Poetry for children

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?

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10 thoughts on “Poetry for children

  1. You have the absolute BEST taste in books! I’ve bought so many of your recommendations for my daughter and we’ve enjoyed them all. We have some of these already (Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is our favourite) but I’ve added the A. A. Milne and Edward Lear books to our wishlist. Can’t wait to read them at our Poetry Tea Time! As an aside, we just bought the beautiful ‘Maps’ book by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski and I wondered if you’ve heard of it. My daughter loves it and I thought Frida might too 🙂

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  2. Is “Out and About: A First Book of Poems” worth buying if you already own the “Shirley Hughes Nursery Collection”? I find the product descriptions for Shirley Hughes books are never very helpful in telling you how much of the content is replicated from her other books.

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    • Hmm. I think it is, but maybe not if you have others too. There is definitely some repetition! However I have really liked having a bigger collection in one place. Sorry, that’s not very helpful is it? Xx

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  3. Thank you for this post, Eloise. I read poetry in Polish with my boys a lit but was a bit lost what to choose in English. Now I know what to look for ☺

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  4. Thank you so so much for sharing this post with us. I’ve been meaning to start a poem collection for O going but did not know where to start. This is so so helpful.
    Thanks, Eloise!

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  5. Eloise, you have the BEST taste in books! We’ve bought so many of your recommendations and love them all. We have a few of these poetry books already (Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is our favourite) but I’ll be adding A Child’s Book of Poems and The Complete Nonsense to our wishlist. My 3 year old daughter loves having ‘Poetry Tea Time’. As an aside, have you seen the book ‘Maps’ by Alexandra and Daniel Mizielinski? We just bought it the other day and my daughter loves it, I thought Frida might too. It’s beautiful.

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    • Sorry for the very late reply, I’ve somehow only just seen this! Yes! I have seen the Maps book, it’s on my wish list as it looks gorgeous. We will definitely be buying it for Frida in the future. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the book recommendations. Practical Cats is the best, isn’t it? Xx

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  6. What lovely choices, I read most of these with my children and we all really enjoy them. The other great favourite here is Robert Louis Stevensons ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’. We also like ‘Rhymes for all Seasons’ by Jane Asher which I picked up in a charity shop and has been mucho enjoyed.

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