Early childhood and early primary years educators are quite possibly the most active poetry readers in Australia. Don’t laugh: it’s true!
Regardless of whether you have sonnets by your bedside, or you don’t know your iambic from your pentameter, chances are that you read aloud from a book of poetry nearly every day at work.
Poetry is present in many of the most successful children’s picture books – from Hairy Maclary to the Owl and the Pussycat, and it doesn’t always rhyme.
As anyone who reads aloud knows, factors present in poetry like pace, alliteration, and assonance, and the cadence with which the words are read are a crucial to getting and keeping the audience’s attention.
You might more commonly refer to a book having rhyme or rhythm, but poetry it remains, all the same.
So: well done you! You’re introducing new generations to the joy of thoughts expressed in lyrical language with every Wonky Donkey, I Went Walking, or Dragon’s Dream you share.
Poetry in patterns of speech
Head to the Early Years Learning Framework – Belonging, Being and Becoming – and review Outcome 5, under Children begin to understand how symbols and pattern systems work (p44). Educators are encouraged to create opportunities for children to talk explicitly about concepts like rhymes, and to sing and chant rhyming words in context – as stories, songs, games or poems, for example.
Rhyming is one of the paths our brains can use to remember things – especially before we can read or write lists. In pre-literate times, oral storytelling frequently included rhyme or a specific rhythm to help the listeners remember what was said, and pass it along to others. Even when rhyme isn’t present, the use of repeated phrases (like the bedtime storyGuess How Much I Love You?) or a single repeated phrase (like a pantomime: Oh no you don’t!) creates a rhythm, encouraging us to anticipate when we can join in and embedding the story more firmly in our memory.
Many early years advisers encourage parents to engage children with rhythm and rhyme, as it’s known to support language development. Here’s an example from the Queensland Government’s Early Years Count site:
Hearing and using rhyme, rhythm and repetition helps children develop early literacy skills. The repetition of words, ideas and skills is important for early brain development, as it creates secure foundations for early learning.
Using rhyme, rhythm and repetition in song, while reading or even to make up your own rhymes, is great fun for babies and children. Rhyming lets children learn about sound and have fun with words.
Source: Early Years Count
World Poetry Day, 21 March 2019
Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.
Source: United Nations
Now that you’re in the right mindset, did you know that World Poetry Day was coming up soon? 20 March 2019 is a date set by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to encourage a return to oral traditions of poetry recitals (hint: you have shelves full of ‘poetry’ at your service!) as well as connecting the language of poetry to other arts such as painting, music, dance and sculpture.
Our world heritage of poetry
Take a look at the poetry UNESCO considered of great heritage value in its Memory of the World list. While not aimed at children, these works might still offer examples that young people can understand and enjoy today.
Many other literary foundation sites will provide useful collections and ideas for involving poetry in your work with children.
Indigenous Australian poets
World Poetry Day is a great opportunity to explore poems from other cultures, but also from Australians. One current poet is Dan Davis, whose poem Mookari, about a big storm, was selected to represent Australia by the Commonwealth Education Trust (CET) for its 125th anniversary anthology.
“BANG”, the clap of thunder goes, it can give a little fright.
Watching this lightning can be dangerous, but oh what a sight.
Source: Mookari by Dan Davis – retrieved from Creative Spirits
Australian rhyming story lesson plans
Reading Australia is a not-for-profit educational resource site managed by Copyright Australia. While the resources are matched to difference stages of the Australian Curriculum, there is ample inspiration for any early childhood educator looking to adapt material for younger children. Look for Foundation (Early Stage 1) for the resources most closely related to children of preschool and kindergarten ages.
Here is Reading Australia’s World Poetry Day selection, including Australian rhyming picture book authors such as Graeme Base (Eleventh Hour, Animalia) and Wendy Bean (Crocodile Beat).
Being a poet
Help children write poems – this collection of ideas, aimed at primary school children, has broad applicability and could be adapted to programs for any age. What about the suggestion of the children taking photos and using just one or two words on each to create a multimedia slideshow poem?
Speaking out loud
And finally, for tips on telling stories out loud – in poetry or prose – you can’t go past these articles from Amplify guest writer Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson
The benefits of telling tales for children, 8 top tips from a professional storyteller
Storytelling in the natural world
Storytelling as education (don’t tell the children!)
Sharing is caring
What are your favourite poems and stories to share with children? What about rhyming games or songs? Share them in the comments below this story and we’ll include a link in future updates.
Meet the author
Bec Lloyd is the founder and managing director of Bec & Call Communication, providing professional writing, editing and strategy services to the school and early childhood education sector since 2014. In 2018 she launched UnYucky mindset and menus for happier family mealtimes. Formerly the communications lead at ACECQA and BOS (now NESA), Bec is a journo and mother of three who produces Amplify for us at Community Early Learning Australia.
Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.