I was reading an interesting post on the Washington Post on why kids need poetry in their lives, and how to spark their interest in it. The author, Jason Basa Nemec, was explaining how he was reading Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” to his 2-year-old and my 5-year-old daughters. Jason then goes on to say he’s been teaching his oldest one poetry since before she turned 3.
I was inspired by this. Even more so when I read clinical psychologist Dianne Jandrasits’ words:
Expressive arts, including poetry, are important for a child’s social-emotional development… Adults can create a secure attachment with kids by actively reading with them, especially between the ages of 0 and 5, and the sound of poetry can make the process fun.
What Is Poetry?
Jason then asks a key question: just what is poetry?
His definition is pretty simple: Poetry is music. It’s about playing with language and sound. And kids, of course, love to play.
Dave Lucas, a lecturer at Case Western Reserve University and the former poet laureate of Ohio, defines it as that place where language is pleasure and not just communication.
He then talks about sharing poems with kindergartners and points out how much kids love it when you tell them to just have fun, make some rhymes, and be silly. When you take language and all of a sudden take the rules out of it, mess around and see what happens, you give them that sandbox experience, out of which so much creativity happens in the first place.
So inspired was I that I decided to experiment with Mary-Natalie, my energetic 5-year-old. She loves Big Big World by Emilia:
She also loves to make up lyrics. So, what better task than to ask her to come up with lyrics of her own for this beautiful song?
You can imagine how my face dropped when I heard the result, sang with a gusto that only a 5-year-old can muster:
I’m a big big fart
In a big big butt
It’s not a big big thing
If you leave me
But I do do think
That I do do will
Stink you up (stink you up)
Not quite what I had in mind…
But then I remembered something else I read in the article. As author and poet Kate Baer, who is also a mom of four, says:
Kids want to laugh. That’s a lot of what they want out of literature, especially at a young age.
And, of course, nothing is funnier to a 5-year-old than, well, farts.
The Benefits of Poetry
Somewhat consoled by Baer’s wise words, I pondered poetry’s benefits. As the article said, poetry can help develop kids’ problem-solving skills. If there is no right or wrong answer, but we could see the perspective of another through the process, wouldn’t we arrive at better solutions?
Representation in poetry also matters, as poetry helps shape any individual’s identity kit. Poetry expresses complex ideas, often in a short, simple format, as a benefit for kids.
And Jandrasits points out that poetry can help a child learn to take a perspective and to understand someone else’s feelings. For a young child, it all starts with someone understanding your feelings.
Finally, the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have been hard on kids. If poetry can offer a little hope and laughter to a child in your life, what’s wrong with that?
That’s why I will continue to encourage the wee one to come up with silly poems. After all, the article mentions how important it is for parents to pay attention to what their young ones seem to like and then to select poems for them based on those interests.
Which probably explains why her next poem was no other than Jingle Farts:
Jingle farts, jingle farts, jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to fart in a one-horse open sleigh (hey!)
Somehow, my dreams of having a laureate poet supporting me through my old age diminish with each poem that comes out of her little mouth.
Jason says that he writes poetry with his 5-year-old at their makeshift home-school. He often encourages her to come up with a sentence, then asks if she wants the next sentence to rhyme with it or not. That way, they’ve built some fantastic little poems, many of them no more than four or eight lines long.
If you try it, let me know if certain bodily functions were mentioned along the way…