Raising Shakespeare

Get rapping and rhyming with your children and help them not only with their reading and memory recall but teach them that playing with words is lots of fun and can be done by anyone!

Poetry helps our children learn to read, especially in those early school years, but is often overlooked as reading material. For many of them, poetry is only experienced in the classroom, but why should we leave such a useful tool for beginner readers at the school gate?

This was one of our family’s favourite lines when I was a kid – we enjoyed pointing out when people accidentally rhymed, reading silly Pam Ayers’ poems and sharing our own made-up verses. Having fun with language helps children understand the rhythm, rhyme and structure of the written word. Then, as you read to them and with them, they start to feel confident in their own reading ability: guessing the endings of sentences, predicting the next word
in a poem or rhyming story, and memorising verses.

Try it: Children’s author, Mem Fox, emphasises that learning nursery rhymes before starting school can be a huge help to kids when they begin to learn to read. Get a nursery rhyme book out from the library, read it aloud together and copy down the ones that seem to be your child’s favourites. Share a couple of nursery rhymes at dinner each night – it’s amazing how quickly kids have them memorised!

There is a smorgasbord of poetry out there, and, like a smorgasbord, each person has their own plate of favourites. As a teacher, I tried to encourage my class to find their own taste for poetry by creating personal anthologies: their own collection of favourite poems. They discovered some great and varied poems, but I’m sure some of them still never found one they really enjoyed. It’s an impossible task for teachers to tune in to 30-plus children’s likes and dislikes. Which is why poetry at home is so important. When we read one-on-one to our own children, we know pretty quickly if a poem is a hit or a dud. Collect the hits into a poetry anthology at home (any scrapbook or blank journal will do) to be read and enjoyed time again.

Try it: Grab a stack of poetry collections from the library – Michael Rosen’s ‘Book of Nonsense’ is a fun one. Don’t just stick to the children’s sections; you may be surprised to find your preschooler loves the unfamiliar language of classic poetry – give Shakespeare’s ‘Fairy Land’ poems a go.

Most adults don’t read poetry recreationally. We are too busy, got put off at school, or it just simply hasn’t crossed our minds to do it. But children often value what we value. If we never read poetry then why would they want to either? Rediscovering poetry can be a pleasant surprise and enriches our read-aloud sessions with our kids. Fun, regular reading aloud is one of the most important things we can do for our children’s education. The value of reading aloud is completely underestimated. It’s a powerful thing! For parents who don’t like to read aloud, poetry is a great place to start. Pick a short poem with lots of clear rhyme and rhythm – a limerick is always a fun choice. My 4-year-old loves silly poems read aloud and, even better, silly poems that tell a story. Edward Lear does this very well (‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ is his most famous). His poems make great read-alouds with their made up words and nonsense descriptions.

Some other great poems to read aloud: ‘The Jumblies’ by Edward Lear; ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll; Spike Milligan and Shel Silverstein have also written many humorous poems.

A piece of genius rhyme proudly constructed by my 6-year-old self involved a mouse, a house, a piece of green cheese and doing as I please. I have remembered this simple poem my entire life and repeated it to my own children. We are all poets somewhere deep down (some closer to our socks than others). It’s a fun, free way to express yourself, and it helps our children learn to read and write. So let loose and rhyme, rhyme all the time! Okay, so maybe not all the time (that could get annoying), but at least give it a go once or twice a week. If the children come up with some rhymes themselves, whether they work or not, celebrate that and laugh along. The more you read poems, make up rhymes and point out rhyming words, the better they will get at creating their own.

Try it: Start with name games. There are lots of name games or name songs to choose from (easily found on the internet) or you can make up your own. Most name games simply involve rhyming words or nonsense words with the child’s name: “Wibbly wobbly wam, an elephant sat on Sam.”

pointing out poetry

Looking at the features of different poems can make for fun activities.

Onomatopoeia: Words that sound like what they mean (e.g., Splash, Oink, Pop!).

Rhythm: Tap out the syllables on a drum and tap louder for emphasised words.

Alliteration: Words starting with the same letter (e.g., buzzy bee bumped big brown bear).

Similes and Metaphors: Describing by comparing to something else. Similes use like or as (e.g., as cold as ice) and metaphors compare two things directly (e.g., it was music to my ears).

Acrostic: The first letter of each line spells the subject of the poem. Can you make poems that describe your family members using your names? (e.g., Sam – Special, Artistic, Musical)

Haiku: Japanese poetry about nature. They have three lines with 5, 7 and then 5 syllables.

Recommended reading: Words, Wit, and Wonder: Writing your own poem by Nancy Loewen has simple, attractive examples of the tools used in poetry.

For parents who don’t like to read aloud, poetry is a great place to start. Pick a short poem with lots of clear rhyme and rhythm – a limerick is always a fun choice.

Ages & Stages

preschoolers:

  • Children in this age group love lots of nursery rhymes, sung poems (Twinkle twinkle...), and finger rhymes (Five little monkeys...).

4- to 6-years:

  • Rhyming games are fun with this age group. Try a rhyme hunt (this works best inside): say an easy
    to rhyme word (such as mat),
    and send them hunting for an
    object that rhymes with it. www.sesamestreet.org has some great online rhyming games for children; they can rhyme with Elmo and Supergrover!

6- to 10-years:

  • Rap to your kids, they will think you are crazy and so not cool (but secretly, they will love it). I found this fun rap rhyme-set online to get you started: tuna fish - ludicrous - doin’ this!

tweens:

  • Remember, not all poems rhyme: Older children enjoy playing with non-rhyming ideas (think Sam Hunt, silly voices and lots of emphasis on different words to make it poem-y).
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