Using poetry to support literacy and language development by Julie Cigmen.
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* About the Author: Julie Cigman, early years consultant, describes the joys of discovering poetry with young children
Young children are constantly learning about all aspects of language: receptive and expressive. They are learning vocabulary and grammar, intonation and cadence. They are learning the kinds of language that they should use in different situations. They are learning to express emotions and ideas. They learn these immensely complex skills from adults and older children around them, who provide models and, ideally, give them time and encouragement to become articulate and confident communicators themselves.
When children have extensive exposure to well-written stories and poetry from birth, the pattern of language expressed in the best of children’s literature will embed itself into children’s developing language.
Poetry has both form – a rhythm, a shape and structure – and content – an expression of ideas, thoughts and feelings. When young children hear poetry read aloud and discover poetic forms they can learn to express their ideas, thoughts, and feelings. But an overemphasis on form can lock children into structure, so their ideas have to adapt to the form.
Listening to poetry helps children to become fluent readers and creative writers, while writing poetry helps children learn to revise their ideas and develop a precision with language. Learning a repertoire of poems gives children and adults shared memories, a shared heritage, and shared understandings.
How can we help children to become poets?
The Barbican website Can I Have a Word?2 suggests three stages in becoming a poet – listen, stimulate, and create.
Stage 1: Listen
Read books and poems which are strong in musicality, such as Jabberwocky, The Quangle Wangle’s Hat or Pass the Jam, Jim. As children hear poetry and stories, they learn to control language by rehearsing and imitating it in their play. This is especially valuable for children with speech and language difficulties and children learning English as an additional language (EAL), as children can echo, sing and chant words that they don’t understand yet.
Stage 2: Stimulate
The EYFS promotes active learning through playing and exploring (p. 7) and we know that children are most creative in their play. So we can use visual and sensory stimuli to fire children’s imagination and develop their ideas and vocabulary while they play.
Stage 3: Create
Poetry is a way of encapsulating an experience concisely, and enabling the reader to see the world differently by sharing the perceptions of the poet so learning to craft poetry will take many years.
Poetry in the early years is all about discovering and playing with the interconnectedness between language, music, movement and art. But when children are exposed to all of these creative forms, their poetry will become more sophisticated, even at a very young age.
Myungja Anna Koh