I recently had a text from one of my stepdaughters who was passing on a question from her five-year-old: “Nana, how are poems made?”
Hmm! I tried to think very hard before responding. How to say something encouraging and likely to engage a five-year old, while still being honest? No doubt there are teachers or ex-teachers reading this who would have plenty of good suggestions. All my teaching experience has been with adults, and having been a Brownie helper for a short time I learned very quickly that I had no idea how to seriously pique the interest of a 9 year old, let alone a 5 year old. The last thing I wanted to do was to say anything that would put my granddaughter off poetry for life.
I wish I could remember what I thought about poetry when I was five. Did I love nonsense poetry, silly stories and loony rhymes? I’d hate children to think that’s all poetry is about. Is it the only way ‘into’ poetry for a five-year old, or is that just setting low expectations?
Anyway I tried to say something funny and interesting and intriguing, about looking very hard at what you see around you and playing with new words to describe things, reading aloud and enjoy words that sound the same, all that kind of well-meaning nonsense. I never got a reply, so even that was probably deemed to be over the girl’s head, who knows!
So now, having volunteered to help Live Canon with its brilliant Children’s Poetry Competition, I find myself with a whole folder of poems by 5, 6 and 7 year olds to mark. Luckily we’ve been given pointers about the kinds of things to look out for and ‘reward’, which helps me greatly in terms of where to set the bar.
It’s great fun to do: very encouraging that so many children that young are writing poems and impressive how some are already capable of tackling serious themes. I’ll try not to agonise about the responsibility, as I’m really only ‘another pair of eyes’ and won’t have to make the final decisions. I’ll be interested to see if any of my favourites make it to the winners’ list though!