Sunday, 10 June 2012

Rhyme, but no reason?

The education secretary Michael Gove is set to announce plans later this week to make the teaching of English more rigorous in primary schools. While I have no problem with this in theory - we should indeed evaluate the education system on a regular basis to ensure that our children are getting the best possible education, I do have a problem with the idea that we should "start" to teach poetry "as young as the age of 5". Well, I don't know about you, but I was teaching poetry to my children before they could speak. And my parents did the same for me. As yours probably did too. So this is nothing new Mr Gove.

"Twinkle, twinkle little star"; "Baa, baa black sheep"; "Incy, wincy spider"; "Pat a cake, pat a cake" - are these not poems? My children could recite these and many more by the age of 3. I share poetry books with them at home; both traditional poems such as "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear and modern stories in rhyme like "The Gruffalo" by Julia Donaldson. Young children are able to predict the rhyme at the end of a line. Read them the words: "Poor Tyrannosaurus Drip tried hard to sing along, But the others yelled, 'You silly drip, you've got the words all...'" and wait for them to shout "Wrong!" (Julia Donaldson again, in "Tyrannosaurus Drip")

When mine started nursery they enjoyed the delights of Michael Rosen in fabulous books such as "Little Rabbit Foo Foo" and "We're Going on a Bear Hunt". They were encouraged to join in and came home quoting their favourite bits to me. At the age of three. When Christmas time came and they were starring in their first nativity play, they learned to sing the words of "Upsy Daisy Angel". Again they were both 3 years old.

So what I want to know is whether Michael Gove has spent any time with primary school age children recently, and actually asked them about their favourite rhymes, stories and poems. He might be surprised that parents and teachers are actually doing a pretty good job already of teaching poetry to children aged 5. And much younger.

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