Get to know kids!
Being around children from preschoolers to teens lets you know what’s on their minds. Research their areas of interests and stages of development, and read the poems they like.
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 bouncy beat. When they’re learning words, they enjoy the sounds of rhyming words 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.”
Use strong nouns and active verbs for rhyming pairs.
Word pairs such as “of/ above” and “in/ when” do not provide a clear sound, clear picture, or clear meaning, but strong nouns quickly sketch a person, place, or thing. Then active verbs move those nouns along. For instance, a rhyme of “bird/ stirred” offers possibilities to play with as you make sense with sounds.
Develop a sense of play.
Good-natured humor appeals to all ages of readers. 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, one day to the next, or one mood to another!
Repeat well-chosen phrases for a lively refrain.
Purposeful repetition helps children join in the fun, get playfully involved in a poem, and remember information with greater ease. Similar to the refrain of a song, a poem’s refrain can be the same from verse to verse. Or, you can vary a word or two with each repetition to develop a theme 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 up poems for older children.
For example, 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 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.
Keep on reading! And keep on writing lots of children’s poems.
*This post originally appeared on Mary Sayler’s Poetry Editor & Poetry blog.
Mary Sayler has written 30 books with traditional and indie publishers, three Kindle e-books for writers of all ages, a poetry dictionary for kids, and placed over 2,000 poems, children’s stories, and articles. Her children’s nature poems can be found in her lively collection of Beach Songs & Wood Chimes.