Teaching Kids to Embrace Poetry

I do not like

green eggs and ham.

I do not like them,

Sam-I-am.

Recognize this rhyme? You can find it in Dr. Seuss’s classic Green Eggs and Ham, bound in colorful picture books like the rest of his work. But did you know you can classify the children’s book as poetry? The rhyme scheme, sound patterns, and lyrical writing is simple – due to its audience – but it is poetry nonetheless. As children, we are introduced to poetry to help us learn the English language but, at some point, our brain flips like a light switch and society decides that poetry isn’t useful anymore.

As someone who has discovered the power of poetry, I want more people to understand the potential it has and that starts at the beginning: kids.

Poetry During Childhood

The book I remember seeing on my wobbly white bookshelf when I was little is A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein. The author was famous for The Giving Tree but poetry was what characterized him in my mind. Where the Sidewalk Ends and Falling Up were two others that were filled with fantastical elements, made-up characters, and funny rhymes to invite children into the world of poetry.

Poetry was not just found in children’s books, however. It was more than Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. Every nursery rhyme we learned as children was poetry too. Think Humpty Dumpty, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Hey Diddle Diddle – juvenile, comical rhymes but still falling under the poetry umbrella. When you think about poetry in this way, you realize you were surrounded by it as a kid. Rhymes were popular in schools too, dating back decades, often filling up elementary school primers to help kids learn how to read and write.

Lessons of Language

When we are learning language as children, society loves feeding us more: more books, more words, more rhymes, until we finally hold mastery over the subject. Once that happens, the script flips. Reading is still encouraged, but as a side hobby. Focus on the science, the math, the technology that will get you a career first. That is what we are taught, even from young ages, when the first STEM program is introduced in school. 

Now, I’m not knocking STEM. It is the way of the future with jobs, society, and even the area where my career is taking me this summer. And I do love it. All I am saying is that we should continue to inspire kids to love language, to love the arts, to love poetry, at the same time. No person has to be defined by one subject area. In fact, I think a well-rounded human, dabbling in all facets of life, is preferred. 

While it is harder to make a living out of areas like poetry, that fact does not detract from its potential. Poetry is a powerful tool of self-expression, discovery, and healing, showing the inside of your mind in language that captures even more meaning than at the surface. Language is potent with the ability to rediscover who you are and redefine who you want to be. It is a skill that needs to be emphasized more than it is.

How Kids Can Learn to Love Poetry

When we teach kids nursery rhymes and read from Dr. Seuss at bedtime, we need to not give up. We need to inspire them to keep reading, to keep writing, to keep thinking on their own. I grew up with my nose always in a book – thanks to my mom – and here I am now: author, poet, avid writer. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

We should encourage kids to write their own rhymes and show them what their words can do. When they grow older, we should start showing them other writers, diversifying their perspectives with new voices. This should happen in schools too (there is a reason why #WeNeedDiverseBooks started – we need to keep momentum going). Teach the “classics” like Shakespeare and Whitman, yes, but also modern voices who write about the times we live in. Kids are much more likely to find interest in subjects that are relatable and close to home.

We just need to show them the power of poetry and never stop.

Want to Learn More About Poetry?

Check out similar topics in chapter 9 of my new book, Poetic Potential: Sparking Change & Empowerment Through Poetry, available wherever you buy your books.

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