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16 Classic Poems for Kids

Christine O'Brien
July 20, 2017

Fun, thoughtful poems can engage and interest an otherwise reluctant reader in the written word.



If you want to introduce your child to poetry but aren't sure where to start, classic poems for kids are a fun, thoughtful way to engage your child in literature.

A poem is "classic" because of its timelessness, connecting with readers across decades and, in some cases, centuries. A classic poet excels at the craft, according to Katherine Litwin, the library director for the Poetry Foundation. "Kids are very responsive to the playfulness of language, and these authors are masters of play, so they make a great first introduction to poetry."

Poet Karen Craigo, a teaching artist at the Springfield Art Museum and English instructor at Drury University, likes poems "that can become part of a child's permanent inner library. What a gift: to contribute to that storehouse of images that a child can come back to again and again for the rest of her life."

If you're worried about the complexity of classic poems for kids, don't be. Litwin says children "invariably gravitate towards the selection I imagine to be the most difficult ... children almost always know more than we think they know. They are very instinctual in their appreciation of poetry." Introduce some of the following poems to your children and see what they like.

"I think a gentle introduction to poetry starts with rhyme and then looks at other forms of wordplay," notes Craigo. Read one of these poems with your child.

First and Second Grade
Kids love playful language and identifying with a poem's theme, so give them something to relate to.

Third and Fourth Grade
When choosing poems for kids in this age group, Litwin looks for "clarity of image, musicality of language and themes that we think will appeal to kids." Try these on for size.

  • "Fog" by Carl Sandbur
    Sandburg's poem resonates with Craigo because "the opening image is so evocative, and it does exactly what a metaphor should do by yoking two completely unlike things so that one interprets the other."
  • "The Tyger" by William Blake
    A joy to read aloud, "Kids also enjoy imagining the movements of the tiger and drawing the way it appears in their minds," says Litwin. Look for an edition that includes Blake's etchings.
  • "A Child Said, What Is Grass?" by Walt Whitman
    Try Craigo's fun exercise: On index cards, have kids write their response to the question, "What is the grass?" Read aloud their responses with Whitman's answers, allowing kids to experience the poetic process.
  • "Afternoon on a Hill" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
    Children are drawn into the delightful, freeing adventure in nature.

Fifth Grade
Older kids may enjoy digging deeper into the history and customs that surround these poems. "These works are referenced everywhere in our culture," shares Litwin, "so an understanding of them enhances our understanding of the world around us."

Christine O'Brien is a mother, writer, and former English professor who is happy to share her love of literature with others. Follow her on Twitter.

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