Enjoying Poetry in the Younger Years

Enjoying Poetry in the Younger Years

“I’m a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I’d rather have my poems on the subway than around the seminar table at an MFA program.”
—Billy Collins (U.S. Poet Laureate)

By April Huard, Off-Campus Program Advisor

As a poetry lover, I jumped at the chance to incorporate poetry into my kids’ everyday life when I started homeschooling them. I wanted poetry to be a normal, joyful experience and not something to be merely endured in high school English. So, we set out to explore, enjoy, memorize, and recite poetry at every opportunity! My kids are older now, but still remember (and recite) the poems that we learned when they were young.

Poetry is a gift that many students don’t discover until their teens; the younger years, though, is the perfect time to start exploring and enjoying poetry. If you want to expose your own kids to more poetry, here are some ideas to get you started:

Start with a poem that reads like a book.

One of my favorite ways to introduce children to poetry is with Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog. The free-verse poems, written by a boy named Jack, tell the story of Jack’s evolving attitude toward poetry as well as his love for his dog.

Illustrate poems.

Read Tennyson’s “The Eagle” or “The Tiger” by William Blake and have your kids draw an illustration to accompany it. This type of exercise awakens the senses and helps young students become familiar with imagery. Decorate the refrigerator with the results!

Memorize a poem as a gift.

Plan ahead to memorize a special poem for someone’s birthday or other occasion. My kids recited a poem for their great-grandmother one year for Christmas, and that day is now a cherished memory. Try “King John’s Christmas” by A. A. Milne for a Christmas gift, or one of Ogden Nash’s short poems for a hilarious birthday gift.

Organize a poetry recitation.

When my children were young, a homeschooling friend hosted a yearly poetry recitation complete with punch and cookies. Kids of all ages took the stage and recited everything from simple rhymes to monologues from Shakespeare. This is a wonderful way for children to share their learning as well as get some public speaking practice.

Make poetry a daily habit.

Read through A. A. Milne’s poems at bedtime each night or around the breakfast table each morning. Choose a poem of the month to practice and memorize each day, and have a wide variety of poetry books available for kids to pick up and peruse. Maybe most importantly, set a good example for your children by reading and reciting poetry yourself. Tell your kids about the poems you’re enjoying and which ones you’re trying to commit to memory.

Additional Resources for Exploring Poetry with Young Learners

  • A Kick in the Head by Paul B. Janeczko
  • When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne
  • Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash
  • Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization from Institute for Excellence in Writing
  • The Oxford Illustrated Book of Poems by Donald Hall

What are your favorite poetry resources for younger students?

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