By Josie Whitehead
"Children hear, read and respond to rhymes and simple patterned stories. They join in with 'performances' of them, with and without music, actions and other enhancements. They use simple pattern structures to support their writing.
As a class and in groups, children hear, read and respond to a range of rhymes and simple patterned stories. They then explore the different patterns created, both by the ways sounds, words and phrases are used and sequenced, and by the way the text is laid out on page or screen. They join in with and 'perform' the rhymes in a variety of ways, including where appropriate singing, adding music, rhythms or sounds, doing actions and acting out.
With extensive contribution from and involvement by children, the teacher models and explores writing in several different patterned forms, as shared composition, for example, making up silly couplets or verses based on rhyme, or on repeated sounds, words or phrases. Opportunity is taken to focus on playful language choices, further developing children's vocabulary and their word reading and writing skills in the process. Sometimes simple models from the reading are used as a frame for writing. These simple creations, too, can be read, sung, danced and otherwise explored."
The name given to the strongly accentuated rhythm that you find in nursery rhymes is Accentual Verse. Accentual verse has a fixed number of stresses per line or stanza regardless of the number of syllables that are present. It is common in languages that are stress-timed, such as English—as opposed to syllabic verse, which is common in syllable-timed languages, such as French.
Nursery Rhymes are the most common form of Accentual verse in the English Language. The following poem, Baa Baa Black Sheep, has two stresses in each line, but a varying number of syllables. (Bold represents stressed syllables, and the number of syllables in each line is noted)
Baa, baa, black sheep, (4)
Have you any wool? (5)
Yes sir, yes sir, (4)
Three bags full; (3)
One for the mas-ter, (5)
And one for the dame, (5)
And one for the lit-tle boy (7)
Who lives down the lane. (5)
Accentual verse derives its musical qualities from its flexibility with unstressed syllables and tends to follow the natural speech patterns of English.
This type of verse is soothing to the young ear and leads children on to learn that poetry has other rhythms within it. It is true to say that in the early days of poetry it linked well to music and song, and therefore you find many words used in the poetic world which relate to dance. One that instantly springs to mind is that in poetry we measure the metre within the poem in "feet" - ie metrical feet. You can tell your children this when they are being taught that the strong beats within the poems are called feet - ie iambic feet. It is never too early to get children to clap to the rhythm of a poem, clapping on the strong beat. If a child of five were learning to play music, they have to learn the names of the notes and the names which relate to the rhythm of the piece they are playing, the crochets, quavers etc, so "iambic feet" is not a difficult for them to learn. Iambic feet relate to their name - ie i AM bic - ie one small foot followed by a heavy one etc. In accentual verse the rhythm switches to the opposite of Iambic metre, ie Trochaic metre, where you have the strong beat first followed by the lighter one, and this is done for strong emphasis. Don't worry about teaching children this at this stage, but just get them to clap to the rhythm first. Read them the poem and then clap yourself as you read it next time and the third time get the children to join you.
The next thing they have to learn is about rhyming. They will be familiar with it if they have done nursery rhymes and simple poems before they started school, but when I go to classrooms, after reading the poem to the children once, I always read it again and stop at the rhyming word to give them the chance to do this.
Small children that I know are getting so good at this game that quite often, for fun, they change the words and invent their own words. In other words, they are well on the way to writing their own poems, and this is what your children can easily do.
I've added my own voice recordings to poems as I truly believe that poetry should be heard and should also be learnt by heart and recited by children, learning how to project their voices without shouting, how to put in expression etc. I also like to see poetry added to other arts subjects, eg music, dance, drama, puppetry, film etc and some of my poems are doing just this. If you have children who'd like to recite a poem well, and you record it, I would be glad to add their voice recording as well to any of my poems. If you wish to write and tell us what you are doing with the poems in your school, others would like to hear about it too. Do write and let me know.
I have put some excellent poems on this website for small children. If you haven't tried any of my poems before, go to my Poetry Index and you will see poems for YOUNGER CHILDREN. Whatever you do with my poems, do have fun with them.