Tips On Writing Poetry For Children

Children’s poetry is at the forefront of my mind at the moment. I’m one of the poets involved in ‘Well Versed’, a project running in 3 regions of the UK – including the West Midands – to take poetry into primary schools.

Tomorrow night’s the second of our ‘training’ sessions and we’re supposed to be bringing along a ‘freshly-created’ poem for children and an exercise that we might use with it, in the classroom.

Needless to say, I’ve done my usual leave-it-to-the-last-minute and haven’t (yet) even got an IDEA of what I might do. Eeeek!

Last week I talked about writing children’s poetry with my 2 adult creative writing groups (hoping that we might all get inspired together!) and these were some of the tips I came up with.

They might help if, like me, you want to write poems for children (and most of them apply to children’s writing in general):

1. Keep it simple
2. Be funny if you can!
3. Don’t try to moralise or ‘teach’. You are trying to entertain first and foremost.
4. Don’t forget boys and subjects that might interest them (boys are less likely to be interested in poetry).
5. Nonsense poems or tongue-twisters go down well.
6. Use alliteration where you can (eg: ‘the Ning Nang Nong’)
7. Aim for a strong rhythm and rhyme (read it aloud!)
8. Read/listen to some children’s poetry here to see how the experts do it
9. Ask yourself if you can make the poem ‘interactive’ in any way? Can it be ‘performed’?
10. Don’t patronise or talk down (eg: don’t write about ‘little children’)
11. If you’re stuck for a topic, how about: school, animals/pets, naughty children, funny characters, magic or monsters.
12. Children love slime, dirt and gore! Anything that’s going to make them go ‘urgghggh!’ is good
13. Try out your poem on some real life children, if possible!

I have (so far), written just one children’s poem in my life (see below).

I suppose it does tick some of the boxes, in that it’s got a fairly strong rhythm and rhyme and a ‘refrain’ and the subject matter should appeal to boys aswell as girls.

I used it in a school once and asked the children about their own pets first. Everyone had dogs, cats and guinea pigs. Did anyone have a dinosaur, I asked them? They looked at me like I was mad, but it did get their attention and they seemed to enjoy the poem (they were aged about 6 or 7).

It lead onto an exercise in writing a poem about their pet – or about the pet they wished they had. Hmm, it wasn’t bad, I suppose. But I reckon I could do better!

Could You Tame A Dinosaur?
Could you tame a dinosaur?
I want one for a pet.
I’ve asked my Mum but all she says is:
‘I want doesn’t get!’

A winged pterodactyl,
now that would be so cool!
I’d train it single-handedly
to fly me into school.

Triceratops are special,
spiny horns upon their heads,
A baby one would surely fit quite nicely –
in our shed.

And I bet a brachiosaurus
would lend itself to tricks,
I’d slide down its long neck
and teach it to fetch sticks!

Or what about the dinosaur
that everyone respects –
I’d better every bully with
Tyrannosaurus Rex!

So could you tame a dinosaur?
I want one for a pet.
I’ve asked my Mum but all she says is:
‘I want doesn’t get!’

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6 Responses to Tips On Writing Poetry For Children

  1. Sunny Smith says:

    I loved your poem! It reminded me of the good old days were Shel Sliverstein was the only poet I knew 😛

  2. Lunar Hine says:

    I’ve said no to a cat, so dinosaur’s are right out!
    Thanks for the timely tips; I’ve just accepted a commission to write a children’s story for the local preschool and haven’t tried writing for children before!

  3. How’s the project going? As someone who writes children’s poetry myself (albeit unpublished – as yet), I’m always excited to see people taking poetry to schools. When poetry is written and performed well the response from children is amazing. I recently saw Michael Rosen perform, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young audience so captivated.

    • Elli
      I don’t think I will be another Michael Rosen! We finally found out which schools we’re going into last week, and met the teacher and the trainee teacher that we’ll be working with. We will be running 3 sessions in June and July, for 6-7 year olds in a fairly deprived school in central Birmingham (mostly boys in the class). I just hope we can inspire them and that they enjoy it. I will let you know how it goes!

  4. I’ve managed to find this post nearly one year late, but enjoyed it no less for my tardiness! Have you kept up with this project?

  5. Hi Robby Robin, thanks for your comment! No, the project finished last summer, after 3 sessions in the schools – which I enjoyed but found fairly stressful (as I felt like I was being ‘assessed’ by the experienced poet I was working with, the teacher of the class, the assistant teacher, the trainee teacher… oh, and the children, of course!!). It was a good learning experience though and overall, I did enjoy it!

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