Advice for Poets 7: Poems for Children

When you’re writing poetry for children it’s easy to make a lot of assumptions about what they like. It’s easy, however, to miss the mark as children have very specific interests and often shorter attention spans! We’ve been speaking to a couple of primary school teachers who essentially spend every single day working at keeping the attention of 5-10 year olds to find out exactly how to write poems for children.

Photo by Alan Cleaver / CC BY NAME
Photo by Alan Cleaver / CC BY NAME

Rhymes

They’re impressed by them. The plays on language sound even better to them than they do for us. There probably are some children out there who appreciate the subtlety of free verse but really you’ll want to be rhyming most of the time, even if it’s just the simplest of couplets. Rhyming couplets are strongly advised because the rhythm is easy to follow.

Repetition

Repeating the same sounds, words and format will always appeal to kids. You need to mix it up to keep it interesting, however.

Be a Little Bit Rude

Absolutely do not be vulgar, but being a little bit rude to raise a giggle is fine – mentioning a toilet, or a man making trouble in a monkey suit or some other gentle humorous situation is great.

Sounds

When writing poetry for adults, it’s easier to understand the deepe subtleties of a strong word that doesn’t sound so good out loud. A child is more likely to respond well to words that sound interesting. Alliteration is a great idea.

Photo by TooMuchDew / CC BY NAME
Photo by TooMuchDew / CC BY NAME

BANG! CRASH!

Our teachers strongly recommend putting in power words that are fun to yell – when they’re reading poetry out loud to their pupils, they love having these easy to remember, repetitive phrases that they can join in with. Animal sounds are also a hit. This mostly appeals to the younger kids.

Nonsense

Nonsense is great. Think Dr Seuss. However, your nonsense has to be clever. Beware of just talking nonsense for the sake of nonsense – silliness needs to be witty or it won’t work.

Keep it Appropriate

By which we don’t mean keep it clean (hopefully you figured that by yourself!) but you should carefully consider the language to keep it understandable and easy to read. Following a rhythm will also make it easier for little tongues to read aloud. You also have to carefully consider the limits of your audiences understanding. This works both ways, of course:

Don’t Patronise

You’ll lose them instantly if you do this. Let us tell you a story:

‘Once I was playing pictionary on a chalk board with a 6 year old I’d just met. He drew a big yellow circle and coloured it in. The only thing more astonishing then his 3-year-old sister asking if it was smallpox scars (what?!) was when, after we had guessed ‘easter egg’ ‘egg yolk’ and ‘the moon’, he put his hands on his hips and sighed ‘no…it’s an exoplanet.’

Every 6-year-old won’t know what an exoplanet is (are you even entirely sure?!) so we’re not suggesting this as serious subject matter. However, if I presented a child like that with a poem about Flopsy the bunny, he’d shoot me down with a withering look. Be mindful of your audience!

We’ve put absolutely no restrictions on what we include in our cancer charity poetry anthology, so if you think you can write a poem for kids or anyone else, please consider submitting it to us! 

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