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Chapter #16 - Early Childhood Poetry

i. Poets Learn Early: Read to Your Unborn Poet

Poetry can start in the womb. When a mother reads poetry aloud to her unborn baby she is setting up vibrations and rhythms that are felt by the child and experienced by him as well as her. If she is soothed by the poem, the unborn child is also soothed in her womb. If she reads that same poem after the child's birth, the child feels similar vibrations and sensations and may have memory twinges of the earlier reading. This may add to the prenatal learning and initiate a kind of intuitive early experience. Even if it doesn't work this way the mother has started a good thing and should continue.

ii. Don't Wait to Teach Your Child Poetry, It Is Never Too Early

Mothers should definitely read poetry to their unborn children and continue to read to them after they are born. Reading to infants drills vocabulary skills into their hearing, and teaches them a greater vocabulary that connects later with the written word. Hearing and reading are the best way to improve vocabulary even after a child has learned to read. Being around people who pronounce the words correctly or poetically is important to young children. If a young child is around people who use a lot of slang he will learn a lot of slang. If he is around people who use only standard English, he will learn that. If he is around technical jargon he will pick up some of that. Around poets he will pick up many conventions of the form and art. Writing dialect may come easy to those who are exposed to it. Children are never too young to hear poetry, or too young to write it.

iii. Record the Art and Poetry of Children Early. Make Books

Write down the words of preschoolers and record their poems. Help them make books of their words and pictures. If you can get a child to draw several pictures you can then ask about each of the drawings and write the descriptions or comments. Make a book of the pictures and words that go with them.

Here is a poem recited to me by my daughter at about age 4 and a half. She said the poem, and I wrote it down for her and read it back to her. She is now grown but I still have the poem and the memory.

The Zebra

Zebra, zebra
He might be in our back yard
So I think I will look.
He wasn't (in the) back
So I think I will look all over the world.
I like my zebra, but where is he?
I like my zebra, but where is he?
I think he is at Grandma's.
I want him to be right in the back yard.
I think he ran away so
I will hunt for him.
I think he went to Grandma's,
Grandpa's too.
I found him right now.
He was at Grandma's

LaDonia Carlson age 4 1/2

You can see the child's fantasy and imagination at work as well as her comfort with real environmental factors such as Grandma's house. The poem has a beginning situation, the lost zebra, an adventure of seeking in different places and a resolution which restores order, or a happy ending.

iv. Children's Song Lyrics are Poems Too

Here is a poem by a three-year-old. He was listening to older people making music and came up with this song poem. He had a tune for it; and it was recorded in words and musical notation by an attentive adult.

The Wind Blew Roger Away

The wind blew Roger away.
The wind blew Roger away.
Roger didn't want the wind to blow him away
But it did it anyway.

The wind blew Grandma away.
The wind blew Grandma away.
Grandma didn't want the wind to blow her away
But it did it anyway.

The cowboy shot the cat
The cowboy shot the cat
The cat didn't want him to shoot him
But he did it anyway.

Alex Oas at age 3 1/2

v. Children Write What They Know

Alex wrote about nature, people and animals. He used a form with line length and meter that was repeated. He understood and wrote three stanzas. Children can learn the conventions of poetry very early if exposed to poems or songs. Exposure is the single most important tool of teaching poetry skills. You do not need to tell children to write poems, just read to them and soon they will be reciting their own creations to you. Be ready to write them down. If you haven't read any poetry by young children, start looking or listening. Children also break conventions very early. Be ready for occasional brilliant surprises.

Here is another by Alex at age 5

Look, there's a cat
I forgot that I'm fat
I sat on a hat
All day long

Alex Oas

Here is a poem by Sam Logan. It shows awareness, sets a subtle mood by thinking of snow, silence and repeated "s" and "f" sounds.

Snowflakes are falling, quietly;
Sh-h-h-h; Snowflakes are falling.

Sam Logan -- age 4

vi. Start Listening Carefully Around Children

Sam used some of the conventions of poetry with great freshness. Often children's words are worthy of recording as poetry, even when they are not thinking of poetry. Found poetry is a form which just records the naturally occuring poems in advertising, news articles and such. Almost anything said by a child is a valid source for such word play.

Here is an example of a found event in colorful child language.

Alex's grandfather said to a friend,
"Alex just started kindergarten."
Alex added, "No I didn't,
I've been going for four days."

Here is a poem by a second grade child who was introduced to rhyme. Teachers often introduce rhyme only as end rhyme, but some teachers involve many more of the conventions of poetry in their classrooms. End rhyme is first grasped by children without structured patterns. A child's use of rhyme can be delightful at any stage whether occasional, spontaneous or in formal patterns.

"The Spring Surprise"

In spring I can't believe my eyes,
Right in front of me
There's a BIG surprise!
A song of love,
And a beautiful dove,
Singing and ringing
All in the trees.
The evening went by,
I went home to sleep,
And I dreamed of words
That rhyme.

The End

Emilie Ryan Grade 2

vii. Notice When Rhyming Skills Start in Your Child

Here is another example of early use of rhyme:


Spring is here and summer
is near
I love spring, it makes me
want to sing
The flowers bloom and the
flies zoom
The farmers are in
the fields it's always a
big deal
Gardens are planted
we always take it for
Spring has sprung
it's always so much

Jennifer Seipel -- Grade 2

Jennifer discovered the device of near rhyme and never questioned it but knew that it should work.

viii. Some Teachers Get Into Many Forms of Poetry with Children

Here is an example of rhyme-based concrete poetry, also by a second grader. Concrete Poetry is poetry in which the appearance of the words on a page may make a picture or illustrate something in the poem.

The Tree

The tree is the

key to see a chimpanzee.

Or have tea with a bumble bee.

Wee what fun it is to play on the tree.

Lee and me agree to plant another tree.

The leaves on the tree are a bright pretty green.

The bark is rough and dark brown

and sometimes you can make different pictures out of the


Jennifer R. Zweifel -- Grade 2

Jennifer was well into thinking about trees and things that inhabit trees. She used a lot of internal rhyme, and kept the shape of the tree in mind about as much as is characteristic of children's drawings. She can find shapes in the tree bark as many have done with clouds. Rhymes are good fun to play with at an early age.

This poem gets into end rhyme very heavily:

My Sissy

I have a little sissy
who's not very prissy.
She likes to play ball,
and she's very tall.
She is also very strong,
and she always gets along.
I love my sissy very much,
as long as she does not fuss.

Katelyn Weishaar
Grade 4

Katelyn used rhymed couplets ending with a near rhyme. Here are two poems by another child with formal rhymes aabb:

My Flute

When I play my flute
I put the TV on mute
I play in the hall
Every fall.

My Small Ball

I have a ball
That's very small
It's very cute
Like my flute.

Caralyne Armontrout
Grade 5

There is a clarity of thought here that is good to see in poems by poets of any age. Caralyne included her flute in two poems. I would guess she was also very good on the flute and has continued to improve since these poems were written.


He is lazy and young
Simon is a stupid cat
I hope he stays well.

Jason DeJonge
Grade 5

Jason gives us an unrhymed haiku with a 6-7-5 syllable pattern. He may have intended lazy to be read as one syllable. He uses contradictory words to show he loves his cat.

ix. Use the Conventions But Don't be Stuck To Them

It is not necessary either for children or adults to stick to the conventions of rhyme patterns or various forms. Often the best poems are completely free expressions of uninhibited word use. In reading or recording children's poetry, adults may learn a lot about how poetry starts and about the unrestricted possibilities it offers.

Article written by Don J. Carlson. All Rights Reserved

For more information, please contact: Don J. Carlson

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