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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Teaching Poetry To Toddlers and Preschoolers

Young children may not be able to understand complex verses, rhyming schemes or poem formats but that doesn't mean that they can' t benefit from an early exposure to poetry. In fact, you've probably been exposing your child to poetry since the day he was born. Most people first experience poetry through nursery rhymes.

Nursery rhymes such as "Hey Diddle, Diddle" and "Old Mother Hubbard" offer fun rhymes for young kids. There's a reason that Mother Goose has been around for hundreds of years - the rhymes are easy to remember and young tots love to listen to them (over and over again!)

We've all been told that poetry doesn't have to rhyme but that doesn't mean that it can't rhyme! Most young kids find rhyming poetry to be the most fun. Toddlers and preschoolers spend a lot of time experimenting with words and sounds and rhyming can help them do that.

There are plenty of  books available to young kids that have rhyming text. One of my favorites from the Barefoot collection is I Took The Moon For A Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay. I guarantee that the beautiful, lyrical text in this book will pull you right in.

It opens:
"I took the Moon for a walk last night.
It followed behind like a still summer kite,
though there wasn't a string or a tail in sight,
when I took the Moon for a walk."
I Took The Moon For A Walk is also one of my daughter's favorites. The soothing words calm her when she's upset or over tired.

Of course, Dr. Seuss is a great source for simple rhymes too! "Hop on Pop" and "Green Eggs and Ham" are fun to read and explore simple word families. Read the book to your child and then ask him if he noticed any words that rhymed. Discuss the rhymes and see if he can think of his own!

Remember, poetry doesn't have to come from a book, you can help your child experience poetry throughout the day simply by making up rhyming sentences that describe various situations. For example, today I told my daughter, "we are getting in the car but we won't go very far. Around the corner, then go straight and we will be at Grandma's gate!"

Toddler Rhyming Games
You are probably already familiar with many of the rhyming games available for toddlers. Most of them are based on nursery rhymes and you likely played them when you were a child! Here are a few examples of some fun rhyming games to play with your toddler. 

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
This fun action rhyme incorporates counting, coordination and rhyming into one!

"One, two, buckle my shoe" (bend over and pretend to buckle your shoe)

"Three, four, shut the door" (pretend to shut a door)

"Five, six, pick up sticks" (bend down and pretend to pick up sticks)

"Seven, eight, lay them straight" (draw straight lines on the floor with your finger)

"Nine, ten, a big fat hen!" (flap your arms and cluck like a chicken!)

Another action game that subtly incorporates rhyming into your child's playtime!

"Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker man"
(alternate clapping your hands and patting your legs)

"Bake me a cake as fast as you can"
(alternate clapping your hands and patting your legs)

"Roll it, and pat it and mark it with a 'B'"
(roll your arms, pat your legs and make a "B" in the air)

"Put it in the oven for baby and me!"
(pretend to put a cake in the oven)

Preschool Rhyming Games
These games are more for the 3+ age range but younger children will enjoy listening to you play with words and rhymes even if they can't participate. Please remember that all children develop differently. While some kids may be quick to pick up on the rhymes, others may find it more difficult. Be patient and if your child begins to be frustrated, take a breather and play something new for awhile.

Guess the Animal
Introduce the concept of rhyming words to your preschooler through a fun guessing game. Ask the children to close their eyes and try to imagine the animal that you are describing. Tell them to raise their hand when they know what the animal is. Start describing an animal giving them several hints and end by saying a word that the animal's name rhymes with.

For example: "the animal I'm thinking of lives on a farm, it is pink and it likes to roll in the mud. This animal's name rhymes with dig. Do you know what the animal is?"

After the child guesses the animal you can reinforce the rhyming words by saying "that's right because pig rhymes with dig. Dig, pig."

At this point you might ask the children if they can think of any other words that rhyme with 'dig'. This may be a little advanced for some preschoolers but it should help to get them thinking about rhyming. If no one can think of any rhyming words you can jump in and start listing them. "Let's see, dig rhymes with pig and big, fig, gig, jig, and wig!"

Go ahead and take it a step further by making up a funny poem with your new rhyming words! "There once was a pig. He was really very big. One day he wore a wig and then he danced a little jig!"

Alphabet Rhymes
This game lets your child be silly with words as well as practice rhyming!

Tell your child that you want to find words that rhyme with "Ape". Start going through the alphabet and adding each letter to the beginning of "ape" - it doesn't have to be a real word! "Ape, bape, cape, dape, e-ape, fape..." Have fun with it! After you give a few examples ask your child if she can think of any words that rhyme with "ape".  Change it up using different words and sounds! Another fun way to do this is using the child's name! For example: "Shelby, Belby, Delby, Felby..."

I hope these examples get you thinking about how you can introduce your young children to poetry and rhymes

What rhyming games do you play with your children?

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