I feel duped. I feel we could’ve done so much more. We have missed out on so much thanks to the blatant disregard of the nonsensical. I could’ve been languaging for so much longer!
Recently I have been deciding on the final theme for my BA Education Studies dissertation, finally settling with nonsense poetry. During the process of deciding I reflected upon my own experiences of nonsense poetry in school and found it lacking.
Luckily I was an avid reader as a child and started early enough to be able to read all sorts before the age of 8, but I fear not everyone has such a good start. Through my dissertation I would like to explore the potential benefits of examining nonsense poetry with children under 10.
My first educational introduction to nonsense poetry, decidedly late in my opinion, was The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. We read and deconstructed the poem, discussing what the words could mean, and finding out that there really isn’t a right or wrong answer. This was a fascinating piece, however I was 14 years old at an all-girls grammar school, and it seemed like quite a simple exercise for ‘mature, young ladies’… It wasn’t just the simplicity though; it was that nothing followed it. No moving on to more complex pieces, kind of a cop-out really, hence my feeling of dupedness. As it is not specifically in the curriculum it is perhaps not immediately thought of, another reason I feel an educational research project may shed some light on its positives.
My son is a language fanatic and in the next couple of years I think he may be ready to investigate The Jabberwocky properly, try to translate each strangely familiar word, perhaps make up his own. He and his peers are familiar with silly Seuss and his avid alliteration so why not have the next step in frivolity be Lewis Carroll? Or Spike Milligan?
Any other suggestions?
Perhaps we should give a nod to the silliness, but not particularly nonsensical, poetry of Michael Rosen? Roger McGough? The surreal comedy of Monty Python?… Actually Python should probably wait until they are in secondary school… I first watched The Life of Brian in a Religious Education lesson (big up, Mr Winn).
Am I perhaps calling for an educational scaffolding of learning English language with children’s humour? By that I mean we all like to have fun, play around, tell jokes, so why not sneakily get children to learn to enjoy and play with words in the same way?
Nonsense poetry would fit well with the reading comprehension schemes run at the present time by initiating conversations with children about the way many words are spelled is connected to their meaning, how language evolves over time and circumstance, and what was once a common phrase could now sound like nonsense.
You may think I am overestimating under-10s, but I am a strong believer in the power of Philosophy for Children (another potential dissertation topic) and using open questions, and thought-provoking topics to support children in using critical thought to find their own answers. Start them early, I say! Even those who are struggling with their reading can benefit with word play, reading poetry out loud together can help give meaning to how the words are formed.
What are your thoughts and experiences with nonsense poetry? Are there any you think deserve a special mention? Or deserve avoiding? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!