What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Poetry

What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Poetry

Children have much to gain from poetry, and this is now backed up by neuroscience. According to researchers, poetry stimulates the emotions and creates a unique experience that can help kids navigate life’s challenges.

Reading and writing poems not only develops children’s literacy skills, but it also encourages flexible thinking. This is a vital life skill in a rapidly changing society. 

Below we explain how poetry can benefit all students.

Poetry and the Brain

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), neuroscientists discovered that the brain can differentiate rhymes and rhythms in poetry from ordinary speech. One study found that even when poems were read to listeners in a foreign language, the participants identified the best poems as those which followed complex poetic rules.

The researchers concluded that the brain appears to be wired for poetry. Psychology professor Guillaume Thierry stated: “Poetry appears to be ‘built-in,’ it’s like a profound intuition, every human being is an unconscious poet.”

In addition, researchers discovered that contemplating the imagery and layered meanings in poetry activates the areas in the brain through which we interpret everyday reality. The specific areas of the brain stimulated depend on the complexity of ideas and language explored, as well as the intensity of emotions aroused.

Heightened emotions stimulate the right side of the brain, which is the same area activated by music. In contrast, more ‘literary’ poems stimulate the left side of the brain involved with movement and processing complex information. 

Poetry gives the brain a good workout, but there’s more to it than this. Psychology professor Phillip Davis believes reading poetry helps us navigate unexpected events and make good choices. This is because it teaches us to think flexibly and contemplate multiple meanings. 

Helping Kids Appreciate Poetry

Many parents lack confidence when it comes to introducing poetry to their kids. Fortunately, there are many wonderful books available that will help children enjoy poems. 

Here are some ways to introduce more poetry into your child’s life.

*Become familiar with children’s poetry. Do some research on suitable poems for your child’s age. The NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge website is a good place to start.

*Mix it up. There are many different types of poems from serious to comical. Choose a mix of themes and styles your child will enjoy. 

*Read poetry together. The great thing about poems is that they’re short and can be read in a few minutes. Get into the habit of reading a poem a day together.

*Talk about poems. Talk to your child about their impressions of poems. Help them understand there’s no single correct meaning they’re expected to find. 

*Create artistic representations. Ask your child to create a picture or piece of music to express how a poem made them feel.

*Listen to poetry readings. Hearing poetry read aloud by performers, either in person or online, can really bring it to life for kids.

*Get kids to perform poems. Ask your child to read their favourite poems to you, including props and movements. 

*Play poetry games. Writing poetry is also very beneficial for kids. Make it fun by playing rhyming games or creating a joint poem together.

A tutor can help kids explore poetry and develop an appreciation for it.