Poetry for students

Poetry for students

Different approach Poems help build phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and grammar skills. dh Photo by S K Dinesh

There is a lot of cheer in Poonam Sethi’s kindergarten classroom as children find a place to sit and get ready for the class to begin. It is the beginning of the week. Which means that she will tell them a new story and teach them a new poem, which they will learn to recite over the week. This week, the chosen poem is Friends.

Poonam starts with the first line and the children follow. They repeat the poem with actions. The children giggle as they follow her actions. Even the quiet ones come out of their shells to recite the poem with the others.

“Love for language comes with poetry,” says Poonam Sethi, a kindergarten teacher with several years of experience. She sometimes writes her own poetry fine-tuned to her class. She uses poetry to teach many concepts, be it about animals, people who help us or friendship. “The musical structure of the poems makes memorisation and recitation easier,” says Poonam.

Kinaesthetic movements

The children follow all the kinaesthetic movements she shows them while reciting poems. Movements such as clapping, clicking fingers, wriggling them, flying and hopping help children to understand the meanings of the words and enable both physical and emotional development. Through this poem, they learn the importance of sharing and caring. What’s more, they giggle, have fun and finally give a friend a hug, at the end of the recitation.

Venkatalakshmi Vikram, a parent who homeschools her daughter, agrees. She stumbled upon an article on children’s poems, on the internet while researching on developing phonemic awareness in her four-year-old daughter. She pulled out the only book of children’s poems in their home library, The Booktime Book of Fantastic First Poems, and read it out to her daughter, Vania. Over time, Vania started to repeat after her. They had a lot of fun together reading the rhyming words and read the same poems over and over again, giggling all the way. Gradually more children’s poetry books started to appear on their bookshelf.

Venkatalakshmi noticed the benefits of poems on Vania. Vania began to show more interest in understanding and relating the poems to the world around her. She tried reading the poem herself and tried to connect each line to what as actually happening at home.

Venkatalakshmi is happy about having found a different way to get Vania interested in learning not just reading but a whole lot of other things. Vania is learning days, months, counting, seasons and a lot more using poems. Children’s poems seem to cover every possible concept one can possibly imagine!

How does poetry specifically help in developing the reading skill?

Reading skill

Using the poem Friends, Poonam manages to teach them over the week, how to read one new sight word- “Friends,” how to identify other CVC (Consonant, Vowel, Consonant) words.“Poems,” Poonam says, “help in building phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and grammatical skills. They are a must for children to understand the meanings of the words easily and facilitate the reading skill. Learning as a whole becomes a fun experience because of this. This is a must for children to become good readers.” Poonam chooses one poem every week, in which children learn one new sight word along with many other CVC words.

Venkatalakshmi’s experiment with poetry supports Poonam’s contention that poetry helps in making phonemic sounds familiar, makes learning and remembering new words easier owing to the rhythmic structure in poetry which is something that prose does not offer.

Poetry, it turns out, not only helps young children but older ones too. Many children shy away from reading for several reasons. Apart from a lack of content that interests them, too much text on a page also deters them from reading. It becomes a daunting task. Jason Reynolds, The New York Times Best Selling Author of Children’s books, suggests that poetry might actually help such children overcome their fear of literature. He says, “Poetry has the ability to create entire moments with just a few choice words. The spacing and line breaks create rhythm, a helpful musicality, a natural flow. The separate stanzas aid in perpetuating a kind of incremental reading, one small chunk at a time.”

Somehow, children’s poetry has generally been associated with memorisation and recitation for grades and nothing more. Our approach to using poetry in a child’s education needs to undergo a massive change.

The short length and rhythmic nature of children’s poetry can enable children to learn phonics sounds, have fun with rhyming words, learn new things in a playful manner and even learning to read with confidence and right intonation. It is time for children’s poetry to stop being shoved into a corner in children’s education. Instead, it must be allowed to take equal footing with prose.