Five Ways Funny Poems Can Inspire Kids to Read
“Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake baker’s man.”
“I will not eat green eggs and ham.”
Mother Goose rhymes and Dr. Seuss books have introduced many a toddler and preschooler to the world of poetry. Poems have a lot to offer beginning readers as well, particularly when they are funny, and they are written about things kids find interesting.
Just ask Kenn Nesbitt, who for the last 19 years has written poetry for kids and often gives talks to students at elementary schools. While it may be easy to think of funny poems for kids as being too light and fluffy to make an impact, Nesbitt knows they deliver “real reading with real vocabulary” to young minds eager to learn.
Because poems are fast to read and easy to share with friends, it’s easy to bring out poetry books for your kids at any time of year, but especially during April, which is National Poetry Month. Consider these five reasons you may want to introduce your child to funny poems:
- They keep turning pages. Nesbitt says when kids read funny poetry books “every single page can bring at least a smile if not a laugh,” something he believes works particularly well for reluctant readers. “It’s almost like reading a joke book,” he says. And if kids are laughing, they are more likely to turn the page to read the next poem, and then the next.
- They learn new vocabulary. When kids are learning to read, they may get frustrated and give up if they run into too many words they don’t know. But with funny poems, the meaning is usually easy to get, and context can help kids learn new words.
Take, for instance, these lines from Ogden Nash’s poem, “Adventures of Isabel.”
“Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous.”
Kids may be introduced to words like “ravenous” and “cavernous.” An equal number of syllables in the rhyming couplets may even help them sound out new words on their own.
- They develop memorization skills. When kids love something, they usually want to share it. Short kids’ poems are easy to memorize and repeat back to friends on the playground, to parents at home, and to teachers in the classroom.
- They connect emotionally with what they read. Even though kids’ poems are usually short, they often pack an emotional punch that kids can understand. In Nesbitt’s piece, “I Wrote an Awful Poem,” he draws on the desire siblings may have to irritate each other to deliver a twist at the end:
“I wrote an awful poem;
it was bad in the extreme.
I showed it to my sister
and it made my sister scream.
I never knew a poem could be
such amazing fun.
But that was just a blast,
I think I’ll write another one.”
Nesbitt believes poems such as this one can create a connection for kids, and then parents can help them find other types of children’s poetry that evoke contemplative emotions. He says “funny poetry is where you start. That’s a hook you can use to get kids to enjoy poetry then branch out to classics,” such as poems by Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Shel Silverstein and Robert Louis Stevenson.
- They may be inspired to write poetry. After reading poems that make them laugh many kids may want to write some of their own, which also helps their overall literacy skills. While Nesbitt considers most poetic forms too advanced for kids to write, he’s a big fan of clerihew, which he even recommends for older kids. Instructions for how to write clerihew, as well as other types of poetry, can be found on his website (see resources).
Local libraries are a great source for finding many types of poetry for children. When Nesbitt gives talks at schools, he uses a mnemonic device to help students remember where to find poetry in the library.
“If you have an emergency, you pick up the phone and dial 911,” he says. “If you have a ‘poetry emergency’ and you have to find some poetry right away, the number you need to know is 811.” This teaches kids to go to the part of the library where all the books have numbers. When they find the number 811, they’ll find “every kind of poetry you can imagine: funny poems, sports poems, spooky poems, jump rope rhymes, and lots, lots more.”
Cindy Hudson writes about reading, family literacy and books for kids and their parents at Mother Daughter Book Club.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two daughters.
Resources for Children’s Poetry on the Web
Want to help your kids find funny poems to read and have fun writing their own poetry? Check out these resources for both parents and kids.
- PoetryForKids.com, http://www.poetry4kids.com created by Kenn Nesbitt, features activities to keep kids engaged for hours of fun. In addition to Nesbitt’s poems, you’ll find a rhyming dictionary that gives a list of rhyming words, lessons on writing poetry, and activities tied to holidays, class parties, crafts, and more.
- GigglePoetry.com http://gigglepoetry.com features funny poems by several authors in a long list of categories. Created by poet, author, and performer Bruce Lansky, GigglePoetry also features fill-in-the-blank poetry forms, riddles, tongue twisters, and even a bit of “poetry theater.”
- PoetryFoundation.org features a children’s section http://www.poetryfoundation.org/children/ that is geared toward parents with articles and videos of children’s poets; it also showcases a children’s poem of the day.
- For older kids, check out the poetry resources for teens http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/394 at Poets.org.