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

Garden sacks

And as warm as pockets.

His skin is crushed paper round

His eyes

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

Like dominoes

And disappeared

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?

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why I read poetry to my toddler

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  1. What a wonderful post Robin, thank you! And thank you Melissa for posting.

    We don’t have many books of poetry in our collection but what we do have we use extensively. The one we like best, and which we’ve been constantly reading over and over since the little guy was a year and a half (now he’s five) has been “Read Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young” edited by Jack Prelutsky.

  2. I absolutely love this post, and this beautiful perspective on sharing written words with little ones. I truly needed a little inspiration today. My little reader will be getting up in a few hours and will want me to enthusiastically read with him – after having been up all night with his little sister. The magic of being two! Many thanks again for sharing!

  3. Great post! My son has been hearing poems since he was born. He responds to rhythm and rhyme so well. On my bookshelf I have A Puffin Book of Poets, Amanda Swaney’s Sharing Poetry with Children, Giggly Rhymes, Elves and Faeries, and they’re just the ones I can see here from the computer. And stories that are spoken with rhythm he loves too. He makes up some now too. It’s very important in his/our life.

  4. I started out as a poet before moving into blogging and essay writing. I’ve read poetry on and off to my children but this inspires me to read more poetry to them. Thanks!

  5. This is great! I love poetry and studied many poets in college. I love Emily Dickinson as well and have saved all my college poetry books for my daughter when she gets a little older.