Have Fun with Children’s Poetry
By Leslie C. Halpern
When I tell people that I’m president of the Orlando Area Poets, write children’s poetry books, perform with a poetry ensemble, and once worked with a Shakespearean acting troupe, they usually roll their eyes and tell me they don’t like poetry. That’s usually because as children they never learned to understand the language of poems.
Adults can make poetry fun and educational for children by introducing age-appropriate poems to youngsters in entertaining ways. Infants respond to hearing rhymed poems and looking at illustrations. As soon as a child can speak, he or she can explain what pictures mean and guess what happens next. By being active listeners, children learn to decode language at an early age and develop a life-long love of words. Adding sounds effects as you read to children (such as making funny sounds, reading with an accent, including finger snaps or claps, or adding a musical instrument for emphasis) also can increase their enjoyment.
Blending Concrete and Abstract
When children become accustomed to the language, they can appreciate one of poetry’s most beautiful elements: blending concrete (what’s experienced through our senses) and abstract (emotional truth without physical proof).
The poem “Chew Chew Train” from my book, Shakes, Cakes, Frosted Flakes: Funny Children’s Poems About Table Manners combines concrete images (strained spinach, ice cream) with abstract ideas (playing tricks, comparing a mouth to a tunnel). This humorous look at parent-child interactions at the dinner table offers a child’s point of view about adult manipulation.
Chew Chew Train
“Open wide for the choo choo train,”
my parents sometimes say.
There is no train, just spinach strained,
but I open anyway.
A spoon with spinach doesn’t look
like any kind of choo choo.
It’s the oldest trick in the book,
like kissing someone’s boo boo.
The train still comes and blow its steam,
but now the tunnel shuts.
I wait for spoons of soft ice cream,
caramel, and nuts.
Poetic Devices for Young Children
Most children enjoy thinking about symbols and metaphors (used as figurative language in poetry), and finding patterns in the rhyme scheme. They also find comfort and gain confidence from anticipating rhyme and repeating rhythm of traditional children’s poems. Rhyme and rhythm make memorization easier, as do various forms of humor, including hyperbole, puns, and sarcasm.
For example, in the poem “Race Car Bed” from my book Silly Sleepytime Poems, humor and figurative language combine two opposite ideas: racing and sleeping. Inspired by a real-life race car bed, the poem includes a predictable end-rhyme scheme, detailed descriptions, a sound effect, and a surprise ending to keep young readers engaged.
Race Car Bed
My parents bought me
a race car bed
with bold black stripes,
and a frame of red.
It’s built to look
like a sports car. Zoom!
It fits perfectly
in my bedroom.
Now here’s the problem
that I’m facing.
As I lie in bed,
my mind is racing.
Writing Their Own Poetry
Reading and reciting poetry encourages children to write their own. Ask children to write simpler forms, such as haiku (17 syllables, with three lines divided into 5, 7, 5 syllables each line), rhymed couplets (two lines with rhyming final words), and free verse (no required rhyme or rhythm).
To enhance their poetry, children can draw pictures or use artwork and photographs from magazines to illustrate poems. Compile their best poems or their favorite poems by other poets into a hand-written book, a booklet printed from the computer, or a blank book purchased from the store. Let the child “perform” this poetry in front of family and friends, using silly props and percussion instruments, including tambourines, bells, and drums, to increase the fun. The important part of this process – and what will be appreciated most – is for parents and children to explore poetry together.
Award-winning poet Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Poodles & Doodles: Poems about Dogs, Silly Sleepytime Poems, and the Funny Children’s Poems three-book series: Frogs, Hogs, Puppy Dogs; Shakes, Cakes, Frosted Flakes; and Rub, Scrub, Clean the Tub. Leslie also writes nonfiction books for adults about the entertainment industry. All her books are available on www.Amazon.com and through her website at www.LeslieHalpern.com. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/funnychildrenspoems