When writing poetry for children, I would say that the requirements of the Department of Education and Science 1989, Chapter 7:3.3 should be borne in mind, for children should not just be fed “giggle poems” but need poetry which will stretch their imaginations, which teach them the richness of the English language and the ways in which a writer, especially a poet, can use various ways of playing with language to make it fun. They need to see that there is a big difference between poetry and prose, that neither of these two ways of writing is better than the other, but that they use words in quite a different way. The principles underpinning the foundations of the National Curriculum, with regards to literature were laid down as follows:
“To foster in pupils a love of literature, to encourage their awareness of its unique relationship to human experience and to promote in them a sense of excitement in the power and poetential of language can be one of the greatest joys of the English teacher. It is also one of the greatest challenges.
DEVELOPING CHILDREN'S CREATIVE RESPONSES
Parents and teachers should realize that there is a big link between reading and writing. As one improves, so does the other. There is a lot that has been written on this subject, and I will finish this article with a link to articles worth reading.
Reading and writing skills are essential in every area of life and I am sure that the love of reading rests to a large extent on the writer of children’s material. Children will enjoy reading about make-believe worlds, in much the same way as adults did when they were children. When I tell people that I write poetry for children, their faces often light up as they recall the poems which they enjoyed when they were children, and many can still recite lines from these poems. In addition to reading poems about dragons, witches, fairies, elves, and not forgetting space travel and aliens, children also like to read about the world around them. They will know, of course, from their lessons how day and night happen, but isn’t it also fun to think of two sisters in the sky, visiting people in their own countries, bringing them delight or sleep? The idea of these sisters talking to each other as they pass in the evening is also fun. Children can be given scientific facts so that they know about how the senses work, but isn’t it also fun for them to have a poem which tells them how every sense was used to the full when Mum made that lovely cake? Don’t just read them these poems. Ask them to supply a story or to tell you which senses they use in connection with the making of a cake, or how do they think a bird who cannot fly might feel etc? I have to tell you that in order to write about some of the mini-beast, bird, animal and fish characters in my poems, I had to do quite a bit of research, and how very interesting it was. The character I found most intriguing was Wanda Woodlouse. What an interesting insect she is!!!
You will have seen that I have given lots of ideas to go with poetry, and lots of opportunities for children to develop their own writing. Read them a poem, and, perhaps the next day give them the poem again, but omit the rhyming words, or change some of the words and ask them to supply the correct one. Get children to go to Rhymezone to find rhyming words and to note that words that sound alike are not necessarily spelt alike. Tell them to look through the rhyming words and sort them into lists according to spellings. They can also use a good thesaurus, and they will find them on the internet. Ask them “What other words could have been used instead of ‘laugh’?” Bring in the teaching of metre. Ask them: “Why did the poet choose this word rather than that?” “Put in the other word and read the line and then tell me if it does or does not fit in with the metre?” If you take a poem such as “Mr Wind’s Little Games” ask the children to bring out of the poem all the verbs, all the sounds, all the adjectives etc. With a short poem, there is so much that you can do if you place the poem at the heart of your English language lesson, for a poem is short, but fun. A poet uses language to the full to demonstrate sounds. Look at the sounds which come through the train poems. Different sounds for different trains. What fun!
If you were to ask adults if they had read any interesting articles about trains, they might have done so, but to recall them might be difficult. Ask them if they remember any poems about trains, and they will tell you exactly which ones. They might even have been asked to recite a poem and that will stick in their memory. If I was asked this question, I remember my father (a railway signalman) used to recite to me for even his generation had fun learning and reciting poems that bounced along with rhythm.
THE 11.69 EXPRESS
I’ll tell you a railway story, while you wait for the London train,
It’s a story I’ve never told you, but I’ll tell it to you again.
I was only a guard at the time, sir, on the London and Smash’em Line
But I’ll never forget the mishap to the eleven thirty-nine.
I will especially always remember the Thomas The Tank Engine stories, for steam trains played an important part in my life. Oh how I've enjoyed writing all the steam train poems, especially now I have a little grandson whose face lit up when I told him that "Clickety Clack" was a poem especially for him - but it is for all children of course. I could never have envisaged writing a railway poem without putting rhythm into it for ask anyone of my generation and they will tell you that Clickety Clack or Diddledy Dee
was repetitively sang or chanted inside railway carriages when we were young to the point where our parents told us to "shut up", ha ha Ask anyone. We drove our parents and other passengers mad with this enjoyable activity. What fun!!!
TEACHING THE TEXT AND ACHIEVING THE OBJECTIVES FOR USING IT
Having your clear aims and objectives clearly defined before using particular material is important. You might be using a poem to bring in fun to add to factual information in your classroom. Perhaps it is being used to stimulate thought, compare or contrast ideas from material within the poem. You might be developing vocabulary, rhyming, metre or lots of other things. Perhaps you are teaching children what personification is, assonance or alliteration is – or what a metaphor is etc. Whatever the reason, state what it is so that you focus clearly on this. Perhaps you may wish to use a poem for all of these reasons, but keep them well separated. Don’t deluge the children with too much at one time. With a short poem, you can afford the time (and it is very necessary) to revisit the poem many times, and each time, use the poem for some other purpose, including getting the children to learn the poem, recite it or act it for this helps them develop confidence, and no poem should be left on the page. It needs to be read aloud and heard.