National Poetry Day takes place in October every year to celebrate and raise awareness of poetry.
Most of us were probably unaware of it, poetry tending to be bypassed in our busy lives. However, we should perhaps pay more attention to it, and to including it in children’s education, as poetry can be good for you. (See this article here)And reading it, remembering it and reciting poetry has an impact on our brain function and performance and importantly on language development in children.
Children’s first experience of poetry is probably through the nursery rhymes and songs we sing, read and chant to them when they’re young. After that it can often disappear from their everyday lives as they grow. And is in danger of disappearing from education, apart from being part of GCSEs later on, often through poems youngsters cannot engage with.
However, the Centre for Neuroscience at Cambridge University has shown that poetry can affect our ability to learn the complex skills of mastering linguistics.
Put simply, rhythmic language like chants, limericks and nursery rhymes optimises the brains ability to learn and use language for everyday communication. It does this because rhythmic patterns, although we may be unaware of them, are used in our speech and help develop memory skills used for deciphering reading for example. Reading and reciting poetry out loud promotes speech development, encourages flexibility of thinking and understanding the meaning of language and how it’s used. And generally develops our capacity to think which reflects on everything we learn and do.
Gyles Brandreth has long been a champion of poetry and in an interesting programme on BBC Radio Four speaks to professor Usha Goswami the director of the Centre who explains it better here. (at 16.30)
It’s clear that, in affecting brain development in this way, poetry can play an important part in educational development and as parents and educators we should find ways to include it in our children’s learning lives.
As mentioned above tiny children are introduced to it very young through nursery rhymes. But there are many enjoyable books for children which could carry it on, which keep poetry light and enjoyable. Rhythms and rhyming verses that can be easily chanted often being the most attractive to kids and consequently to recite. (Investigate Edward Lear, Spike Milligan, Michael Rosen). And there are increasing numbers of poetry books for teens (some recommendations here) not forgetting that Rap is a form of verse that many teens will engage with.
It’s essential that children and young people have poetry that is relevant to their lives, that they can engage with and understand, for it to be of value to their language function and development. In fact, as Gyles points out, it is valuable to us all in terms of keeping our brains active and regenerating. So there is value too, in our young people seeing us experiencing poetry in whatever form, as they are most influenced by what we do and we’ll benefit from seeing us enjoying it too.
Ultimately, finding ways of getting poetry back into the family’s life will be of benefit to all!