Welcome to week nine of our 10-week poetry course for kids! This week’s focus will be on great poets and how to incorporate them into your homeschool.
Knowing the works of great poets is important for several reasons. The poems are important literature that will come up often in a child’s education. They also offer examples of all different styles of poetry. They teach, offering kids insight into subjects like history, social studies, vocabulary and human nature. They help children become better poets themselves, and they provide knowledge of the arts. They also are just things of beauty that should be enjoyed, like all other forms of art.
Here are 24 poets that every child (and adult!) should know. By teaching two poets a month, the list could be covered in depth in a year. Teaching one poet per week would teach all of the poets in six months, or you could even tackle the list in less than a month with one a day.
- Robert Frost
- Maya Angelou
- Shel Silverstein
- Lord Byron
- Seamus Heaney
- Emily Dickinson
- William Shakespeare
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
- Theodore Roethke
- Ogden Nash
- Adrienne Rich
- Edgar Allen Poe
- Dr. Seuss
- James Wright
- Langston Hughes
- E.E. Cummings
- Robert Lewis Stevenson
- James Whitcomb Riley
- Edward Lear
- Nikki Giovanni
- Dylan Thomas
- Walt Whitman
- Rose Fyleman
- Jack Prelutsky
You may also want to include your state’s poet laureate, if there is one. In Minnesota, Joyce Sutphen was just named poet laureate.
Obviously, this is not a list of the only poets a child should know. There are many wonderful and important poets, far too many to put on one list. This is a great jumping off point for exposure to a wide variety of poets from different time periods, styles and backgrounds.
Many of these are specifically children’s poets, but it’s not a distinction that’s necessary when reading poems with children. All of these are poets who wrote clearly enough that children of any age can take something away from their poetry (sometimes with some help in terms of meaning) in terms of story, style, sound and message.
Many of the world’s greatest poets are not on this list because they may be too hard for younger children to understand or the bulk of their work may deal with subjects that are better suited for older children. Some examples are Homer, Sylvia Plath, Sappho and John Donne. You can find poets such as these here and here (you’ll notice many of the names on these lists, too). Plan to teach these poets in the middle school or high school years.
Where to find poems by these poets: There are wonderful picture books for many of these poets — even those who are not typically viewed as children’s poets — such as Edgar Allen Poe and Robert Frost. One of our family’s favorite children’s books is “A Fairy Went A-Market,” which was made into a delightful picture book from the poem by Rose Fyleman. The local library should have multiple books for all of these poets in both the children’s section and the nonfiction section. You can also find their poems online, at sites like poets.org and famouspoetsandpoems.com. Sites like Wikipedia offer good biographies, as do websites dedicated to invidual poets.
Ways to incorporate these poets into your homeschool: While it’s great to simply read the poetry aloud to your kids, there are lots of ways to make it more enjoyable and combine other subjects. Some options include:
- Have children draw an illustration of the poem as you read it and discuss it.
- Have children read the poetry out loud. Even better, have them practice and recite it with drama and videotape it.
- Do a lapbook on each poet as you learn about him or her.
- Have children copy short poems or sections for handwriting practice.
- Challenge kids to make a reworked poem from one of the poet’s poems. Print out the poem with lots of space around each line and have your child replace as many words as possible to make a new poem with a new subject, but in the same form as the original.
- Have kids write a short review of each poet’s work. Have them include what they liked, what they didn’t like, and examples of the poetry to make their points. Alternately, ask them to give a short speech with the same elements.
- Ask them what they’d like to do to go along with the poet.
Note: This post is part of my free 10 week poetry for kids course. You can view all 10 weeks of the course with a description of each week and the links here.