Poetry: Toddler Style

by Angela Yeh
published in Writing

I love kids. They’re like adults, but with no boring filters like civility or conversational norms. Sometimes what pops out of a five-year-old’s mouth is rude, sometimes it’s sad, but it’s usually funny. My youngest is in kindergarten and I got a chance to help them with their fall science fair this week and let me tell you the things I heard would shock, amaze, and terrify you. 

It struck me if they were able to read and write, everything they created would be a bestseller. They do not hold back. I had the sudden urge, as I was pouring vinegar in a pumpkin full of baking soda, to rush home and write down everything I was too scared to write earlier this morning. As the pumpkin ‘threw-up’ (SCIENCE!) and they laughed and stepped back and held their mouths or their stomachs, I reminded them not to eat too much turkey at Thanksgiving or they’d throw up too. Then I made fake throw-up sounds because when a toddler laughs, an angel gets their wings.

See? I only spent two hours with these guys and I just wrote the word ‘throw-up’ thrice! It’s working! 

Writing Truth Like a Toddler

Seriously, you know where I’m going with this. To write truth, we need to strip away the layers of social pressure to conform, to fit in, to be cool, perfect, and smart. We need to throw it all away and stare at our base selves in the mirror, in the darkness of our raw fear and write what we don’t want to face, let alone feel.

That’s intense. Let me step back in true toddler style and tell you it is all going to be okay. Someone will help you when you get into trouble. Someone always does. 

If you’re not ready to spill your heart on paper and share it with the whole world, try writing a poem with your family. If you’ve got access to someone’s kids around the ages of four to nine, even better. 

Here is what you do, and hopefully after doing this you will be brave enough to show us who you really are. I want to see who you really are.

Putting Truth into Practice: the Cinquain Poem Exercise

A cinquain poem is a poem with five lines, and each one has a rule. (Toddlers love rules, if only so they know how many they’re breaking.)

Line 1 – one-word title

Line 2 – two words that describe the title

Line 3 – three action words about the title

Line 4 – four words that express a thought or feeling about the title

Line 5 – one word that means the same thing as the title.

This is a collaborative exercise – best done while Thanksgiving dinner is being made so as to have fun AND keep the littles out of the kitchen.

Here is an example we came up with:

A Turkey

Brown and juicy

Running, gobbling, flying

Surprised turkey is sad


As you can see – this is easy and fun and kids love working together to create something new. Don’t be surprised if there are some bodily function words that come up that aren’t acceptable during dinner time conversation. This is for the laughs, as bodily functions are hilarious and make grown-ups huffy.

Are you a teacher or a parent of young children? What type of poems have you tried? What’s the most surprising thing that came out of creating poetry with children?

Angela Yeh is an East Coast Canadian native who grew up a stone’s throw from Stephen King’s Maine. She now lives in Texas and sees Chuck Norris on the always. Angela is a short tall-story-teller who loves to garden, write about magic, and eat cake. If you’d like to check out her first published novel, A Phoenix Rises, she will send you Cilantro seeds. She lives with her husband, two human children, and three fur babies. You can follow her antics on Twitter and Instagram or on her website.

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