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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Writing children’s poems for actual kids to read

Most of the bouncy Mother Goose rhymes were written as thinly disguised political spoofs or protests with children nowhere in sight or mind. Such poems no longer fly with kids, but we won’t cook that goose here. Instead let’s look at what goes into researching and writing poems for children to read today.

Get to know children of all ages well.

Find out what encourages, worries, or speaks to kids from preschoolers to elementary school children to teens. Being around your unique readers will help you to know how to write for a particular age group, but you can also research their most likely areas of interests and typical stages of child development.

Read poems published for children.

Yes, include those Mother Goose nursery rhymes and other classics, but focus on contemporary poems written with kids in mind.

Keep each line in line with the age of your readers.

The younger the child, the simpler a poem needs to be. For instance, young children love a regular rhythm or bouncy beat. Since they’re learning words themselves, toddlers and preschoolers like the sounds of words such as those sound echoes they can easily hear in rhyme and alliteration.

Turn up the volume.

By repeating the first sound of a word within a line, the resulting alliteration will enliven the sound and tempo of your poem. For example, “Big, bright beads of rain wet down the window.” If you carry sounds to extreme, alliteration creates kid-friendly tongue twisters such as “Suzy sells seashells by the seashore.” (Guess Suz didn’t live in FL where shells can be found for free :)

Use strong nouns and active verbs for your rhyming pairs.

The nouns you choose can quickly sketch a picture of a person, place, or thing for the child to envision. The active verbs will then move those noun-pictures along. For instance, a rhyme of “bird/ stirred” brings to mind all sorts of possibilities you can play with as you create sense with sounds. However, word pairs such as “of/ above” and “in/ when” do not provide a clear sound, a clear picture, nor a clear meaning for anything.

Develop a sense of play.

Good-natured humor appeals to all ages of readers, but the catch comes in knowing what a preschooler, kindergartner, elementary school child, junior high kid, or older teen will find amusing, especially since that can change from one age level to the next or one mood to the next!

Repeat well-chosen phrases for a lively refrain.

This purposeful repetition will help children to join in the fun, get playfully involved in your poem, and remember information. Similar to the refrain of a song, a poem’s refrain can be the same from one verse to the next. Or, vary a word or two each time to develop your theme fully and keep readers interested.

Read each poem aloud.

Tap out the beat. If the rhythm becomes too regular, the poem will sound like a nursery rhyme. That’s perfect if you write for nursery school children but not for older kids, teens, or young adults.

Free poems for older children.

As you write free verse, let the words and lines flow loosely onto a page. Later go back and change the line breaks as needed, for example, by mixing line-lengths or going from short lines to long and vice versa.

Feel free to toss in rhymes and offbeat rhythm.

Free verse does not mean you have to omit all rhyme and rhythm. Free verse just means being free of a consistent beat or pattern readers come to expect.

Read aloud each version and revision of a poem.

Does anything seem “off” in the sound, sense, or rhythm? If so, keep playing with words, sound echoes, or line breaks until you find what works for the poem.

Get a professional opinion as needed.

If you want practiced feedback in a critique, consult, or edit of your children’s poems, poetry book, chapbook, or children’s picture book, email Mary via the Contact page on her website.

Keep on reading, keep on writing lots of children's poems.


  1. Hello there! I just shared via Facebook with my other writer friends. I am sure it will be helpful!

    All the best!


  2. Thanks, Michael! You and your writer friends might also like the new posting "Writing a job description for the mature writer" on http://marysayler.blogspot.com/.