Sometimes during the nighttime routine I want to throw up my hands, storm out of the room and let everyone fend for themselves.
I wonder if you secretly want to do that too. It is so frustrating dealing with kids who don't want to brush their teeth, think that bathing once a month is more than enough and children who decide that at the moment the clock strikes bedtime o'clock, they have an incurable thirst.
I see you all nodding your heads.
The thing is, bedtime will never be perfect. (Dang it.) Even when you think you've turned the corner and your kid wants to brush her teeth, or your teen decides bathing is actually beneficial. There will always be a hiccup (or four) from time to time.
But amidst all the chaos you can do one thing that, long after teeth brushing battles are over, you and your children will remember forever.
One thing that, after your kids are grown, they will look back and think, "my parents did me a great service."
You can read them a bedtime poem.
I've written before about how sharing poetry calms kids and brings joy to daily family life and reading poetry at bedtime is a key part of that.
Are you thinking,
Poetry is soooo boring.
I wouldn't know where to start!
My kids would never go for that!
First of all, I am all about offering up easy (screen-free) ideas that will help you connect with your kids and this is no different! Reading a poem is the easiest thing ever. The. Easiest. The only hurdle is finding a poem and I'm going to help you with that below.
First, let me address your concerns. (I'll try not be hurt that you don't yet believe me about poems being easy.)
"Poetry is long and boring!" Your kids will indeed find a bedtime poem by John Donne a little dull. Fortunately, I have a list of non-boring poetry books that will change your mind. Are the poems too long? Just read the first stanza. Problem solved. In fact I am so confident you will like at least one of these poets, I'd like to hear from you if you don't! Send me an email at erica[at]whatdowedoallday[dot]com.
"I don't know where to start!" Pick one of the poems below (or something else of your own choosing), make a copy of the poem and put it on your child's bedside table. Right after you've brought her a cup of water (for the inevitable "I'm thirsty!"), and before you kiss your child good night, read the poem out loud. That's it. Kiss your cutie goodnight and turn off the light. Read the same poem every night for at least one month. Then move on to another poem, or keep that one if you both enjoy it. Feel free to read the same poem for as long as you like. Even forever.
Below you will find eight classic poems you can use. There is a printable copy to make it easy. If you prefer contemporary poems, I've linked to some terrific bedtime poetry to read.
"My kid will never go for that!" Your child loves your voice. Your child loves special time with you. Read the poem. See what happens. Keep at it. I am confident it will become a much loved tradition.
"But, we already have bedtime reading." Terrific! You are doing the best thing for your kids by reading to them every night. It should be a breeze to add in a 1 minute poem after you close the pages of your book! Easy. Peasy.
"My kids are too young to appreciate it." A baby is a captive audience. She loves to hear your voice! Has your toddler ever said, "Stop talking! I need to go to sleep!"? Yeah, I thought not. You are never too young for poetry.
So to recap here are your steps to bedtime success:
- Pick a goodnight poem
- Put a copy by your child's bed.
- Tuck in your child.
- Read bedtime poem aloud.
- Cherish the memory.
- Repeat every night until they grow up.
A book you will love:
One Minute till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You off to Sleep edited by Kenn Nesbitt, illustrated by Christoph Niemann.
GOODNIGHT POEMS FOR KIDS
The following are all classic poems. If you want something shorter, it's easy peasy. Just recite one stanza! Get a printable of these poems by entering your email below and we'll send it on over to you.
Bed in Summer
by Robert Louis Stevenson
In Winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle light.
In Summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?
Wynken, Blynken and Nod
by Eugene Field
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—
Sailed on a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring-fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we,"
The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe;
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew;
The little stars were the herring-fish
That lived in the beautiful sea.
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish,—
Never afraid are we!”
So cried the stars to the fishermen three,
All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam,—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home:
‘Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed
As if it could not be;
And some folk thought ‘twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea;
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed;
So shut your eyes while Mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:—
In a Garden
by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Baby, see the flowers!
Fairer things than these,
Fairer though they be than dreams of ours.
Baby, hear the birds!
Better songs than those,
Sweeter though they sound than sweetest words.
Baby, see the moon!
Laugh to watch it rise,
Answering light with love and night with noon.
Baby, hear the sea!
Takes a graver grace,
Touched with wonder what the sound may be.
Baby, see the star!
Opens, warm and bland,
Calm in claim of all things fair that are.
Baby, hear the bells!
—Baby’s head Bows,
as ripe for bed,
Now the flowers curl round and close their cells.
Baby, flower of light,
Sleep, and see
Brighter dreams than we,
Till good day shall smile away good night.
by Christina Rossetti
What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain's brink.
What is red? a poppy's red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro'.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
by Edward Lear
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"
Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
The Land of Nod
by Robert Louis Stevenson
From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.
All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do —
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.
The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.
Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.
There is no Frigate Like a Book
by Emily Dickinson
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
Contemporary poems: I don't have a printable of these poems because they are all still under copyright, but you can obtain copies at the links below.
Firefly by Jaqueline Woodson
The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm by Wallace Stevens
Catch a Little Rhyme by Eve Merriam. This is one of our all time favorite bedtime poems!
Jack by Jane Yolen
This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams
I am Offering this Poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Since I know you will soon be addicted to reading poetry, try these poetry book lists on for size:
Our kids have always loved poetry. My parents got them a kids' anthology a few years back that has been great (the one edited by Mary Ann Hoberman). Some favorites that are funny rather than soothing are Never Seize a Weasel by the Tail (my husband and I never get tired of reading that one) and Eletelephony, which my eldest did at her all-school talent show in 1st grade. The kids also adore anything be Edward Lear. We've got a beautiful 70s illustrated copy of The Scroobius Pip and Helen Oxenbury's illustrated The Quangle Wangle's Hat and the anthology I mentioned has The Jumblies. Every one of them is a hit with our littles. Now the older one is all over Shel Silverstein to read on her own.
I love hearing things like that!
I love this so much, and started it a few days ago. My lil 7 year old lady is loving it. I worry that she'll outgrow her lullabies soon and having this in place warms my heart.
I'm curious though, why do you suggest to "Read the same poem every night for at least one month"? Would reading a different poem every night not have the same effect?
There's no reason why you can't do a different poem every night if you prefer. I suggest repetition for a few reasons: 1. It is easy for newbies to poetry to stick to one rather than feel overwhelmed by having to find a different poem every night. 2. The repetition gets the poem "stuck" in the child's mind, increasing the likelihood of committing it to memory. A memorized poem will stick with a child forever! 3. A repeated poem becomes a sort of lullaby, as you mention! Just the way we might sing the same songs over and over again, we should feel free to recite the same poem repeatedly. Plus, we know from reading a favorite book over and over and over ad nauseam, that kids love repetition. That said, there is no right way. I'd love to hear how you implement bedtime poetry and how it works for you!
Jeff Walls says
I highly recommend the book, Bedtime, Anytime Poems For Kids by Shepherd Thorleif Halvorsen! It is available in ebook and trade paperback formats via Amazon. If you're a really big fan of truly good - child friendly - poetry, then you should obtain a copy of this book.
I don't think it matters what you read, it is the fact that you read! My mom always used to read me and my sister stories before bed, and I loved it. My favorites as a kid were Tow-Truck Pluck and Jip and Janneke. (both Dutch classic children's books. I'm from the Netherlands). These days I discovered the Disney book club books. Shorted versions of Disney stories, great before bedtime. But as a child, I also had a poetry book specifically made for children, and I really enjoyed that too.
Yes, reading is the most important thing!
It is so important to start young. I started reading books and poems to my son since he was 3 years old. He is 10 now and enjoys writing poems and stories. He now is planning to start a blog for his poems and writings and it is wonderful to see the creative process. And yes it’s a great way for them to keep busy at the same time!
I have read to my son since he was a baby. His favorite is anything by Shel Silverstein. He loves Where the Sidewalk Ends so much now that he is 10, he picks it up and reads it on his own.
My favourite (and my daughter's) poet by far is shel Silverstein. We have several of his books and they are short and sweet great for bedtime.
My little one love nursery rhymes before bed. When I saw this post, I thought this could be a sweet tradition. I only got out “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one ni-“ before my 2 year old cut me off with “Mommy, stop.”
Oh well. I guess I’ll try again tomorrow.
John Talatzko says
Erica, I'm writing a book that is intended to support your thesis about bedtime stories/poems/songs. Can I write to your email and not to a comment box?
Santos Gonzales III says
I started reading poems to my 8 year old boy two weeks ago out of the blue. I actually came across this poem just looking fir another poem to send him. Pretty cool.
Santos Gonzales III says
I started reading poems to my 8 year old boy two weeks ago out of the blue. I actually came across this poem just looking for another poem to read him. Pretty cool.