Fostering a Love of Poetry at an Early Age

Poetry is a wonderful way to introduce young children to the idea of rhyme and rhythm. Poems can also incorporate counting and alphabet themes that help children to learn numbers and letters. Read aloud, children can be encouraged to join in as soon as they become familiar with the words. That’s something they are likely to do surprisingly quickly.

If you are looking for a collection of short rhymes, Clap Your Hands Finger Rhymes by Sarah Hayes and Toni Goffe (Walker Books, ISBN 074451231X) is an anthology of both modern and traditional rhymes, some to be read aloud and some that can be sung. Along with each rhyme comes a series of colorful illustrations that demonstrate actions using the fingers that children can do whilst the rhymes are read or sung. Some involve counting, forwards or backwards, whereas others require using fingers and thumbs to make a circle or a triangle, for example, or to imitate ‘incey wincey spider’ climbing up the water spout. Here’s an example of the kind of rhyme you will find in this book:

‘Five fat peas in a pea-pod pressed.
One grew, two grew, so did all the rest.
They grew and grew and did not stop,
Until one day the pod went POP!’

What Fun to be a Hippo, poems chosen by Wendy Cooling (Franklin Watts, ISBN 0749639121) is an excellent anthology looking at a variety of animals, from ants through kangaroos to tigers. Each poem is illustrated with either a colour photograph or a black-and-white drawing of the animal. Here is an excerpt from a poem about a squirrel:
‘Whisky Frisky, hippity-hop
Up he goes to the treetop!

Whirly, twirly, round and round,
Down he scampers to the ground.’

The delightful rhyming language makes this anonymous poem particularly suitable for pre-school children; other poems featured here are aimed more at older children, such as Tennyson’s ‘The Eagle’. It is a worthwhile addition to the pre-school library, however, as many of the verses here are rhythmical and amusing; some are shape poems that are fun to look at alongside the pictures, even if the children cannot read the poems themselves.

Not all poetry books for young children have to be collections of individual short verses. Commotion in the Ocean by Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz (Orchard Books, ISBN 0439082145) is a book full of brightly colored, eye-catching illustrations that introduces the creatures of the sea in rhyme and rhythm: the octopus, the angel fish, turtles, and so on. At the end of the book, children are invited to see how many of the creatures they can remember, and the combination of picture and rhyme usually helps them to recall most of them.

Doing the Animal Bop by J. Ormerod and Lindsey Gardiner (Oxford University Press, ISBN 0192791400) begins ‘If you like to dance and you sometimes sing, Why don’t you do the animal thing?’ It is hard to resist the urge when this is read aloud to get up and try to move in the same way as each animal that appears in these pages, jiggling and jiving, waddling like a duck or stomping like a rhino. On the final pages the line ‘so let’s end up with a great big mooo!’ becomes so familiar that the children love to join in. Both rhyme and rhythm come through in no uncertain terms, creating a lively pace.

Animals often seem to be the main focus of children’s poetry, but Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake (Red Fox, ISBN 0099400421) is the story of a poor man who had only one boot:

‘He has green parakeets
who pick holes in his suit –
And some very fat owls
who are learning to hoot –
But Mr Magnolia
has only one boot.’

This is a light-hearted piece of narrative poetry that has a happy ending as a little girl presents Mister Magnolia with a parcel that contains another boot. It doesn’t match the one he already has, but never mind, it’s a boot, and Mister Magnolia is deliriously happy. It might seem like a strange story, but Quentin Blake is of course the genius behind the illustrations to Roald Dahl’s books, and he has provided wonderful colored drawings to his own story here. We are introduced to Mister Magnolia’s purple dinosaur, and we see our hero splashing down a water chute and juggling with fruit. There is plenty here to capture the imagination of little pre-schoolers.

Whether you are looking for counting rhymes or stories, animal themes or rhythms to dance to, there is a wide variety of poetry books to choose from that will instil young children with a sense of rhyme and rhythm. Enjoy sharing them, reading aloud or singing, sitting attentively or getting up to boogie. Poetry can be great fun!