Why Kids Need Poetry

By | June 16, 2014

I make it no secret that I’m a straight-up English nerd. Reading is near and dear to my heart. And yes, in case you’ve wondered about my children’s “weird” names–Cosette and Chaucer, it’s because I adore literature.

I first discovered I liked poetry when I was in 6th grade. I was at my mom’s friend’s house and bored, so I perused Mrs. Brawner’s bookcase. There was a tempting little book of poetry with pretty gold letters and crisp pages inside. I sat down and started reading while my mom talked to Mrs. Brawner.

I was so taken up with the book that she decided to let me have it, and ever since I’ve been a fan of poetry. I’ve told Mrs. Brawner how she lit that poetry fire inside of me, and when I was pregnant with Chaucer she bought me a beautiful book of children’s poetry.

I think this small detail alone is a lesson for investing in kids by giving them books. What started out for me as just a pretty book became a love, a major, and a career as a writer.

Anyways, poetry can have a bad rep because it can be confusing and often esoteric. However, reading poetry to children is one of the best things you can do to fuel their creative abilities.

Here’s why kids need poetry:

why kids need poetry

1.) The rhythm of poetry sticks with kids.

Ever noticed how your child is crazy smart at memorizing annoying jingles or songs? Well, even if they don’t necessarily understand the meaning of what they’re saying, reciting poetry aloud is an exercise for the mind.


I love how this author calls poetry “the most kinesthetic of all literature, it’s physical and full-bodied which activates your heart and soul and sometimes bypasses the traps of our minds and the outcome is that poetry moves us.” {You can read her full article 5 Reasons Why We Need Poetry in Schools here.}

2.) Poetry gets kids involved in the reading process.

While my five-year-old is learning how to read, my three-year-old is memorizing lines and phrases in books so that he can “read too.” Kids adore Dr. Seuss books because they can participate in the reading aloud just by memorizing. The rhythms and repetitions in books like Red Fish, Blue Fish get kids excited about memorizing.

Even if your child has trouble learning to read, mastering poetry memorization will be a source of pride and accomplishment as they hurdle through sight words, phonics, and syllables. Children’s ability to memorize is incredible, and we have to take advantage of this window of opportunity.

[…] in grades 1-4, a student can memorize a piece of poetry in a week simply by reading it, out loud, three times, every morning. {You can read more about poetry memorization right here}

 3.) Poetry teaches children how to express emotions through language.

Duh, right? I mean, isn’t this why so many people read poetry? To find a way to express something hidden within themselves? Poetry takes words and arranges them in such a way that they resonate within people’s souls. Giving children an option to communicate in an artistic way is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

Robert Frost quote

Writing is my outlet. Sometimes I write poetry, and I don’t even really share it with anyone. But just being able to do so is a freedom and a gift I never take for granted. Children ought to experience this gift as well.

4.) Poetry builds vocabulary.

With all the crazy nuances of the English language don’t you think we owe it to our kids to get them “fluent” at an early age? We have so many words, and yet so many words mean multiple things. Poetry is a great vehicle to introduce vocabulary, and its nuances, that they might not otherwise encounter at such an early age.

 5.) Poetry is an exercise for the imagination.

Children have the most incredible imaginations, don’t they? If I could go back in time and grab anything it would be the imagination I had when I was about 7 years old. I was brilliant back then.

GK chesterton

Even though their imaginations are so wonderful and flexible, we still need to feed and nourish them for the future. Poetry packs so much imagination into such a small space. For example, one of my favorite children’s poems, The Owl and the Pussy Cat, by Edward Lear, is jam-packed with imagination gold!

The story goes, an owl and a cat fall in love, take all their money, and run away together to get married. They buy a ring from a “Piggy-wig”–a ring that comes from his nose, no less, and then get married by a turkey. Finally, they dance in the moonlight and live happily ever after.

What a story, right?  Of course they can read stuff like this in children’s books, but listening to it in a poem is a much larger exercise for their imagination.

So, do you read poetry to your children? Who is your favorite poet?

If you’re looking for a great treasury of children’s poems I recommend this one:

If you’re looking for more information on the classical approach to education (which includes teaching poetry) my mom (an amazing educator) recommends this one:

One thought on “Why Kids Need Poetry

  1. Nicole Leigh Shaw (@NicoleLeighShaw)

    YES. Yes to all. Poetry is the best way to get kids really thinking about language. It’s such a fabulous mind-builder!


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