Benefits of Reading Poetry to Children

There are many benefits to reading poems to children. Of all genres of writing, it is the most playful. Dr. Seuss and Pam Munoz Ryan for young readers, to Ogden Nash and Shel Silverstein for older readers (4th to 6th grade).  They discover they can manipulate words and language. Poetry is music. Poetry is sensory. A child’s face lights up when you read poetry to him/her.

When you read poetry to a child, his/her mind expands. For example, a poem for preschoolers and kindergarten students, “Hello Ocean” by Pam Munoz Ryan, will grow with the child. Younger children appreciate the beautifully illustrated pictures and how all five senses color the little girl’s experience at the beach.

Older children begin to realize how literary language enriches writing. This poem is also written in Spanish.

A preschool child, with the help of a parent, can write his/her first poem. The following is an excerpt from the poem.

“Hello Ocean/my old best friend/I’m here with the five of me, again!” This prepares the reader and listener to see the ocean through the five senses. Another stanza talks about “hearing” the ocean. “I hear the ocean/a lion’s roar,/crashing rumors/toward the shore,/water slushing and rushing in,/then whispering back to sea again.” The illustrations in the book help with difficult vocabulary words.

After reading this poem a few times, and the child knows its cadence, and he/she can “write” his/her own poem. Give your child an orange. Tell him/her that the senses will be used to write the poem. Ask, “How does it look? What else is orange? How does it smell? What else smells that way? How does it feel? What else feels that way? How does it sound? (Cut open the orange and squeeze it into a glass.) What else sounds like that? How does it taste? What else has that taste?”

This will build up your child’s vocabulary. If your child has some problems thinking of words, suggest some words. The advantage of having your child “write” the poem is that he/she has a sense of pride and can read it. Do not expect anything other than simple thoughts. This is an easy way to get your child into poetry, reading and writing. After you finish writing it, read his/her poem aloud. Be sure you are sitting next to your child so he/she can watch you write the words. You can prepare the poem ahead of time and fill in the blanks. It might look something like this:

Hello Orange/my old best friend/I’m here,/with the five me again

1. SIGHT.

I see the ________

It looks like _____

I feel the _______

You do the same thing, of course, for each one of the senses.

Tips for asking questions for each sense…

2. TOUCH.

How does it feel? What else feels that way?

3. SMELL.

How does it smell? What else smells like that?

4. SOUND – Cut the orange open and squeeze it into a glass.

How does it sound? What else sounds like that?

5. TASTE – Have the child drink the juice and eat a slice.

How does it taste? What else tastes like that?

Your child’s first written poem will delight him/her. Your child will read it many times. It is easy enough for him/her to read. Have your child add pictures to illustrate each sense.

Your child learned so many skills in this simple lesson. Your child sees an orange as something to celebrate. He/she will never look at an orange in the same way again. You will be pleasantly surprised when he/she wants to write more poems using the senses.

Poetry, like art, affects everyone differently. The affinity for poetry diminishes as we grow older. Part of the dislike comes when asked to interpret the poet’s intention for writing it. More importantly, a person should interpret a poem as it relates to self.

Poetry is beneficial because it gives new insight to the beauty of everyday objects. Poetry is a genre that can only be appreciated by hearing it. If one listens to William Butler Yeats reading his poetry, he sings it as a bard of yore. He wrote, “Reading a poetry silently…is to miss its music…” It helps a child look at the world of words.