Written By: Alana Hollenbaugh
In life, we all have things that we might not enjoy doing, and so do the children around us. One strategy for inspiring our children is to make every day moments fun. Art, music, and poetry can all be powerful tools to insert a little fun in our everyday lives. Songs like “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” or “The ABC’s” rely on poetic elements of melody, rhyme, and repetition to help children to learn and have fun. Let’s look at some great children’s storytellers throughout history who bring together elements of fun, silliness, and everyday magic with key learning opportunities for kids.
Dr. Seuss, one of the best known children’s authors, demonstrates the power of the arts to motivate learning in a fun manner in his widely-read story from the 1950’s, The Cat in the Hat. According to educators’ reports from the time, many children struggled to learn how to read from their primers, finding them dull or uninteresting. In response, William Spaulding, the director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, gathered a vocabulary list for 6 and 7 year olds and gave it to Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss. For the next two years, Dr. Seuss pulled 236 words from the list and shaped them into a story, born from the rhyme between “cat” and “hat.” The Cat in the Hat uses a combination of vocabulary and illustrations to teach kids to read, while remaining engaging. More than 50 years have passed since the publication of the book, and it is still widely considered a great learning tool for young students.
Another renowned children’s writer, Shel Silverstein, was famous for using hyperbole, alliteration, and rhyme to create moralistic stories for the modern day. Silverstein’s poetry teaches lessons, softened by their silliness. One example of such a poem is “Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,” from his collection Where The Sidewalk Ends. In this poem, Sarah refuses to take the garbage out, filling their house with “coffee grounds, potato peelings,” spilling out into the street with “globs of gooey bubble gums, cellophane from green baloney, rubbery blubbery macaroni.” When the pile “reached so high that it finally touched the sky,” Sarah finally agrees to take the garbage out. Unfortunately it is far too late, and “poor Sarah met an awful fate.” While taking out the trash can be an unpleasant task, it only grows worse the longer you put it off. Silverstein’s poem, “Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,” shares the importance of accomplishing the chore, without becoming a lecture. To hear the poem in full, listen to Silverstein perform it on YouTube.
What are areas in your kid’s lives, or in your life, that could be more fun? Frustration over homework, chores, multiplication tables, or mealtimes can become dull and routine, especially when practiced daily. Working with your spouse, partner, friends, or children to come up with simple rhymes to remember backpacks and lunches in the morning, about whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher, or about smelly socks in the laundry can bring a little more color to otherwise dull tasks. Adding art, like colorful bubbles in the bath or a chalk pathway to the mailbox can turn something dreaded into something worth anticipating. What can you do in your life to transform a vocabulary list into a captivating story?