Celebrate National Poetry Month with your kids. It’s the first week of April, have you written a poem yet? Read a poem yet? Well get cracking and get your kids into it too. Having poetry be an integral part of our lives and our children’s lives is a very good thing. A little time spent devouring a poem in between runs to the t-ball field and gymnastics class is going to stretch their minds as much as those other stretches they are doing are preparing their bodies.

April’s National Poetry Month was started in 1995 as a way to, unofficially and officially, promote the reading and writing of poetry. For some hints of how to celebrate with your kids and their teacher, Poets.org offers a good deal of suggestions. Fun Family Education has some neat quizzes and suggestions as well. I think my favorite kid friendly site has been PoetryTeachers — especially the Giggle Poetry section. Another great site I found for kids is Poetry4Kids. There are a gazillion of contests running from small and large publishers and blogs right now as well.

So why is poetry so important?

Last week a shining example of why we need poetry stared at me in the face as I tried to grapple with my excessively literal thinkers in a pre college writing class. After a lengthy discussion we realized that none of them had exposure to poetry. Metaphoric language was lost on them completely. Had they been exposed to the joys of language early on would they be in remedial English now? You can be sure I brought poetry to class!

Many people are afraid of poetry. They are afraid they won’t understand it. They are afraid kids will be bored with it. To these notions I say, well, that means you simply haven’t hit on the poem or poet for you! No two poets are alike. Poems bring us an emotion to deal with or perhaps a singular incident of joy or sorrow. A moment in the day of a life. And there are plenty of poems and poets out there to explore.

I have, of course, my suggestions of where to start for kids. My favorite place to start is the anthology Talking Like the Rain: A Read-to-Me Book of Poems. The poems were selected by X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy, with lovely illustrations by Jane Dyer. This is a great mix of rhyming traditional English poems and more modern ones as well. Your kids get exposure to great poets who sing to us great little ditties of rhyme.

Another series I’m fond of that I’ve been sharing with the kids is Scholastic’s Poetry for Young People series. Each short book introduces the work of one poet with a brief biography. I want to see more women poets in this series but so far they are off to a good sampling of American poets: Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and William Carlos Williams. I suspect it’s not all that easy to find great American poets whose themes aren’t dark and always adult — but I see an opportunity for an expanded series nonetheless (Can we have an Edna St. Vincent Millay volume?).

The important thing though is that kids learn that poetry can be part of their lives. That writing a poem isn’t something that should just be left to the masters—that instead it should be a part of daily life. And that being able to see things more than one way is key to keeping the mind and heart open.