When we think about poetry the most common reaction is to think about it as a product of adults, for adults. But if we reflect a little bit deeper about this question, we will reach the conclusion that poetry is primarily related to children.
Usually, our first contact with poetry happens when we are still babies being cradled by lullaby songs.
Across childhood, rhymes are present in our lives, wether it is at school, at home or at the playground.
But why do children usually love poetry? And how important it is for their development ?
Rhymes are not just a simple entertainment strategy, they are vital for language development, cognitive development, social/emotional development and even pshysical development.
In fact, “Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.” [Fox, M. (2001). Reading Magic. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.]
Lets try to understand this subject a little bit better:
1) Language Development:
Rhymes make it easier for kids to learn new words. Learning new words appears effortless, because the rhytmical structure of the stanzas creates a familiar context for unfamiliar words. Moreover, reading rhymes aloud or repeating rhymes helps them practice pitch, voice inflection, and volume. It may seem trivial to a grown up, but the level of coordination required to master all the variables of voice is extremely complex.
“Poetry provides a relaxed and pleasent way for students to practice language skills”
Source: Nancy L. Hadaway, Sylvia M. Vardell and Terrell A. Young. The Reading Teacher Vol. 54, No. 8, Embracing Pluralism Worldwide, Part 2: Classrooms in the U.S. (May, 2001), pp. 796-806
2) Physical Development
This brings us to the impact of rhymes on physical development. Breath coordination, tongue and mouth movements, are made easier by the musical structure of the rhyme. Rhymes create a perfect environment for children, because it looks like right things happen easily. Rhymes help you understand when you need to breath, and for how long, with no need of theory of explanation. The physical awareness developed through rhymes can be naturally applied to prose as the kids grow older.
“Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and use the individual sounds or phonemes in spoken words.
Helping children understand rhyming is one key skill of phonemic awareness” (Block & Israel, 2005)
3) Cognitive Development
Through rhymes and poems, children understand that there are words which are similar in sound but with different meanings. They learn what a pattern is, and become capable of recognizing patterns. They understand, through patterns, what a sequence is. They have fun memorizing rhymes, thus practicing their memory both linked to audio and visual events. (Listening to someone reading rhymes, or reading themselves). Memory, patterns, and sequences are also extremely helpful for approaching math and new languages.
“Working with teachers in sharing poetry across the curriculum have shown us that students need to practice developing their oral fluency and that they find poetry a particularly unintimidating and fun way to do it “
(Hadaway, Vardell & Young, 2001)
4) Social/Emotional Development
Rhymes encourage kids’ sense of humor, and sharing rhymes with their family creates space for inside jokes, and for an emotional attachment to the stories kids read together with their parents. When children feel lonely, or need comfort, they can easily recall the rhymes they shared with their parents and feel cherished, also if they’re not with their family in that exact moment.