I remember having to do poetry units in school as a kid. Misery. We read a bunch of poems and then had to write poems during one isolated unit.
Where do I begin?
What am I supposed to write?
Because I hated it to so much, I’ve decided to take a different approach with my kids. Robert Frost said, “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” I think of this sentiment often when planning poetry lessons. Delight and wisdom. . . both should have an equally important place in poetry. And that’s what inspired me to teach poetry the way I do – utilizing delight and wisdom. In fact, most of the time I don’t really feel that I’m “teaching” it at all. Just like I don’t “teach” stories, I share them with my kids because I love them. LIkewise, I don’t often “teach” poems. I just share them with my kids.
I’ll also share with you some of my favorite books of poems so you can read them with your kids if you’d like. The links and book images in this post are affiliate links that take you to Amazon if you’re interested in any of these books. You can also check your library; you’ll likely find most of the titles there. And a few of them are links to free Kindle versions of the book, also through Amazon.
Poetry With Delight and Wisdom
There is so much about poetry that is delightful. Children’s poems, in particular, are often wildly funny and beautiful. Words carry a lot of power, and we shouldn’t underestimate our kids’ ability to appreciate them. But we have to let them grow into the words. We begin with the pure delight of short and simple poems, and bit by bit, the wisdom comes as they grow into poems with greater depth and substance.
Growing Up With Poems
When we start reading stories to kids when they are tiny, we don’t usually start with Jane Eyre. We start with Goodnight Moon. We progress to The Cat in the Hat. Then soon we’re reading the trickier words of Amelia Bedelia. Before long, we can work up to chapters – Charlotte’s Web. And then the themes become more complex – Bridge To Terabithia and The Giver. Soon, the world of literature is open to us and we can take it all in. The words and the themes and the ideas grow, and with them, our children grow.
But too often we forget to do that with poetry. We throw kids into the deep waters of Shakespeare and William Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson, and they drown.
Like stories, poems should be read to kids every single day. As they grow up with poems, they will grow into them. Begin when they’re tiny with the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose. Progress to simple rhyming stories like There’s A Wocket in my Pocket and Sheep in A Jeep.
It won’t be long before kids are ready for poets that delight us with trickier words – Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and Kenn Nesbitt. Theirs are the poems akin to Amelia Bedelia, those that play with words and language and make us fall in love with their humor and cleverness.
Next, the short poems can progress to ones of greater length. The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, and Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.
Soon, kids are ready for poems not only of greater length, but also greater substance. Our focus is shifting from mere delight to greater wisdom. Read poems like Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, Hurt No Living Thing and other poems by Christina Rossetti, and The Lamb and The Tyger by William Blake.
More Than Once In Awhile
If we want the delight and wisdom of poems to be part of us, we have to read them over and over and very often. Poetry has become a fun (and often funny) part of our everyday. It isn’t just an isolated one time school unit, but a part of our lives constantly, just like stories are.
Just like we pull out storybooks, we have poetry books that we love and read over and over again. We still love to read Caps for Sale and King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub and Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type even when we’re much “too old for them” and we’ve read them a hundred times. And similarly, we read our favorite books of poetry over and over again too, even if we’ve outgrown them and read them a hundred times.
We also memorize a lot of poems. As I read, my kids naturally begin to say the familiar ones with me. We also practice memorizing things every day during our little morning meeting at the beginning of our school day. We add them to our little memorization booklets. Each day we read through them and practice, and by the end of the week they can recite the poem by heart. We usually learn about a new poem a week, and also repeat a couple that we’ve already learned each day, just so we don’t forget them.
Playing With Poems
Rather than memorizing a poem, sometimes we just read it and do something fun to go along with it. This week we read My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson and then made this shadow silhouette art to attach the poem to. I had the kids each sit against a piece of poster board while I shined a desk lamp at them. I traced their silhouette shadow and then they colored it in and attached the poem to it. While they colored, I read the poem out loud and we talked about what each stanza meant.
So When Do You Actually Teach Poetry?
When I teach poetry I’m generally teaching the WRITING of poetry rather than the reading of it. When we have a poetry unit, we are learning to write poems. And the writing comes so much more easily when kids have read lots of and lots of poems. I also teach them poetry lingo during our units – like stanza, meter, rhyme scheme, and rhythm. Our writer’s workshop page shares a few fun poetry writing ideas. These units also teach poetry.
Two Poems That I Love
Read poems and find ones you love before sharing them with your kids. If you really love something, you teach it differently, in a brighter, more beautiful way.
Here are two poems I love to get you started. This first one I love for its silliness.
By William Cole
For breakfast I had ice cream’
With pickles sliced up in it;
For lunch, some greasy pork chops
Gobbled in a minute;
Dinner? Clams and orange pop,
And liverwurst, slicked thick —
And now, oops! Oh pardon me!
I’m going to be sick!
Silly poems get them hooked, but the descriptive language and vividness of poetry will hold them there (don’t ever leave the silliness completely behind though!). This second poem is one I love for its vivid language.
From A Railway Carriage
Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!
Delight and Wisdom is a Process
The bottom line? Read, read, read, read, and read some more poetry. Make it light hearted and delightful at first , and let your kids’ wisdom grow bit by bit. And when you have them start writing it, use the same pattern. Make it just as fun as the funny poems you started reading in the first place. Then, they can naturally grow into more deeper and meaningful poems too.
More From Layers of Learning
For lots more ideas to get kids reading and writing, go visit our Writer’s Workshop and Bookworms pages. I think you might just find more delightful and wise ideas there!