Why Poetry is Good for Kids
How are you all, anyway? My backyard is mud soup and I was on suicide watch for a while after it snowed, but am faring well now.
It's National Poetry Month!
And I just feel like throwing a party because I LOVE POETRY. Rhyming poems, free-verse, found poems, lyric poems, haikus, sonnets, odes, elegies, narratives, blank verse, ballads, and of course the end-all-be-all of the poetic form: The ABC poem; you name it, I enjoy it.
You may balk. Perhaps you never grew to appreciate a verse written in solid iambic pentameter. Maybe it bugged you that e.e.cummings never used capital letters. I submit that even if a verse of Tennyson doesn't tickle your fancy, you probably love children's poetry.
Think back to the first stanzas you sang to your tiny infant, who lay still (well, all those non-colicky infants anyway) and nuzzled in your arms, relaxing to the rhythm and cadence of your voice. "Hush little baby don't say a word, mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird" perhaps? A round of "you are my sunshine, my only sunshine?" Or maybe, like me, you enjoy a good nautical poem and couldn't help but soothe your child by singing a couple verses of "Baby Beluga" by Raffi.
All infants were at one time lulled to sleep by the beating of their mother's heart. It only makes sense that the repetition of a rhyming poem would be soothing and comforting to their tiny ears. You will find that your baby is more responsive to rhymes than he is to normal speech. The steady pace and predictable repetition reminds him of the womb. Lullaby's almost always rhyme. Those board books that are ridiculously overpriced generally rhyme.
We are all born pre-conditioned to love poetry.
Of course, as we grow, our definition of poetry grows. The world changes, the way we view the world changes, and the way we use words changes. At first, words are foreign and their sounds are what captivate us. Soon, those sounds become meaning. Later, words become not to only a way to express out basic needs, but a way to express our emotions, our greater desires, our fears, our hurts, and our experiences. Poetry is about words, the sounds they make, their connotations, the way they feel when they slip off the tongue, the way they look written in our own handwriting on a smooth piece of paper ... Poetry grows and expands and changes as we become more complex peoples. Poetry becomes what we need it to become.
Why should we hope to instill a love of poetry into our children? In the introduction to the book Read my Mind: Young Children, Poetry and Learning by Fred Sedgwick, the author writes that "because poetry exists on the frontier between the known world and the world of imagination, it reaches out to both."
Use poetry to teach history, science, and religion. Teach poetry to help your child express herself through words. Read poetry in order to laugh out loud. Whisper poetry to lull your child to sleep. Help your child embrace poetry for no other reason than that it is a stepping stone between the concrete world and that dreamy otherworld that is our imagination.