Why I Read Poetry to My Toddler
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by Robin Merrill, a freelance writer
My son just turned two. Every time he sees something that he considers beautiful, he exclaims, “flower!” I can’t even articulate why this brings me so much joy, but somehow, it is so much more powerful than if he were to exclaim, “beautiful!” My son has connected “flower” to “beautiful.” I could correct him, but I prefer to believe that my son is speaking in poetry.
No one read poetry to me when I was little, so I don’t know how I turned out like this, but I am obsessed. I love poems. I love good poems. I love startling images and words that sound cool together. I love learning about myself in poems and I love it when poems make me cry. Maybe I’m a weirdo, I don’t know, but I’m taking my son along with me apparently.
You see, I used to panic. When he was a wee little lad, he wanted nothing to do with story time. Every night I would try to read him a book and every night he would try to eat it.
Then one night I tried poems. And for whatever reason, he listened a little bit better. Whether it was the rhythm, the rhyme, the lack of a narrative, or whether it was just him sensing my own thrill with the language, he did not try to eat the book.
Today, he is my poetry buddy. And a few have raised their eyebrows at me. “Why don’t you just read him normal books?” I’m not sure what they mean – It’s not like I’m reading him Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath. Besides, Dr. Seuss rhymes all the time!
It’s just that when I see a book of children’s poems in the library, or the bookstore, I pick it up. Eventually, I read him these poems, and much to my delight, he cackles with excitement.
One of our favorite books is called Here’s a Little Poem. One poem, by Berlie Doherty, called “Grandpa” reads,
Grandpa’s hands are as rough as
And as warm as pockets.
His skin is crushed paper round
Wrapping up their secrets.
I know that this poem describes my son’s Grandpa perfectly. I’m also convinced that my son understands this poem aptly at his own level. He knows Grandpa. He knows Grandpa is hard to explain. He knows the warmth of pockets, and the mystery of Grandpa’s secrets. I can easily see why my son loves this poem!
My son is learning to speak. His vocabulary grows in leaps and bounds every day. We’ve been waiting for this for two years, patiently deciphering the grunts that meant “orange juice.” I am excited for the day when I will be able to enjoy an entire conversation with my son.
So, as his first teacher, how better can I serve him than to include poetry in his world? By reading him poems, I am introducing him to words that I would not normally use in the daily grind. By reading him poems, I am putting surprising images, sounds, and ideas beside one another and challenging him to make connections in his little brain.
I hope that I am helping him learn to communicate, learn to understand, learn to think, and learn to love language the way that I do. And we are having fun while we do it!
Another poem in the aforementioned book, this one by J. Patrick Lewis, is called “Sand House.” The poem describes building a sand castle and then watching the waves wash it away. The last stanza reads:
It tumbled down
Between my toes.
Every time I read this poem to my son, he giggles and looks for the sand between his own toes. If that’s not poetry, I don’t know what is.
Bio: Robin Merrill is a freelance writer who can usually be found blogging at uBaby, a site dedicated to helping every woman have a healthy pregnancy.
Melissa’s Note: Thank you, Robin. You’ve inspired me to get out the poetry books! Maybe it’s time to introduce my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, ee cummings and Naomi Shihab Nye.
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Readers, any favorite poets or poems for kids or adults?
Word Play Fun: I Just Snoffed!
Love this post! Thank you! My little guy doesn’t seem to have the patience to sit through a whole book most of the time, so I think I might try reading a little poetry to him. 🙂
Our family is a little silly. We love funny poems. We can’t get enough of Jack Preluctsky and Shel Silverstein. The Baby Uggs are Hatching is my favorite collection of Jack Preluctsky poems.
You will find a long list of great poetry websites for kids at the end of this Squidoo lens I created.
Here’s the source where a I got the list. http://www.squidoo.com/k12interactivepoetry
I just read the delightful children’s book Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan…about a wonderful writer/teacher inspiring 4th grade children to write poetry. You would LOVE it!