For children to really enjoy poetry they need to be fully immersed in the craft. That doesn't just mean reading poetry, but also learning and reciting poems. Importantly, the key to unlocking a love of poetry in many children is to encourage them to write their own poems. The critical element here is to encourage, rather than coerce. I firmly believe that while reading, memorising and reciting poems are all valuable classroom activities, writing poetry is most suitable as an out of school activity.
If you asked a group of adult poets, whether professional or amateur, to write a poem on a given subject or in a given form, some would take minutes, others weeks and a few (myself included) months or years. Writing poetry is not not a race and the rewards should be for quality, rather than speed of composition.
In a school situation, children are typically asked to write a poem during a single class, or perhaps as a homework assignment. Neither of these allows sufficient time to give the keenest young poets an opportunity to adequately express themselves or hone their craft. Worse still, there is a tendency for well meaning teachers, hoping to make the task easier for all their pupils, to ask for poems written in forms, such as diamante and kenning, that don't exist in the real poetry world. The least able pupils will still struggle, because of the time pressures, and the more able children will be frustrated by the constraints of the exercise.
Outside of a classroom setting, children can be encouraged to write poetry at a pace and in a style which best suits them. After or out of school poetry clubs are an excellent means of fostering a love of poetry, though sadly not as common as they should be. As an adjunct to this, poetry competitions for children offer an opportunity for young poets to share their work with others, receive critical feedback and and to win public acclaim. Furthermore, many poetry competitions also offer significant prize money, although my experience is that the children most likely to win are motivated by a love of the craft, rather than cash.
At Funny Poems for Kids, we have been running poetry competitions for children since 2008. I must confess that I took a rather similar view to teachers with the first competition, Fussy Poets, and set a very tightly constrained contest which allowed only for the rewriting of an existing poems. It was clear that I had underestimated my audience and subsequent years saw a thematic approach, with kids asked to submit poems written on a different form or in about a different subject each year:
- Sick Poets Contest 2009 - write a poem about being ill in any form
- Shape Poems 2010 - construct a shape poem about any subject
- Animal Poems 2011 - compose a poem about an animal in any form
- Sports Poems 2012 - write a poem about a sport or sporting activity
A decision taken early on was that the entries should not be restricted just to funny poems. The Sick Poets and Animal Poems both brought forward a number of poems which were sensitive, thoughtful and on occasion heart-rendingly sad. We have however always accepted funny poems, since that fits the theme of our website and there are very few kids poetry competitions that accept humorous poems.
So if you are, or own, a child who has an interest in poetry, you should keep an eye out for the major children's poetry competitions which run each year. The Poetry Library website has a useful list of the higher profile competitions, some of which have prizes that many adult poetry competitions would covet.
Online, you'll find any number of other reputable competitions, including Funny Poems own annual Kids Poetry Competition for entrants aged 16 and under, which runs from July to the end of October each year. Entry is free, all poems receive critical feedback and are displayed on the website. The competition winners receive modest cash prizes and for some, winners or not, it has been the first step to poetic fame and glory.