Young children live in a world of poetic ideas. Their language is filled with poetic comparisons and they see things in fresh, and often charming, ways.
Poet and teacher, Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, writes about this in Poemcrazy. She describes being out in the garden with her preschool-aged son. As they transplanted a tree from a pot to a hole in the ground he remarked, ‘The world will be its new pants.’
Metaphor and simile seem to come naturally to little children. The poet Kenneth Koch wrote that, ‘children have a natural talent for poetry… (they are) tuned into their own strong feelings, to their spontaneity, their sensitivity, and their carefree inventiveness.’
I recently went on a walk with some preschool-aged children from Laingholm Playcentre. As they wandered I jotted down some of their poetic ideas. The language in the poem is all theirs, all I had to do was order it…
Capturing children’s poetic ideas can be very affirming. Last night my son Jack requested his own poetry from The Runcible Spoon at bedtime. We read a few poems and he said, ‘Mum, I have a fun imagination don’t I?’ He was proud of his own ideas.
Koch writes that creating ‘poetry makes children feel happy, capable and creative. It makes them feel more open to understanding and appreciating what others have written.’
Jack and I read every poem on the site. He lapped it all up, asking for Azzura and Lila’s poems several times.
Just before he fell asleep he said, ‘Mum, can we make a new poem tomorrow?
 Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, Poemcrazy (Three Rivers Press, 1996), p 31.
 Kenneth Koch, Wishes, Lies and Dreams (Harper Perennial, 1999), p 25.
The school holidays are almost here! If you’re looking for some inspiration all you need to do is step outside; Autumn is the perfect time of the year for a poetry walk.
Poetry isn’t about sitting around at a desk and agonising over writing rules. It’s about going out and doing things! It’s about playing with words and getting creative. And it’s fantastic for building vocabulary.
Your child might be mad about writing but if they’re not that’s no problem. Reluctant and struggling writers can get just as hooked on words once they start thinking like poets.
So how do you get started?
Take your child for a walk and offer a few poetic observations as you wander. Things like, ‘Wow! That cloud looks like…’ or ‘the air smells like…’ etc.
Don’t worry about whether or not your observations are good. This is about being playful.
Give things new names. A kanuka might become a tangly-tangly tree. My 3 year old, Jack, renamed a snail a ‘fancy-back’.
Bring a treasure back home; an interesting coloured leaf or a strange shaped stick. Glue it to a sheet of paper and write a line or two together.
Poems are alive. You just have to go out and hunt for them. Sometimes you have to take them home and write them down. Sometimes you can just let them race around on their own outdoors.
Here’s one of my favourite collaborative poems. It grew out of a poetry walk with my wonderful class from Pokuru School…
Our class is on a poem walk
The tree bark is the skin of a tuatara
Or the rough hide of a wallowing rhinoceros
Stones are the backs of slow moving crocodiles
The bare branches dangle like spider’s legs
The wet dirt smells of burning rope.
Have fun and enjoy the holidays!