A love of poetry is developed at a young age. Have you ever noticed most of the time when someone references a poem it is one they learned in school? Sitting down and reading a book of poetry just for the joy of it is not something many of us do on a regular basis. That makes it all the more important for teachers and parents to not only expose children to good poetry but to encourage an appreciation of the art form. What better time to do that than in early childhood education?
I was reminded today of the importance of teaching children to appreciate poetry when I participated in Sweet Pea’s first grade “Fall Centers”. It was a morning of art and crafts and, happily for me, poetry. I was one of three moms who volunteered to help out with the Fall Centers by tending one of the stations. Having manned craft stations in the past I was excited to find there was a poetry center so I put dibs on it. The simple fall poem was posted where the kids could see it and they were also given a piece of paper with the poem to decorate and take home. We read the poem together, learned some sign language and motions to go along with it, then recited the poem and acted it out together.
Here is the very simple poem:
Leaves Are Falling
The leaves are falling all around,
Red, yellow, orange and brown.
Twirling, swirling to the ground,
Look how many leaves I’ve found.
The point is not that this is a profound work from a famous poet. It is not. But I was shocked to find the boys and girls so excited about the exercise. Having a fifth grade boy, I know first hand how the older children get the more likely they are to see certain activities as silly. I was half expecting these first graders, or at least some of them, to moan and groan at the idea of acting out a poem. But to my great surprise almost all of them were very excited to participate.
Perhaps it was just their young age. More likely it is a combination of youth and their teacher who clearly places special emphasis on poetry and reading. This was evident not only by the enthusiastic participation of her students in the poetry center but by her willingness to go out of her way to incorporate poetry into her curriculum. When Sweet Pea showed me his desk he pointed out the separate poetry notebook his teacher had created. Each student has a three-ring binder dedicated to poetry and they fill it up during the year with the various verses they learn in class. Since it is first grade, I am not sure how much actual writing they will be doing. But clearly the exposure at this relatively early age is creating children who are, minimally, open to the creativity of poetry.
The enthusiasm of these children was unexpectedly inspiring. It reminded me of the importance of teaching children to appreciate things of beauty – in this case, in the form of the written word. It also motivates me to spend more time reading poetry with my two boys and encouraging them to write some of their own.
Here are just a few of the poetry books I recommend reading with children:
A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children by Caroline Kennedy
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Endless String: Poems for Children (and the people who read to them) by Tom Hannah
Anything by Dr. Seuss.
What are some other favorite books of poetry that you read and share with your kids?
You can find plenty of poetry in the Dose of Beauty archives.