Let’s share poetry with the very young

September 25, 2019

This little poem they can’t take away,
No one can tell me a poem can’t play
Celia Warren

Rhiannon Findlay, Editor of Poems Out Loud, explains why sharing poetry with the very young is good for everyone.

Whether it’s wild, wacky and whimsical or thought provoking and beautiful, poetry can play a huge yet sometimes undervalued role in young children’s development. More often that not, a child’s first experience of poetry is in the classroom, where it becomes something to study and scrutinise, not just a simple pleasure. By making poetry accessible to children from a young age, as a source of natural, uninhibited enjoyment, we can change the way children interact with and respond to poetry. The potential benefits are huge: as well as developing language and cognitive skills, sharing poetry with your child is a brilliant way of nurturing their creativity and imagination, encouraging self-expression and generating a life-long love of words – and it’s never too soon to start.

If you’ve had the experience of reading to a young child, you will know how happily they respond to rhythm and rhyme. Even babies, although they won’t understand the meaning behind the words, are likely to react positively to the short, bouncy sounds they hear – something we see through their engagement with simple songs, nursery rhymes and picture books. The musical nature of poetry can have a very similar impact. Rhythm and rhyme play a huge part in a child’s language development; a staggering 90% of brain growth takes place in the first three years of a child’s life, so taking time to read aloud to young children really is incredibly important.

As well as developing language skills, poetry has the potential to connect children with a wide range of emotions. It is a vehicle through which they can explore the views of others and express their own feelings. It encourages a sense of wonder, and inspires imagination. And while every child is different, there are so many ways in which children can engage with poetry, whether it’s listening, reading, writing or performing. Not only that, but the range of topics and poetic styles are both so diverse that no child should truthfully be able to say: “I don’t like poetry.”

So what can you do to help? Surround your child with poetry and rhyme whenever and wherever you can. In the kitchen, in the bath, in the car… whether it’s a poem you’ve read together, or a silly rhyme you’ve made up on the spot. Ask children to complete phrases you give them by choosing their own words to fill in the gaps, however nonsensical they may be. Read picture books together, and sing nursery rhymes. Help them learn short, simple poems that they can repeat and perform out loud. Poetry invites us to stop, think and be curious – so, as Michael Rosen says: “Let the sound of poetry go in their ears.”