How To Choose Children's Poetry

Children naturally love poetry, but choosing poems for them can be daunting.  However, you do not have to be an English teacher to select poems that will inspire your children.  Try any or all of the following approaches to choosing poetry to share with children, and watch their eyes light up with excitement:

  1. Start by familiarizing yourself with the types of poetry popular with children.  Studies show that kids under age twelve tend to prefer rhyming poetry that is humorous in nature.  They also seem to prefer narrative (story telling) poems over free verse.  Mother Goose, Haiku, Limericks and Humor are also popular poetic forms with children.
  2. Browse through a few poetry anthologies from the library or invest in one for your book shelf.  The Norton Anthology of Children's Poetry provides an excellent starting point for a wide variety of poetry.  Read through the poems and see if anything interests you.  You don't have to "decode" every poem.  Just read them aloud to yourself and see how you feel about them.  Other excellent anthologies include:
    • Families: Poems Celebrating the African American Experience by Dorothy Strickland
    • Absolutely Angels by Mary Lou Carney
    • A Jar of Tiny Stars: Poems by NTCE Award Winning Poets
  3. Sit down with your child and read rhyming picture books.  After reading a book a few times, pause at repetitive words and let the child say them aloud.   This is a fun way to introduce the child to the notion of repetition and expectation, and it is a good way to see if he enjoys that type of word play.
  4. Choose a few poems that kids can respond to in a variety of ways.  For example, a poem with hand gestures, a musical poem, and one that incorporates interesting non-verbal sounds or funny dialects, for example something by Scottish poet Robert Burns.  Watch the child as you read and say the poems together to get a sense of what she likes.
  5. Be guided by the interests of the child.  Most children love Shel Silverstein for his hilarity, but if your child is into, say, animal adventures, you might try When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne. 
  6. Here are some poets who are very popular with children of all ages:
    • David McCord
    • Aileen Fisler
    • John Ciardi
    • Karla Kuskin
    • Shel Silverstein
    • Lilian Moore
    • Judith Viorst
    • Jack Prelotsky
    • Dr. Suess
    • A.A. Milne

There is no right or wrong approach here.  The important thing to remember is that poetry appeals to the emotions first and the intellect second.  If the words, sounds, feelings, rhyme and imagery appeal to you, then it is a good poem.  If your child is smiling and clapping and saying the words with you, then you have made a great choice. Good luck!


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