As a teacher, I started to love it because I realized that I could make it fun.
I started with 2nd graders, introducing them first to the silly rhyming poems popular with children (Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss) and then some grown-up ones (e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes). We explored the words and the rhythm and the rhyme and the rules. We examined different types of poems (who doesn’t love a good haiku?) and wrote our own. When I moved up to 5th grade we kept the same recipe but delved a bit deeper and mixed in more complicated poems and song lyrics. (They loved Poe. The creepier, the better!) In both grades, my students made their own books of poetry with bright covers and brighter words and shared them with parents, grandparents, and friends at our annual Poetry Coffeehouse. Each child selected two or three favorite poems and read them aloud proudly, even if with shaking hands. Yes, it was as cool as it sounds, if I do say so myself.
Suddenly, an event with guests and jazz and coffee and juice and pastries and public speaking made poetry pretty cool. It was really, really cool. Even the kids who said they hated it at the beginning liked sharing their nuggets of brilliance at the coffeehouse, nervous jitters aside.
And boy, were those nuggets brilliant.
They were funny. Touching. Meaningful. Amazing.
Exploring poetry with my students gave me a glimpse into their incredible creative minds. Children who struggled with written expression were often the ones who knocked my socks off most. And parents couldn’t believe what they were reading and hearing.
I wish I could take the credit, but all I did was show them a different way of creating, of writing, of expressing themselves. They did the rest. They sparkled. I beamed.
The beauty of poetry is that there’s something for everyone. Many of my students were hesitant at first because they thought it had too many confusing rules. Others balked because they thought they didn’t know where to start. But here’s the thing: there are rules, but you don’t always need them. Some loved the structure of a haiku or a set rhyme scheme. Others loved the freedom of free verse. Every student had a favorite. Every student expressed his or her unique personality in some delightful way.
With and without rhyme, with and without rules, each and every one of my students communicated something that taught me about who they were. Every one.
April is National Poetry Month. As a writer, I’m trying to get better at rhyme by participating in Rhyming Picture Book Month, or RhyPiBoMo, as it’s called. (The writing world likes abbreviations. That’s funny in and of itself, I think.) It’s a daily online rhyming boot camp of sorts, and I kind of feel like I imagine my students did – challenged, awed, and a little bit overwhelmed. But I like it.
If your child doesn’t like to write, why not try some poetry this month?
You can start by reading some. There are so many great poetry books out there. Want to start right away? Writer’s Digest offers a great list of poems for kids with links to each one. Have fun reading them aloud together!
When you’re ready to write, visit Scholastic for step-by-step workshops from some wonderful poets (including the great Jack Prelutsky, who also gives tips for kids in this book). Then have your child try some out independently with fun interactive activities from ReadWriteThink, the website of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Have them experiment with theme poems, diamante poems, and acrostic poems and print them to share.
Now that spring is springing, spend some time outside. Have your child make observations with each of their five senses and choose words that accompany or describe them. Give them a little notebook or journal to record them. They’ll be well on their way to a fabulous free verse poem. Remember – no rules here!
e.e. cummings was always a big hit in my classroom because his poems so beautifully break all of those grammar rules I worked so hard to teach. I’ll leave you with one of my favorites, appropriate for this time of year. [in Just-]
Happy Spring, happy poets! The world is puddle-wonderful.
Here’s to writing, reading, smiling, and rhyming (or not rhyming – whatever works!).