Poetry is all around us in early childhood whether through the verse of beloved children’s authors, the nursery rhymes we memorize or the social rules we learn in rhyming lessons. Great poems can be educational and entertaining in adulthood as well but many people seem to out grow a love for poetry, never picking up books of verse after graduation.  And yet poetry can be a way to encourage literacy and vocabulary development in your home. I recently spoke with Bryn Homuth on how his work as a writer and educator is influencing the role of poetry in his own home, as he and his wife raise their daughter.  Homuth, a resident of MN has poems published in The Tishman Review, Jabberwock Review and The Turnip Truck(s), and is working on his first full-length collection of poetry while teaching English courses for Crown College.

I will the be first to admit that while there are certainly poems that I love and have enjoyed teaching to students, it is not what I go to first in my free time so I asked Homuth what it is about poetry that appealed to him. Homuth shared, “one of the major appeals of poetry is that sound, rhythm and lineation (though present in fiction, nonfiction, etc) can have a prominence in poetry that they don’t have in other written forms. These qualities contribute to what many writers and theorists call the “musicality of language” that makes it surprising and delightful to the ear. For this reason, poetry can be fun to read and write.” 

  Even those of us who never aspire to write for publications have certainly made up fun rhymes with our children or have bits of an oft requested picture book memorized, in part due to the musical quality of the text. Poetry can help us remember things and encourage playing with words through rhyme, alliteration and rhythm which are all important skills for children learning to speak, read and write.  

As an author, Homuth shares that writing in the poetic form is a challenge that, “can  hopefully succeed on multiple levels in a short space.” Through our discussion, we’ve devised some ways that parents might use poetry in their interactions with children of all ages.

 

Poetry for young ears

I’ve already mentioned picture books and nursery rhymes as popular ways to read to children but Homuth reiterates that poems that tell a story are “more easily digestible for a young mind.”

Homuth adds, “As a child’s literary understanding grows alongside their body, they may find themselves inclined to dig for and examine those other poetic elements but if not, at least they have good stories from which to get a foundational grasp of their language.” All in all, consider taking time while reading to your children to pause and talk about how words sound alike. As children develop an understanding of rhyme, see if you can choose a word from the page and come up with other words that rhyme. Rhyming can also help emerging readers figure out words so try pausing to let a child guess what the next rhyming word is. If there is a repeated phrase then let the child memorize and say that part so they are “reading” with you.  

Find books to read aloud that incorporate poetry into a larger story. For instance, the original Alice in Wonderland contains various types of word-play and poetry. I often suggest it to parents looking for a non-picture book for bedtime. If you have stopped reading bedtime stories to elementary school aged children who can read on their own then consider finding a children’s book of poetry where you can read one poem at dinner or before bed to continue the positive influence of reading to your child. Shel Silverstein collections offer a good first choice.  

Consider recording poetry as a gift for a child in your life. It can be a way to connect with your child during a separation or as a gift for a relative such as a niece or nephew. Homuth told me the story of how his father, a voice over artist organized recordings of family favorite classic such as Clement Clarke Moore’s, The Night Before Christmas and Hans Christian Andersen’s, The Ugly Duckling while Bryn’s wife was expecting.  Homuth says, “Now Adeleine can follow along in her books with professional quality recordings of her family reading to her. What a gift!”  If you want to try this yourself then you can use a simple microphone and recording program on your computer or purchase a book or toy made to record on.  

 

Poetry for older children and teens

When discussing what influenced his chosen career and love of writing and reading, Homuth echoes a simple suggestion that I’ve shared many times in this column which is the importance of word games as a family activity.  Homuth explains, “We played Scrabble often and I learned to find joy and humor in letting words bounce around in my head to create puns and other word plays. Poetry naturally grew out of this as a more formal, valuable and lasting way to preserve thoughtfulness and wit.”

In addition to choosing word games for family time, consider creating family challenges that encourage the use of poetry. For instance, you can play a family game in which the one who writes the funniest haiku on a given topic gets to choose the restaurant or movie on a weekend.  

If a teen is reading poetry or verse in school that is difficult such as Shakespeare then read a copy along with them and find entertainment or activities that will reinforce what they are learning in class. For instance, watch movie or live versions. If your teen is complaining about the difficulty of the language then make a game out of it and attempt to speak only in verse or Shakespearean English during a dinner one night. Also try sending a funny rhyming text of encouragement before a big test or project is due. 

The attitude parents express towards literature greatly influences a child’s enthusiasm towards reading different styles of writing. Homuth concludes, “my parents, especially my father taught me from a young age to be fascinated with the way words sound, the way they were spelled and the way they rang in the air next to other words and played off of them.”  Poetry packs significant meaning into small bites that both Homuth and I agree is perfect for busy modern families. Homuth concluded, “while the impact of poetry reading might not reveal itself immediately, it’s worth the time and patience.”

This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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