Here are the top five reasons to read poetry to, and with, your children.
1. Poems can communicate in ways that prose cannot. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” for instance, teaches children that they should leave their doors and windows shut while reading quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore, so that devil-birds don’t come haunt them forever. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” communicates powerfully the need for bosses to be clear and specific about their instructions, rather than gesturing vaguely in the direction of the enemy and breezily declaring that “Gosh, it would be nice if those Russian fellows were cleared out of that Valley of Death, eh what?”
2. Poetry, especially rhyming poetry, embeds itself in the mind, thus guaranteeing that the child will have a rich mental storehouse to draw upon in later years. At many difficult and soul-wearying points in our lives, we have been deeply comforted when a poem we memorized long ago rises in our minds:
Oh there once was a puffin
Just the shape of a muffin
and he lived on an island
in the bright blue sea.
He ate little fishes
that were most delicious,
And he had them for supper
and he had them for tea.
3. Poetry helps children to notice the tiny moments of beauty in everyday life. Who will ever look at clouds the same way after hearing Christina Rossetti’s charming poem “Clouds” depict them as sheep? And after reading Carl Sandburg’s lovely poem “Fog,” you can no longer just think of fog as “the condition that delayed my connecting flight and stranded me in Newark Airport for 24 hours and is the reason why I still twitch involuntarily when I pass a Jersey Mike’s Subs.”
4. Reciting poetry in front of an audience of parents or friends is excellent training for public speaking, something your child will need to master if she is to give school presentations, run office meetings, and provide hilarious maid-of-honor toasts at her sister’s wedding. (Sample: How many homeschoolers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None; we skipped the unit on lightbulb-replacement because we got really into Ancient Egypt that year and spent three months building a pyramid in our backyard and then never finished our history curriculum so I still don’t know how World War II ended.)
5. Poetry reminds us who we truly are as a nation, and of who we could be. In this era of partisan bickering, fake news, Twitter trolls, and bitterly contested elections, poems can unite us around the larger truth: that the umpire was blind as a bat, and that the first two pitches that mighty Casey didn’t swing at were balls, not strikes. #JusticeForMudville #CaseyWasRobbed
For these and many other reasons, we created Heroes, Horses, and Harvest Moons Illustrated Reader: A Cornucopia of Best-Loved Poems. Gorgeous illustrations and classic poems will provide hours of enjoyment for you and your children. All the illustrations in this article are from this book and were created by Crystal Cregge.
And for actual serious reasons to introduce your child to poetry, check out this article by master storyteller Jim Weiss.