National Poetry Day provides an opportunity to engage children in a love of language and the world around them, says Charlotte Hacking…
Children naturally delight in song, rhythm and rhyme, which are key building blocks in becoming a reader. In our earliest years, we are introduced to language and reading through the songs and rhymes we hear and join in with; that’s where our journey into poetry begins.
However, poetry can often be the poor relation in the book corner, library, and even in bookshops. It’s a shame when there is a wealth of incredible poems from a range of new and well-established poets, which can support children to build a love of language and reading, as well as developing essential literacy skills.
The Journey Game by Joseph Coelho provides an excellent way in to natural adult/child interactions focussed on looking at and describing the world. It encourages children to join in with the response in the lines: When you see a tree say…Treetreetree / When you see a cow say…Moomoomoo.
After reading the poem, play at making up your own lines with the children. What could you say when you see a bus? A dog? This kind of wordplay introduces children to the shapes and sounds of words, essential precursors to forming, articulating and recognising speech sounds, as well as connecting words with meaning.
The final verse: When you see a cloud say / What’cha doing up there? / What’cha doing up there? / How did ya get so high / High up in the air? invites adults and children to play at asking questions of objects around them.
Choose objects from around you such as a tree, a plant pot – what would you want to ask them? Children can then experiment with the prosody and phrased expression needed for questioning, modelled by the adult reading aloud the original lines in this way.
Animals in the environment are a popular topic of interest for young children. Zany Zoo by Matt Goodfellow is an engaging counting rhyme that children will love to join in with.
The lines offer alliterative descriptions of animals, from the 5 crazy crocodiles, to 2 moody monkeys and 1 fat frog, tuning children in to the sounds of words and developing their early phonological awareness.
The use of adjectives supports early language development, encouraging detail and description. Can the children think of other animals that could be found in the zoo, and come up with their own alliterative phrases to describe them, like 10 hot hippos?
Inviting children to illustrate these will focus them on the meaning of the text, as Krina Patel-Sage’s excellent depictions do in the original poem.
Encourage the children to take magnifying glasses, spotter’s guides and sketching equipment outdoors to hunt for and observe minibeasts.
The poems Bumblebee and Butterfly, and Snail by Michael Rosen paint a glorious image of a child taking time to stop and closely look at these creatures in the wild.
They introduce descriptive language related to the subjects, like flutter, trail and shell, as well as playing with language through rhyme. Lines like: Bumblebee rumble / Bumblebee tumble / Buzzy bee bumble / Give me apple crumble focus children on the sounds at the ends of words, and show that language can be fun, playful and experimental.
Together, explore, investigate and play with rime patterns for other minibeasts they find, putting them into verses of their own, like: Caterpillar crawl, Caterpillar fall, Caterpillar tall, Roll up into a ball! Performing and acting out verses will bring the language and its meaning to life.
Sand, water and mud play encourages children to work together, communicate and share, as well as to explore natural elements. The poems Mudlarks, Sand and Water by Shirley Hughes offer a fabulous opportunity to encourage children to engage with and describe these elements as they play.
The poems all open with the phrase I like… and go on to communicate the experience of play through the eyes of a child. Lines like: The slippy sloppy, squelchy kind and Stir it up in puddles / slither and slide, engage children in the visceral experience of handling the elements and expand their descriptive vocabulary.
After reading the poems, open up play with mud, sand and water, engaging children in purposeful talk to describe the sensory experiences they go through as part of the play.
Part of becoming a writer is being able to activate your imagination, connecting with things you’ve seen, learned or experienced. Writing is a way of learning about yourself and your connection with the world.
Poems like Plane Spotting by Jane Newberry, The Stars by Michael Rosen, The City is Growing and Pigeons by Joseph Coelho and My Shell by Matt Goodfellow, all encourage children to take time out to observe the environment, or a single feature of it.
In an increasingly busy world, with an increasingly fragile environment, this is important. Poems like these provide children with supportive structures and patterns to compose for themselves, learning how to describe what they think and feel about elements of the environment.
Provide time, space and licence for children to stop, be still and stare, more generally at the world around them, or at objects, elements and creatures within it. Support them in making sense of and describing what they see, and how it makes them feel.
Help older learners to choose and use language and structure their thinking, learning from what they have seen and read. Allow them to record these thoughts in words, digitally or on paper, if they wish.
On National Poetry Day and beyond, poetry should be a regular part of a child’s experience, not just in the early years, but throughout their lives. It supports the development of language, vocabulary and comprehension.
It gives ideas, inspiration and motivation for writing, and most importantly, helps to connect children with the world around them.
Charlotte Hacking is the learning programmes director at The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE)
CLPE is a National Poetry Day Partner. Find resources for teaching poetry at www.clpe.org.uk
National Poetry Day 2022 takes place on Thursday, 6 October. The theme this year is The Environment.
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