One of my favourite things to do with Frida is to read poetry together. We curl up in an armchair, or on the sofa, or I read to her whilst she is in the bath, or on a train, or whilst she plays. Although I love reading story books, or factual books, with Frida, I definitely find reading good poetry to her the most enjoyable in terms of reading aloud.
The benefits of reading poetry to children are huge. I would argue that poetry has a big role to play in building the foundations for literacy.
Poetry is a wonderful way to build a child’s vocabulary and language structure. With the rhymes inherent in so many poems, even very young children can easily learn new words. The very nature of poetry demands for precise vocabulary to match the rhythm and rhyme of the poem, which means language is often more imaginative and varied than in a story book.
Poetry also encourages children to recognise patterns. Poems are often repetitive in their structure and/or meter and/or language, which is brilliant for recognising patterns. Often children will be able to guess which word will come next despite having never heard a poem before, because they have understood the pattern.
Reading poetry to your child is also really enjoyable – a big benefit in my eyes! But don’t stop at just reading it. Memorise and recite some of your favourites (start short and work up), and encourage your child to memorise and recite them with you. They can do this long before they can read the poems out loud! This might sound unrealistic, but many parents find that their toddlers have learnt parts of their favourite books off by heart. Poetry is no different!
“Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.”
[Fox, M. (2001). Reading Magic. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.]
You could begin by pausing before the end of each line of the poem, to allow your child the chance to finish it, then gradually leaving out more and more, giving them the chance to fill in the gaps, before finally asking them if they would like to tell you the poem. Of course they may well need no encouragement; I often hear Frida reciting short poems and verses to herself, and the delight and pride she takes in doing so is obvious. Your child may surprise you!
You can also make up silly poems together, a brilliant way of exploring rhyme and developing phonemic awareness.
Building a child’s poetry collection
Starting a poetry collection for your child might seem a little daunting, but it doesn’t need to be! Start with a couple of classics – don’t forget to make use of your local library too! – and take it from there. Maybe there were poems you loved as a child you would like to share?
If you are thinking of starting a poetry collection for a young child, here are some of my recommendations. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but I think this would provide an excellent base for any child’s book collection, and they are certainly all books which we read often and love.
When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne. This is a must-have in my opinion. We read this so often!
Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne. Ditto. Simply superb.
Out and About: A First Book of Poems by Shirley Hughes. Gorgeously illustrated, gentle poems. I would recommend this to every family with toddlers.
A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa. The illustrations in this volume are superb, as are some of the poems included.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. So much fun! The language is fantastic and the poems are brilliant. Buy this if you want your child to effortlessly learn words such as prestidigitation and suavity.
The Complete Nonsense and Other Verse by Edward Lear. We LOVE Lear’s nonsense poems – you have probably heard of the Owl and the Pussycat, his most famous one. When Frida was a tiny baby I could always calm her down if she was upset by reciting “The Quangle Wangle’s Hat”.
I would also add in a good nursery rhyme collection; we have The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes illustrated and compiled by Raymond Briggs.
If you enjoy reading poetry and rhymes together, I would encourage you to learn some simple verses together too, perhaps involving some finger-play. We love Waldorf-inspired verses and have been lucky enough to learn some through the Steiner playgroup we attend. There are too many to share with you, but a google search should bring up many!
I will leave you with one of Frida’s favourites:
“A big big cat, (open your hands further apart horizontally)
“And a small small mouse, (bring your hands closer together)
“Lived together in a tall tall house. (open your hands further apart vertically)
“But the big big cat (open your hands further apart horizontally)
“Ran fast fast fast, (use your hands to make running paws)
“And the small small mouse was… (bring your hands closer together but don’t close them)
“Caught at last!” (clap your hands as if catching a mouse)
Do you enjoy poetry or verses with your child? Which are your favourites?