Poetry for Children: Why It Matters

There's quite a lot of poetry for children around but it can be surprisingly hard to find really good poems to share with children.

For a start, what kind of poems are worth sharing? 

Does poetry even matter for kids and, if so, why?

poetry for childrenMy mum reading to my sons, Oliver and James

On this page you'll read about why it's important to read poetry with kids, which poems are good to read and how to get started.

You can also click here to read some short, kid-friendly poems suitable for reading to children from the time they're born right through to the school years.

So first, the short answer to the question of why it's important to expose babies and young children to poetry (scroll down for a more detailed explanation).

Believe it or not, hearing poems and rhymes from their earliest days helps children develop three really critical pre-reading and communication skills:

It's also great fun and kiddoes love it!

What is Poetry?

We usually don't think much about this question.

If we do, we're probably tempted to think that poetry is simply a series of rhyming lines which describe a thing or an experience.

But if it was as simple as that, why would we need poetry at all?

Encyclopedias, the internet and other kinds of writing can tell us about experiences, things, people and even complex ideas.

What does poetry add that these other forms of writing don't?

One explanation I like is that poetry communicates the essence or the soul of something, rather than just describing it.

For example, imagine describing a playground swing to someone: what it looks like and how it feels to swing backwards and forwards. The person you're talking to would probably understand but would he or she really get a sense of the excitement and freedom a child feels on a swing?

Now, take a moment to read Robert Louis Stevenson's short poem The Swing. The poem communicates so much more than just a basic description could. It manages to communicate the joy, the wonder and the fun a small child feels when he or she swings high up into the air.

Another way to explain it is to say that a poet uses language and linguistic techniques to create visual images that come alive in the mind of the reader or listener. As the images come alive, the listener or reader becomes part of the experience. He is there, at least in his imagination. And because he is there, even for a very short time, his emotions are also engaged. He feels frightened or excited, filled with awe or sad.

Pretty amazing, really.

The Importance of Poetry for Children

But why does this matter?

Why should we bother reading poetry to children at all?

These are pretty good questions to ask.

poetry for children, two boys reading

We tend not to think too much about poetry these days, unless you're a high-school kid who's being "forced" to study Shakespeare or Yeats!

Where once parents would recite nursery rhymes with their babies and littlies, now we tend to let them watch TV or play on the computer.

Poetry seems to have almost disappeared from our busy lives altogether.

Does this matter? The evidence is that it does. In fact, it matters a lot.

We now know that reading to children is really important for their development in all sorts of ways but did you know that poems and nursery rhymes are especially important?

In fact, teachers, speech-language therapists and other experts now say it's vital for babies and young children to hear the kind of language used in poems and rhymes.

This is because the sometimes unusual words and speech patterns contained in poems written for children help enrich your child's vocabulary. 

The rhythm, repetition and rhyme also help develop the phonological awareness skills she'll need to learn to read easily later on.

As well as all this, babies and small children just love all kinds of rhymes and poems and exploring different kinds of poetry with them is great fun! 

So where to from here?

Which Poems Should I Read?

If you'd like to introduce your little one to poetry, you might like to start with the free poems on these pages:

If you'd like to buy a book of poems for children, have a look at the ones below. These are all beautifully-illustrated books which are a real joy to share with children.

Remember that babies and very young children are mainly interested in listening to the sound of your voice and to the rhythm of the language as you read. This means they'll enjoy listening to pretty much any poems you'd care to read.  

Remember that picture books written in rhyming verse are also a form of poetry and they're great for this age group.  

For more ideas about reading poetry to children, go to this page.

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