Thursday, May 3, 2012

Poetry Push-Back: Working Through Resistance in Young Children

Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times
Young children naturally seem to enjoy poetry, in general. But what if yours don't? What if their eyes glaze over when you read a poem to them? What if they openly resist listening?
Well, you could grit your teeth and slog through. But if your end goal is to cultivate a love of poetry in your children, I have a few items for you to think about:

Are you careful in your selections?
The unfortunate truth is that many poems for children are utter twaddle. I reviewed some online poetry websites and found a few that made me wrinkle my nose in distaste. Potty humor, slapstick silliness, doggerel*, and poor verse abound. The same holds true for nursery rhymes. Some are fun, lovely, or both; but others are just plain foolish. Of course, many of these parameters depend on personal taste. What's ridiculous to me may not be so to you.

But if you're asking Just what is poor poetry?, consider this, which I’ve just made up out of my own brain:

A rose climbs up our garden wall
as red as red can be.
When visitors all come to call
it’s quite a sight to see.

Ta da!

We can call this little quatrain a verse, but we cannot call it poetry. It inspires no connection, it invokes no emotions or understanding or images (other than the rose itself). It's not one whit engaging. In fact, there's nothing to it besides an ABAB rhyme scheme and a plodding meter. So in my most humble opinion, this is not poetry.

Let Philippians 4:8 be a guideline for you; it's excellent advice for anyone: ". . . whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things."

Are the children developmentally ready for the poems you've selected?
A year or so ago, the girls first encountered William Wordsworth, one of the poets AO designated for a term. Dutifully, I began reading his work to my daughters. They gave it a frosty reception, so I laid it aside for now. They were simply not ready, and I didn't want to ruin Wordworth for them, before they even begin to fathom "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

How do you approach the poems?
First, take care not to bog down younger children with too much background or biographical information on the poet. As Silvia points out, "They [her young children] are starting to pay attention to some of those poems, and they know, for example, who A. A. Milne is when we read his poetry because of Winnie." And that's all they need to know at this stage.

Second, consider your delivery, i.e., how you read poetry aloud. Take in account the themes, tones, or moods of poems when you read them to your children, and do your best to read poetry in such a way that inspires a connection.

Do you like the poem (or poet's work)?
You can't fake it with your children. They know you well and will be able to sniff out your dislike. Select poetry that you enjoy, too, and perhaps your enthusiasm will impress your children. (If your children are older, as mine are, the latter is not likely to be effective. More on older children in another post.)

Whew! That's a lot to think about. If this sounds like work, well, it can be. In my last post of this series, I'll point you to resources to help you in selecting good poetry for your family.

Here's an example from our family, in case you're interested:
When my children were toddlers, I had a subscription to a lovely little literary publication written for their age group. It's been many years, but I still remember this poem (and can quote it from my feeble memory):

Rickety Rackety
Rickety rackety
Rocking chair
I bring my book
And my teddy bear
Mama reads
And strokes my hair
As we rickety-rack
In the rocking chair.
-- by Heidi Roemer

And here's another:

Taste of Purple
Grapes hang purple
In their bunches,
Ready for September lunches,
Gather them, no minutes wasting.
Purple is Delicious tasting.
-- by Leland B. Jacobs

Yesterday, I read a marvelous post about one family's poetry experience. Pop over and read about Angie's quest to engage her younger children in poetical delights. For more insight into these topics, read part one of this series, especially Rev. H. C. Beeching's comments about poetry.

I'd love to read your thoughts and ideas, so comment away!

* Doggerel, according to Wikipedia, is a "derogatory term for verse considered of little literary value. The word probably derived from dog, suggesting either ugliness, puppyish clumsiness, or unpalatability (as in food fit only for dogs). "Doggerel" is attested to have been used as an adjective since the fourteenth century and a noun since at least 1630. . . . Doggerel is usually the sincere product of poetic incompetence, and only unintentionally humorous." The article also points out that writers often use doggerel to "for comic or satiric effect" and to lampoon "popular literary tastes. "

1 comment:

  1. LOVE this post...
    Poetry with the littles is so valuable.
    My post on Monday will be (Lord willing :) about phonemic awareness...which is greatly encouraged by poetry (especially poetry that rhymes)
    Thank you for joining us at NOBH.
    ~Kara @ The Chuppies/NOBH


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