Driving through a spring shower one afternoon, Amy McClure heard her then-3-year-old daughter call out from the back seat.
"Mommy, listen," K.C. exclaimed. "The rain is tickling the roof!"
Though most parents wouldn't think a preschooler was capable of making such an abstract comparison, Dr. McClure -- a professor of early childhood education at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, OH -- wasn't surprised. She'd been reading poetry to K.C. since she was a baby, so the preschooler was familiar with using metaphors to describe the world around her.
Poetry, long a staple of children's bookshelves, can do so much more than calm a cranky toddler or delight her with silly rhymes: It will also help her become a more sophisticated thinker. A simple verse can show a child how she might look at an everyday experience from a different perspective, says Dr. McClure, citing a line from a Rebecca Kai Dotlich poem, "Firefly," in which the poet likens chasing fireflies to catching "rhinestones in a jelly jar."
Also hidden in a poem's lilting lines is the natural power to help a child improve his memory and acquire those skills that lead to literacy. "Poetry can help children develop phonemic awareness -- the knowledge that words are made up of individual pieces of sound -- so much better than phonics games can," Dr. McClure adds. "While the games study sounds in isolation, a poem tells an entire story that helps children understand sentence structure and how words fit together." What's more, she says, poetry is simply more fun, which is key to engaging a child in an activity long enough for him to learn something.