’m against too many restrictions for young writers. The sound of poetry is best learned by listening to it. There are lots of good poetry anthologies put together with children in mind, some also illustrated with fine works of art. Your joint poems are totally age-appropriate and also fun to read aloud! (K)

  20. The poems are very enjoyable! She has potential. Congrats! I encourage my grand niece to be free flowing instead of counting the syllables per line, just getting use to the rhyme first and enjoy reading them aloud. Thanks for asking us to share our thoughts.

    1. By coincidence, she asked to write a free verse form last night, which we did together – not much rhythm in that one 😀

      Thank you!

      -David

  21. Poetry is so difficult to teach, but this is so moving. More children need to look up to poets. Non-rhyming poems and imagery are definitely a difficult concept! For imagery, I would try doing an activity where you draw and picture and describe it to her. You want her to draw it. What words would you use? Then, vice-versa.

    Let me know if that makes sense. (:

  22. She’s doing wonderfully well as it is. If you are reading lots of poetry with her that gives you opportunity to discuss rhymes that work, the rhythm and why right for the given poem. On non-rhyming try some of D. H. Lawrence animal poems -“Snake” “Man and Bat” to see how she thinks they work.But it sounds she is doing so well you can mainly just let her explore using a good anthology. For English, for children “The Rattle Bag” is a wonderful collection edited by poets Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. I put the query to my wife and she thinks a child of six should be writing rhymed poetry (rather than unrhymed) because it is the main part of the “game” of poetry writing for children.So perhaps keep it as a concept to come at more gradually later on.

  23. Awwwww wow David she is perfect. She is only 6, I think she is doing exceptionally well (with your help ofcourse) but nonetheless, doing great. What a beautiful little poet. Such a delicate soul. First poem was my fav… Gold stars from me 😊😊⭐⭐
    & PS… Her name is beautiful 😊🌹

  24. The most valuable thing I learned in College from a Shakespearean professor, but it can and should be taught to every child (in fact, that tells you the state of College students in the States). How to locate the basic elements of every convoluted, poetic sentence. Teach it in this order (because the “action” is easiest to find usually): How to locate the predicate; the main verb (“What is the ‘action’? What is taking place?”) How to locate the subject (“Who or what is doing the action?”) And how to locate the object (“Who or what is being impacted by the action?”) That just opened it all up for me.

  25. I wish my education was better as a child, but i shouldn’t complain too much as my parents loved me as much as they could, a brilliant education is so important i think and it should start the day after being born in my opinion.

      1. my granddaughter was three years old when she started using the expression “well, frankly, grampa…” Had no clue what it really meant, but used it perfectly.

        1. *laughs*

          Robert,

          My daughter, now six-years-old, still uses a lot of words that she doesn’t quite grasp!

          Thank you for sharing that 😀

          -David

  26. This post reminds me of all of the word games I used to play with my kiddos – now teenagers – while we were in the car for long trips. It was a way to pass the time, but also a way to get them interested in words, the difference in language (my kids are bilingual, but I’m not, lol), how words sound, their different meanings, etc. They were all games my dad played with me when I was a child that my kids still like to play, even now as teens, during the pandemic to pass the time. You’re laying the foundation of tradition with your daughter. 🙂

      1. I’m sorry – I just saw this now! Both of my kids are fluent in French, and English. My French is terrible – I can read it quite well, but my spoken French is lowest common denominator, at best. 😉

        1. That’s fantastic. Is their father from France?

          I speak to my daughter in English, her mother speaks to her in Russian, and she speaks in Hebrew at preschool 🙂

          -David

        2. No, but some of my family speaks French. Canada is bilingual, so I really wanted my kids to be able to speak both of our nation’s official languages. I can say certain things (like “Do you speak English? Please?”), but I’m nowhere near as good as my kids.

  27. Hey….this is really sweet. Guessing she has the same gift. Ever tried rap? I think you’ll have to winnow for age appropriateness… 😀 but it’s great for rhyme and rhythm

  28. My youngest granddaughter is 7 and smart as a whip. See https://bgmatthewsblog.wordpress.com/2021/01/31/pandemics-and-puzzles/

    These two would be quite a pair! If you make up little melodies, your petite poetess will learn to fit her words into the musical phrases. Be patient. She’s sprouting like a seedling and it will take a little time for her poetry skills to take root and grow in the fertile soil you’ve provided her.

    Oh—A potential poem! Methinks she could write herself in.

    1. Thank you so much, Barbara. She enjoys writing prose too, and it’s all of her own initiative, which is the best part 😀

      It’s amazing what children can do – I really do wonder how she’ll grow as a writer, and whether or not she’ll maintain her interest in this.

      Yours,
      David

      1. Wow! People sure do converse with you on your blog! Most of what I write seems to get sucked into a black hole somewhere. Thank you for your comments. I really do appreciate hearing from you.

        1. Barbara, that’s one of the most rewarding things about blogging for me ~ it lets me feel like I’m actually connected to other human beings throughout the world, rather than stuck in my local little bubble. I can’t entirely explain why I want to have that feeling (I know that not everybody does), but it’s very heartening for me.

          Yours,
          David

  29. The poems you wrote together are very fine indeed! All you can do is read read read, read everything you can get your hands on. Literary theory can come later, but the rhythm and pace of words, the sounds and patterns are best learnt I think from a wide range of others work. Maya Angelou might appeal? Life Doesn’t Frighten Me is particularly engaging.

  30. I’ve taught creative writing to children for decades. Getting the creative thought out first, I believe, is most important. She has a natural poetic voice. Let her use it. There are rhyming dictionaries to help expand vocabulary. Writing a haiku or tanka can be a challenge, but an interesting way of limiting word usage. Let her have fun with her words. The other things will follow. Visit my blog wolfsrosebud.com for my recent poetry.

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