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Source: Clothes by Baby Mori in the TantrumXYZ shop

Poet and father to four boys Tony Peek has some very good suggestions

Tips on getting toys to like poetry

As a study by Save the Children finds that boys are lagging behind in language and communication skills when they start school at age five, poet and father to four boys (and three girls) Tony Peek gives his advice for getting boys into poetry…

Whether male or female, we are all born into a world of rhythm and rhyme. From the beating of a mother’s heart, to the turning of the seasons or the passing pulse of night and day. Nursery rhymes seep into our being; Humpty-Dumpty, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Rock-a-Bye-baby. These simple tunes and curious words become part of our lives as effortlessly as the air we breathe. As parents, finding out how we harness this innate sense of rhythm and rhyme is where the fun begins. This is also where our parenting skills can give our children a gift that will stay with them forever.

Naturally, the basic ideas for getting either boys or girls into poetry are fairly similar but, for the sake of this piece, I will share some ideas that have helped my four sons connect to the pleasure of words…

1. Make it fun. If you read a poem for your child and they enjoy the rhythm of your reading and they smile and they laugh then the chances are they will want to hear the poem again… and again… and again… Until you can all recite it anywhere you are.

2. Choose carefully. You know your child better than anyone on earth. You know their likes and their dislikes. Choose poems that involve subject matter that you know your boys enjoy. Animals, ghosts, cars, cooking. The more they engage with what is being read, or what they are reading, the more they will get out of it and the more they will want to read it again.

3. Find a favourite. Doctor Zeus, Julia Donaldson, Benjamin Zephaniah… the list is endless. There are hundreds of talented people writing poems for kids, each with their own unique take on the world and the world of poetry. If there is a poet that your children enjoy then buy another book by the same person; watch them on YouTube; go to see them perform live. A love of one poet will more often than not lead to a love of many others.

4. Find out what’s happening in nursery or school. Ask what their class or playgroup are reading together. Maybe borrow a copy and read it at home as well. This bridges a gap between school and home that ought to be as small as possible.

5. Draw back the curtain of mystery. Perhaps not at first but, when a poem or story is well known, then make your child aware of what is happening with the language. While reading, occasionally point out the rhyming words, encourage your child to finish the rhymes for you. Point out the way that one particular phrase has been repeated. If you do this, your child will have a subtle and perhaps priceless course in language awareness and will begin to understand the mechanics behind what is in front of them. Don’t be too academic, of course, but just let them notice how things are working a little.

6. Make the reading of poetry a part of your everyday lives. When my boys become comfortable around something – be it a person, a concept or an activity - they always tend to enjoy it more. If you read silly poems for them now, while they are young, then the chances are that as they grow they will naturally seek out more serious verse for themselves.

7. Word bounce, anyone? Start a rhyme and bounce it over to another member of the family. ‘I had a little mouse…’ to which my three-year-old boy replied, ‘It ate my mummy’s house.’ And my nine-year-old replied, ‘I fed it to a louse.’ And we all laughed.

8. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and all the rest… There are countless opportunities throughout the year where formal cards are bought and sent and given. Why not write your own? Encourage your boys to write cards themselves and, when you receive a hand-written poem for your next birthday, remember to praise your child enormously, put the card on display, and show it proudly to anyone who happens to visit. If there are siblings that didn’t write a card this year, you bet they will next time.

9. Boys will be boys. We’d better cover the P-word. There’s nothing like a good old rhyme with blue, shoe, loo and poo. If you can all make up a poem about a kangaroo that does a great big poo then I’m pretty sure you’ll get some smiling, giggling and general pleasure of the word.

10. Keep it Up. Perhaps the hardest part of all. Every Monday morning, on the school run, when everyone is slightly grumpy and not at all in the mood for school, I recite Frosty Cold* and suddenly school and their teachers become human again and life isn’t all that bad.

*When the weather’s Frosty Cold,
No one does what they’ve been told.
So all the teachers scream and shout
And put their gloves on inside out.

But, when the weather’s warm and hot
Then no one does what they should not,
So all the teachers smile instead
And put their Knickers on their head!

:: Click here to read about Mr Peek’s Poetry workshops or to buy Bits & Bobs: Mr Peek’s Poetry Fun Time.

:: For more word games for children and ideas on how to encourage your child's communication skills, The Communication Trust has this leafet.