Literacy and the Benefits of Poetry

My freshman year of college I had to take an academic seminar which was basically a how-to-do-college course. Most of it was pretty common sense and should go without saying like keep track of your assignments, do your homework, turn in your homework… go to class…things of that nature. 

One of the random things I remember from that course was a test on our knowledge of simple poetry and common nursery rhymes. After the pop quiz, the teacher read a list of statistics about how children who grew up knowing these basic rhymes were typically more advanced in their reading skills as well as comprehension.

Green Chameleon

I have to give my mom and my grandmother all the credit for my score on the test, because if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have known what little Jack Horner was doing in the corner or what frightened Miss Muffet away…

Regardless of that silly little test, and my abilities to recount a cow jumping over the moon, I really believe there is some meat to those statistics…

I’m now teaching my own kids how to read, and am finding that poetry is an amazing tool and gift I can give my kids for the future. Not just to improve their reading skills but also to give them an empathy towards this beautiful and quiet art.


Literacy and the Benefits of Poetry


1. Poetry teaches rhythm of speech. Little nursery rhymes that are read frequently are often memorized and repeated. Children learn, somewhat by default, the natural flow of words, inflection, and expression needed to interpret written as well as oral language.


2. Poetry enhances vocabulary. An over-simplified feast of words provides no real sustenance for curious and growing minds. Don’t be afraid to speak new and interesting words. With each encounter with a particular word and new contexts given, a child’s understanding grows.


I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word,

Sometimes I write one, and I look at it,

until it begins to shine” -Emily Dickinson


3. Poetry passes culture to the next generation. Many of our common nursery rhymes, poems, and scriptures stem from historical events, interesting people, and memorable moments that serve as a reminder of our heritage. Each of these give your child a sense of belonging and confidence in their identity.

Cristian Newman

4. Poetry creates an empathy for the arts and an author. I think one of the reasons that poetry gets lost is that it is not something that continually gets bigger and better. It is, and always will be, a quiet art that takes time and reflection to truly acquire an appreciation. By starting our kids young we can raise a sensitivity to the feelings and thoughts expressed by a particular author.


5. Poetry fosters the use of imagination. We have been reading through A Child’s Garden of Verses and my kids have taken to Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “My Bed Is a Boat”. My daughter told me the other day that she was pretending that her bed was a boat, while adding her own twist of ideas and adventure.



6. Poetry can inspire good and noble ideas. If carefully chosen, poetry can teach lessons of honesty, goodness, admiration, beauty and other characteristics that will illuminate their minds with wholesome ideas on which to build their knowledge. Because as we know, right thinking leads us to a place of good decision making and admirable actions.


Whene’er a noble deed is wrought,

Whene’er is spoken a noble thought,

Our hearts, in glad surprise,

To higher levels rise.”



7. Poetry can offer enjoyment. What are the first books you want to share with your kids? Probably your favorites from your childhood, right? The ones that were read to you when you had nothing else to do but to cuddle up with someone you loved and listen. There was no stressing about form or sentence structure– it was for the pure enjoyment of hearing. By giving our kids this foundation, we let them aesthetically experience poetry, making their first exposure pleasurable and meaningful.



Poetry for today

The slow art of poetry is a challenge because it requires the habit of tuning our full attention to complete observation. But perhaps with a little extra practice and focus we can replace our mindless thoughts with lessons from yesterday, goodness for today, and beauty for tomorrow. If not for ourselves, than for the curious and growing minds of our children.



Poetry Resources to get you started

A Child’s Garden of Verses (A collection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems)

Lavender’s Blue (A book of nursery rhymes compiled by kathleen Lines and Harold Jones)

Favorite Poems Old and New (Compiled by Helen Ferris)

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (selected by Jack Prelutsky)

 Eloise Wilkins Poems to Read to the Very Young

A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa

Beatrix Potter’s Nursery Rhymes Book


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What is your favorite poem and why?

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  1. English being my second language, I literally picked up interest in English or reading through Poetry. It always left me wanting more… Then I started journaling in poetry form( I would write lines to express how I was feeling). To me poetry was art of expression. I have enjoyed teaching my little ones the beauty in poetry.

  2. Poetry is so important for young minds, and thank you Jessica for providing the list of books from these authors. I really like “I wandered lonely as a cloud” by William Wordsworth. Have a beautiful day Dear, hugs, Terri xo.

  3. It’s great that you mentioned how poetry could teach lessons of honesty, goodness, admiration, beauty and other characteristics that would illuminate the mind with wholesome ideas on which to build knowledge. I’ve been quite tired of my usual reads nowadays so I am thinking of branching out to other things, like poetry. I heard there’s a pretty good Puerto Rican poet so I’ll probably read her works on my free time.

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