Children are poetry natives. They notice intricate details and say things like ‘the Sun is purple today’. Children are less intimidated by screens than adults. Their fingers glide on hotspots without any anxiety over potential risks. This combination of poetry and technology turns children into wonderful digital artists.
With my colleagues in Norway and England, we have been supporting children to create and share books with tablets, smartphones and PCs for several years. When used proportionally and mindfully, screen activities can encourage children think outside the box and explore their inner worlds. Some apps (for example Faces iMake) combine letters, shapes, colours and sound to enlarge children’s experience of stories, art and poetry. Children can add special effects like the sound of a loud word, or digital glitter or foggy effect over their creations (for example with the Bomomo website). Phonics apps can be used to form rhyme units and colouring apps offer children a variety of patterns, fabrics and textured letters to tinker with.
Children who can decide which colour splash or brush stroke should take up the whole screen feel as empowered as adult poets who give new meanings to words. Such fine-motor experiences give children the skills and confidence they’ll need for participating in multi-media communities of their older peers. Many contemporary poets effectively blend the use of digital art with verses and share their poetic creations on Instagram or Facebook. Photo-poems or filmpoems are an exciting way to experience poetry.
Technologies are not neutral, and there are many digital tools that kill rather than enhance creativity. Adults supporting children need to know how to distinguish between closed and open-ended apps, that is those apps which overwhelm children with fast-paced entertainment and those that are open to children’s imagination and let them make their own art. The latter kind of apps are of particular value to children who do not have access to poetry because of an illness, social disadvantage or, as we have seen in the recent months, a pandemic.
The Covid-19 outbreak reminded us that a disproportionate number of children live in book deserts, surrounded by ugly urban places and with no access to nature. Some children need to take care of their siblings, some even of their parents. For these children, the opportunity to expand their mental images with sounds, words and colourful strokes is a way of countering a dim reality. Poems about nature that are augmented through virtual reality, for example, immerse children into a quiet and peaceful world, where a poet’s voice is not interrupted by a loud siren voice. Some adults believe that texts, and especially print texts, are the royal route into poetry. From research we know that children learn about the world from static pictorial information in books as well as moving images on screens. These experiences work together, and it is the diversity that is key for expanding children’s poetic minds.
During the recent lockdown, many professional poets have engaged children with verses through the screen. Corona e-books about children’s experiences have been created and shared worldwide. Free poetry workshops or Zoom readings have illustrated that technology can democratize the access to poetry. For young and old, poems help with distancing from an immediate experience and imagining alternative realities. In this respect, poetry-making, in whatever shape or form, is life-affirming.
Natalia Kucirkova is professor of Reading and Children’s Development at The Open University, UK and Professor of Early Childhood and Development at the University of Stavanger, Norway. She is also an accomplished poet, with three published pamphlets and her second collection coming out in 2021 from The Black Spring Press Group.