Poetry Word Play With Kids

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Poetry Word Play

by Marilyn Singer, author of numerous children’s books, including many books of poems

My parents did plenty of things wrong, but they also did plenty of things right.  The older I get, the more I prefer to remember the latter.  And the latter includes reading to me every night until I couldn’t wait to learn to read myself.  But reading wasn’t the only thing they did which shaped my love of books and then of writing.  They also sang to me—especially my dad.  He had these wonderful pastel-colored HIT PARADE sheets, which contained the lyrics of the most popular songs of the day.

Now, we may not have Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and all those other great lyricists around these days, but we have plenty of other good ones.  I think that singing that stuff to your kids is a marvelous way to inspire musicality, love of words, and a feeling for poetry.  I write lots of books, but poems are my favorite things to write.  I’m on a mission to get more people to appreciate it.  And that starts with parents and with teachers reading poetry themselves and then reading it aloud to kids.

poetry word play with kids - great ideas from poet, Marilyn Singer

Poetry demands to be read aloud.

  • Listen to recordings and podcasts and watch videos of poets and performers reading and learn to read with feeling.
  • Encourage your local school or library to sponsor readings by poets writing for children, and attend them with your kids.
  • Seek out lots of different kinds of poetry to find out what you and your kids like.
  • When you read, don’t rush through the words, but be lively, thoughtful, whatever sentiment the poem calls for.
  • Feel free to talk about what a poem means to you and let your kids tell you what it means to them, but don’t overanalyze it.
  • Enjoy the rhythm, the rhyme (if it does rhyme), the form, the emotions.
  • Read it aloud together if you can.
  • Sing it!

Another thing my mom did right was to describe in delicious detail the food she and my dad had at dinner parties, as well as the clothes folks wore.

I had a great love of paper dolls (heck, I still do), and I spent hours describing their outfits as if I were some fashion reporter.  I collected a wealth of words to use.  Supply fun words for your kids (you can even write them out on slips of paper, put them in a bucket, pull them out and use them).  They don’t have to be about paper dolls—they can be about sports or cars or animals, anything really.  Take turns being a reporter describing these things.  Play with words!

Then there was my grandmother.  She told me wonderful stories she’d heard when she was a child in Romania.  Don’t underestimate the power of making up your own stories and letting your children make up theirs. Tell these stories to each other.  Go wild!  Use those bucket words!  And when you find those words in books and poems, put a dime in a jar.  Save the dimes for a new book.  Maybe even one of mine.

Bio: Marilyn Singer (writerbabe@aol.com) is the author of more than 80 books for young readers, including Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse (Dutton, 2010) and her latest, Talullah’s Tutu (Clarion, 2011). Her genres are many and varied, including realistic novels, fantasies, non-fiction, fairy tales, picture books, mysteries and poetry. She likes writing many different kinds of books because it’s challenging and it keeps her from getting bored.

Quick Note from Melissa: I LOVE Marilyn’s books – and her newest book, Talullah‘s Tutu, teaches a really wonderful lesson — that it’s not the tutu that makes the ballerina but hard work and practice. Talullah realizes that maybe one day she will earn her tutu — when she’s a ballerina.

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  1. Mirror, Mirror is an amazing book! If you haven’t yet read it, definitely check it out.

  2. My kids love when I read to them, and I’ve been doing it since they were tiny babies. I think it makes a huge difference in their verbal skills. I also use regular words; I don’t “dumb” anything down. If they don’t know what I mean, they ask. As for poetry, we love Shel Silverstein. He was my favorite as a child so I’m trying to instill his wit in them as well 🙂

  3. Love the bucket idea! I’m a definite logophile, and put it down to my access to literature and poetry as a child. Great article, Marilyn!