Roses are red
Violets are blue
Anyone can write poetry
You, and your kids, too!
She sells seashells at the seashore, and Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, There was an old woman from Nantucket, and What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. What do these all have in common? They are fun, and beautiful to say. And oh, by the way, they are poetry. Quite a variety.
Poetry is one of those things that conjure myriad reactions from young and old — groans to swoons and everything in between. Children and adults alike may want to run far, far away when they hear the word poetry. They may be lulled into a peaceful, pensive place, or they may roll over laughing. I like to think it’s one part exposure, one part attitude, and one part knowing which poets to read. Being told they’re going to study poetry for a month doesn’t necessarily invite oohs and ahhs from kids, but making poetry a regular part of your life might get them to perk up when they hear the word poetry. By introducing children (and adults) to a wide variety of poetry, you increase your chances of them hearing something that they can glom onto and then, voilà — they’re hooked. You never know until you try, right?
Have you ever been to an art gallery and seen a patron deep in thought as they look at (what to the untrained eye is) a blank canvas with a dot in the middle or a stripe brushed across, and thought, “Huh? I don’t get it. Looks like a dot to me.” My apologies to the visual artists out there. The point is, visual and word art (i.e. poetry) is subjective. Anyone can do it, and anyone can appreciate what has been created. Poems are expressions of ourselves, of how we see the world, and can be playful, serious, thought-provoking, or downright odd.
I see poetry as a painting with words. It captures the beautiful, strange, ridiculous, and poignant. There are as many forms of poetry as there are color combinations in a painter’s palette, from seemingly simple haiku (three lines of five, seven, and five syllables) to Shakespearean sonnets to Shel Silverstein’s romping poems.
How might this look like in your home? For young children, rhyming and humor are usually a big hit. Say a silly sentence, and have your child add another, rhyming with the first. For the nature lovers and scientists, take turns making haikus. For the older and spirited, try an (appropriate) limerick. My husband and all of his family members seem to have a gene for the latter type of poetry, and you can be sure that someone will have written a limerick for every birthday, wedding, anniversary, or other milestone celebration.
Read a poem a night at dinner. Invite your kids to share their favorite. Make this easier by getting poetry books from the library in a variety of styles. A few modern-day poets for children of all ages that I recommend include Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Robert Frost, Nikki Giovanni, Nikki Grimes, Sharon Creech (one of many authors that have written novels in verse that even the most reluctant readers love), Lee Bennett Hopkins, Bruce Lansky, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, and Billy Collins, and don’t leave out “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll — talk about fun to read and hear. This is far from being an inclusive list, but it’s a good place to start. Who knows? Maybe your child will be the one requesting particular poets.
Spring is the perfect time to embrace something new and different. Life is blooming and growing all around us. Grab a poem, and feel the fresh air.
Deb Dunn is the literacy coordinator at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School: firstname.lastname@example.org.