April is National Poetry Month, and it’s one of our favorite times of year! Our literary magazines (BABYBUG, LADYBUG, SPIDER, and CRICKET) are all packed with poetry, from short and silly couplets to poignant free verse. Although poetry is common in the youngest children’s literature– think nursery rhymes and rhyming picture books– most adults don’t engage much with poetry. What happens during those tween and teen years to drive kids away from poetry?
What’s so scary about poetry?
Believe it or not, we’re not the first ones to pose that question. According to this article from LitHub, which compares poetry to “literary broccoli,” it’s all about imposing form and restriction on kids. Creative stories and art are bound only by children’s imagination. But kids’ earliest experiences of writing poetry are all about form and restriction– rhyme, meter, letters in an acrostic poem, and most of all, syllable counts of haiku. As author Chris Harris puts it, ““POETRY: It’s like regular writing, but with even more rules!”
In a similar perspective, Kevin Stein says in Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age, that many people learn to loathe poetry by age 15. He blames teachers for making classroom poetry overly safe, sanitized and even “domesticated,” saying, “Teachers have left the poetry-wolves in the woods, preferring instead a petting zoo of poetry-poodles, cuddly and well behaved.”
There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with the form of poems– in fact, it can be exhilarating– but it may be a little daunting to start off with. Harris recommends letting kids play around with words the same way we let them play around with finger paint, making pleasing and satisfying and colorful messes without too many rules. There may be more of a poet inside most of us than we realize.
Ask the kids
It’s easy to blame a loss of interest in poetry on technology, but this isn’t a new problem. We even managed to dig up an old study from 30 years ago by Michael Bujeja, who wanted to figure out why kids stop loving poetry. He found that almost half of kids liked poetry until an adult criticized them– whether disagreeing with their analysis or giving them a bad grade on their writing. Feeling inferior and unintelligent doesn’t help kids develop a love of poetry! A kid who thinks, “I’m not smart enough to understand poetry” will stop exploring it. Many of the kids interviewed remembered their childhood enthusiasm for reading or writing poetry in vivid detail but felt they’d lost something.
About 20% of the kids surveyed felt that the ‘grown-up poetry’ they graduated to reading was too difficult or hard to understand. Several mentioned studying works like Shakespeare or Beowulf, or wading through deep and ambiguous contemporary free verse. Poetry for ‘adults’ has a reputation for being sophisticated and challenging; poetry for kids is easy and fun.
Still, that doesn’t mean that all of the kids in the survey disliked poetry. About 14% said that they stopped enjoying poetry after one of these bad experiences but found their way back to it again. Another 11% never stopped loving it!
Do you think kids today would give similar answers? Ask the kids and young adults in your life and see what they say!
Getting (or keeping) kids interested in poetry
Don’t let kids believe poetry is just for the classroom or for small children only! Two great, simple ways to keep kids immersed in poetry as they get older: a magnetic poetry kit on the fridge and a kid-friendly “poem-a-day” calendar or app! The whole family can enjoy poetry together. For more poetry-averse kids, try discussing the lyrics of their favorite songs. What do they mean? How do the words make them feel? What is it about the words that do that? (Would “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Encanto be as popular if his name was Oscar, as originally planned?)
Our favorite way to bring more poetry into kids’ lives? Kid-friendly literary magazines. Although it should come as no surprise that we’d recommend magazines, a regular dose of poetry paired with colorful artwork can really help build a love of poetry. Sure, maybe your child really wants to read the sci-fi stories or do word puzzles, but the poems are so short and sweet, they’re hard to skip over. Here are just a few poems we’re sharing from our April magazine issues!
“Cookie Crush” from SPIDER Magazine (ages 6-9), written by Rebeca Gardyn Levington and illustrated by Leah Ingledew
“If I Were a Train” from LADYBUG Magazine (ages 3-6), written by Suzy Levinson and illustrated by John Nez
“The Wolf” from CRICKET Magazine” (ages 9-12), written by Georgia Roberts Durston and illustrated by Rama Hughes.
“The Field Mouse and the Butterfly” from BABYBUG Magazine (for infants and toddlers), written by Jen Schalliol Huang and illustrated by Alexandra Thompson
“Springing” from LADYBUG Magazine (ages 3-6), written by Neal Levin and illustrated by Michelle Hazelwood Hyde
Making Writing Poetry Fun
Here are some creative ways to bring out your kid’s inner poet!
Like we said before, keep a magnetic poetry kit on the fridge and see what they can create. Or cut up some old magazines (we won’t get offended!) and have them rearrange chunks of words or sentences!
Similarly, try creating found poems. Use a page from a magazine (again, our feelings won’t be hurt!), newspaper, even a cereal box, and encourage kids to cross out words to create their own unique statement.
Some kids are intimidated by free verse. If that’s your child, encourage them to write a short paragraph about a VERY STRONG OPINION they have. It can be about a current event, a personal or family situation, or even something they really like or dislike. Then, once they’ve written a paragraph, have them take out at least HALF of the words and cut up the sentences into shorter lines. Suddenly, they’ll find there’s a poem right before their eyes!
Other kids have a hard time taking themselves seriously as poets. They have a lot to say but aren’t sure they can turn it into a good poem. A fun way to work through that? Write a deliberately terrible poem about a meaningful topic. Think of all of the cheesy and obnoxious traits of a bad poem and put them into yours. Then, once you’re done, edit it. Try to fix all of the problems you put into the poem. Soon, it becomes apparent that if you know what makes a “bad poem,” you may actually know more than you think about what makes a “good poem!”
Here’s an advanced one: play a family poetry game. Have everybody pick a household item, animal, something you might see on the street, etc. Let everyone describe it in a poem without ever mentioning what it is. Then, share them together and see if the family members can guess what the poem’s about!
How to get published?
People often ask us if we accept poetry submissions from kids. The answer is no… and yes. No, we don’t accept submissions for magazines from children under age 18, but we do hold a few poetry contests each year! The winners are published in our magazines. Check out our “Spider’s Corner” feature in the May/June issue of SPIDER Magazine to read some awesome poems submitted by kids on the topic of “Bragging or Showing Off.” Although we don’t have an active poetry contest in our May/June issue (contests alternate between poetry, art, and fiction writing), stay tuned for future issues! You can find submission guidelines in the “Spider’s Corner” section. SPIDER’s kid poets mostly range in age from 6 to 10 years old.
For older kids, there’s CRICKET Magazine! CRICKET’s last poetry contest appeared in the March 2022 issue, but the next one should arrive very soon. Our July/August issue will feature kids’ poems about artists! The “Cricket League” section near the back of each issue features kids’ winning art, stories, and poems, as well as submission guidelines.