A+ Advice for Parents

Many Students Celebrate National Poetry Month

Q: My daughter's fourth-grade teacher asked the class to bring in favorite poems to share. At the end of the month, parents are invited to help publish a poetry anthology for each kid to take home. I was like, really? With the big push on STEM subjects and Common Core math and nonfiction reading, they're doing poetry?

A: Please tell your son's teacher I'm a fan. Really! Kids love reading, reciting and writing poetry. It's good to hear that with all the test-prep stress, some teachers still pause to celebrate National Poetry Month in April.

And why not? Poetry lends itself to several English/language arts literacy standards for close reading and narrative writing. Research shows that poetry helps students develop an ear for the sounds and rhythms of words.

Teachers have long held that being exposed to poetry in the early years can foster a lasting appreciation of language. Literacy expert Mem Fox thinks that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they're 4 years old, they're usually among the best readers by the time they're 8.

Fox says, "Rhymers will be readers; it's that simple."

The study of poems has been an enduring staple in American textbooks, says New York-based education editor Nancy Hereford.

"The earliest McGuffey Readers contained poems, as well as essays and speeches," she says. "For decades, students were required to study and memorize certain poems chosen to enrich a sense of history, or to hone memory and oral language skills."

In addition, poetry is fun for kids. Pop culture is packed with poetry in song lyrics. Poems promote word play and painlessly introduce new vocabulary. They can inspire reluctant students to read and write. Poems can also illuminate great moments in history and help students think about topics in new ways.

Creative teachers are designing Common Core standards-aligned reading and writing lessons around poems from such a wide range of authors as Odgen Nash, Shel Silverstein, Walt Whitman and Maya Angelou. To find standards that invite the study of poetry, go to corestandards.org or achievethecore.org and search "poetry."

So find time for rhyme with your daughter. Libraries have great poetry collections for kids that are readily available this month. Two well-known authors of poetry for children, Lee Bennett Hopkins and Jack Prelutsky, have edited dozens of rich anthologies on a range of topics -- from pets and farm animals to American history, math, baseball, space travel, seasons and city streets. The series "Poetry for Young People" (Sterling Publishers) introduces kids to poets including Robert Frost, Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson.

Want to polish your math and reading skills? "Edgar Allan Poe's Pie" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a collection of brainteaser poems by J. Patrick Lewis, reimagines classic poems with math puzzler twists.

Pore over these poetry collections with your daughter and you'll both be ready for "Poem in Your Pocket Day" on April 30. (For more information, go to poets.org/national-poetry-month.)

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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