Whether you're reciting a little rhyme to pass the time (see what I did there?) or writing Haikus to keep your mind sharp, poetry has a place in each of our lives. Honor National Poetry Month by building a home library of poetry. Encourage your little to memorize a Shel Silverstein ditty and reward them for sharing it at the dinner table. Or, dive into Caroline Kennedy's latest, "Poems to Learn by Heart." You'll soon see that poetry is a time-honored gift to pass on to your family.

These days I can't get enough of modern poets, Bill Collins and Mary Karr. They keep me thinking, laughing and sometimes crying, but always appreciating a thoughtful turn of phrase. As a child, I frequently escaped to the Shel Silverstein classics, A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Challenging myself to memorize one of his longer form pieces made me feel proud and accomplished. With National Poetry Month upon us, it's a great time to start introducing poetry in all its varied and diverse forms to everyone in the family.

Start by picking up a couple collections to add to your bookshelves or borrow a few from your local library. Encourage everyone to pick one poem to read out loud after dinner or during a lazy family weekend breakfast. Add a nightly poetry reading to your bedtime routine with little kids. The rhythmic sound of your voice will help them understand how to read and recite poetry. They will especially delight in sharing a silly moment and giggle session. Here's a short classic from Silverstein that is great for your younger crowd.

Early Bird

Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early early bird—
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.

~Shel Silverstein from Where the Sidewalk Ends

Consider ways that you can add poetry to your family's celebrations. Write a poem for your child in honor of their birthday. Frame a copy of your favorite poem as a gift for loved ones' milestones like baptisms, graduations, childbirths or marriages. My husband includes an original poem printed on a tiny scroll for our daughter each time she loses a tooth. These special pieces "written" by the tooth fairy have become family treasures and keepsakes.

Celebrate "Poem in your Pocket Day" on April 24. Print out a poem that you have read aloud several times prior and plan to attend a public reading. They'll be happening all across the country and children and adults will be encouraged to read their chosen poem aloud to an audience. The shared enthusiasm will be contagious in your own community.

Find a couple of poems you connect with and see if the author or a skilled speaker has read them aloud. You may find a video or audio performance online and share it with your kids. I mentioned my love of former poet laureate Billy Collins. My husband and I asked a friend to read one of his pieces at our wedding ceremony. Here's a link to a piece that anyone over the age of 30 (particularly parents!) will no doubt, understand. It's called Forgetfulness and it's brilliantly read by the author, himself.

Look in to local theater Shakespeare productions. Is there a Shakespeare in the Park opportunity in your family's future? Choose a performance well ahead of time and prep the family on the story line. Give them a mini tutorial on how to enjoy and understand Shakespeare. You can play online games, print out coloring pages and brush up on your Elizabethan phrasing at Folger.edu, where there are countless Shakespeare-related resources for parents.

And finally, help your children develop a love of simply writing poetry for pleasure. Ken Nesbitt of the website poetry4kids.com has some great tips for teaching kids to write about a subject matter they love (or hate). Whether it's soccer or sauerkraut, his four-step process will have them weaving words together like a pro. Watch as their confidence and sense of pride expands and maybe suggest they recite their poem on sharing day. Who knows? You may have a future laureate on your hands.

Most importantly, have fun with this ancient, yet timeless art form and help preserve its importance and relevance in our culture.

Suggested Reading^

Poems to Learn by Heart, $16
A Writing Kind of Day,  $9
In Every Tiny Grain of Sand: A Child’s Book of Prayers and Praise, $10
Where the Sidewalk Ends, $11

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