Poetry is often overlooked when teaching children to read, but the impact of poetry on your child’s reading acquisition and development can be significant. In fact, the power of good poetry can even be the catalyst that makes reading a reality for some children. Poetry is a valuable tool for both teachers and parents to help kids explore phonemic sounds in different ways, and an enjoyable resource in any young reader’s literacy journey.
Here some of the ways poetry helps children improve their reading skills…
Unlike books, which some children find daunting, poems are generally short. They are often whimsical and fun – even funny, which makes poetry reading something they want to do. It doesn’t feel like a chore for them.
And though they are short, poems can be loaded with important literacy elements and techniques that will help to improve their overall reading skills. Rhyming, for example, is a technique we use routinely in our early literacy programmes, because it is an excellent way of developing phonemic awareness.
Rhyme helps children to understand that language has not just meaning and message, but also form because rhyming words have the same end sounds. A good tip is to read a poem in a whisper but say the rhyming words aloud and draw attention to their sounds. You can even encourage your child to make up some rhymes to compound their recognition of the sounds. It doesn’t matter if the rhyme sequence is silly or even if the sounds are real words at the early stages.
Another reason children love poetry is their musical rhythm, which can remind them of their favourite songs. So, if you are struggling to engage your child in reading a poem, try singing it together instead.
Reading poetry helps children learn about important elements of reading such as sound, voice, pitch, volume, emphasis and inflection. Because poetry teaches young readers about speech patterns, it can give them cues to help decode the words on a page, while rhyming helps them to identify sounds in words and to recognise word families.
Consider the poem, The Letter A by Darren Sardelli – here is a short excerpt – you can read the full poem here https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/145937/the-letter-a
The letter A is awesome!
It simply is the best.
Without an A, you could not get
an A+ on a test.
You’d never see an acrobat
or eat an apple pie.
You couldn’t be an astronaut
or kiss your aunt goodbye.
See how you can use this poem to help your young readers practise the short and long ‘a’ sounds and really think about the sound the letter a makes in each word.
You can really make so many literacy games with poetry. Check out out Resources page to access our Literacy Guides, where you’ll find some helpful tips for sound development and rhyming.
Though any form of reading will introduce children to new words, due to the rhythmic nature of poetry it is easier and more natural for children to understand cadence, and introduces them to new words in new contexts.
The nature and construction of poetry creates surprising new connections between words, which increase a child’s vocabulary, particularly with the rhyming words.
Let’s take a look at a few lines from The Pied Piper of Hamelin, by Robert Browning:
You should have heard the Hamelin people
Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple.
“Go,” cried the Mayor, “and get long poles!
Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
Consult with carpenters and builders
And leave in our town not even a trace
Of the rats!”– when suddenly, up the face
Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
With a, “First, if you please, my thousand guilders!”
Your child may well be familiar with the word “people”, but “steeple” might be new to them. The same principle applies to “builders” and “guilders”. You can talk about the new word and explain its meaning and how it can be used. Now your child has added some new words to their vocabulary, which they will recognise and understand, not only the next time they read the poem, but also when they come across the word in other texts.
Many children are not keen to read books and stories aloud, but for some reason, they seem to have less reservations about reading poetry aloud. Reading aloud is an essential skill in language development because it makes children focus on the sounds of the words they are reading. Using poetry is a great way to build up their confidence and lead to improved literacy skills.
Being expressive and fun, poetry is a good choice for reading in small groups. Children can read a line each, and enjoy putting emphasis on certain words, varying pitch and volume, and learning from each other as they go. You could have all the children chime in to read each of the rhyming words together, for example. Having fun with poetry in this way is really engaging and children learn so much more, and more easily when they’re engaged and having fun.
When we read poems to our children, they begin to understand that words may sound similar but have different meanings. Depending on the poem you are reading, children can be exposed to word families and begin to understand more about phonetic patterns.
The repetitive nature of poetry encourages children to recognize patterns and strengthen memory. Not only do these skills develop their literacy acquisition but they will also be helpful in learning maths, foreign languages, and much more.
Poetry is a perfect medium to help children tap into their creativity by exploring the relationship between words, writing their own poetry, or even just playing rhyming and other word games. They can even use these games as a way of creating a poem. The artistic nature of poetry can be more forgiving to the young reader / writer, giving them greater freedom of expression – and because they don’t feel restricted, you might find their writing really blossoms in a way that wouldn’t be possible for them when writing something like an essay or reflection.
Reading with your child is a precious gift, and poetry, in particular, can help strengthen your relationship and allow you to bond in a unique and special way. Because poetry is so much fun, your children will love to read with you and look forward to your time together.
But poetry also gives children a variety of fresh and often idiosyncratic perspectives of the world, giving them a glimpse of different points of view and possibly even an understanding of different cultures and beliefs as well as empathy and thoughtfulness.
If you haven’t tried readying poetry with your child, please give it a try – start with short, silly poems and have some fun together and it will grow from there.