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Metaphors for Kids

July 28th, 2012 · 9 Comments

Nothing energizes thinking like using metaphors. In Poetics, Aristotle says, “But the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. similes for kidsThis alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances.” So what can you expect when you expose kids to the wonder of metaphors? Aside from having fun with words and strengthening articulation, practicing metaphors nurtures kids’ use of comparative thinking. It nudges them beyond immediate sensation toward more careful observation of their surroundings.

Using metaphors pushes the speaker to sift through experience and memory in search of a fitting comparison. What is it like to start your day without coffee, for example? There is no right answer, but the process of finding the right comparison promotes robust reflection.

“Do not concentrate so much on the features. Paint the head. The features are only like spots on an apple.”

-John Singer Sargent

All said, a good metaphor gives the listener a quick, vivid understanding of what you’re trying to say. While most grammar school kids are unable to create metaphors out of thin air, most know one when they see one and can decide whether it does a good job describing something.

The following exercises are designed to enhance kids’ familiarity and appreciation of metaphors. Simply select one or more of the multiple choice answers. If none of the answers does the job, then work with your child to make your own comparison.

(NOTE: Strictly speaking, the following exercises are similes because the word ‘like’ is used in the comparison. The main difference between a simile and a metaphor is that a simile uses the word ‘like’ or ‘as’ in making a comparison.)

“Why should I […lose weight for this fight]. It’s like telling a lion to lose weight to fight a house cat.”

-George Foreman

Late Night with

Johnny Carson, 5/6/90

Giving a horn to an ape is like. . .
A) giving an apple to a horse
B) giving a ball to a dog
C) giving a book to a cat
D) none—-it’s more like:

Making art is like. . .
A) opening birthday presents
B) singing
C) doing chores
D) none—-it’s more like:

A neighbor’s dog that won’t stop barking is like. . .
A) a car alarm that won’t shut off
B) a bird that won’t stop singing
C) a cat that won’t purring
D) none—-it’s more like:

Waiting ’til later to finish an ice-cream float is like. . .
A) waiting ’til later to finish your chores
B) waiting ’til later to call a friend
C) waiting ’til later to finish blowing out your birthday candles
D) none—-it’s more like:


In the comment section below, Sadie from Washington State

makes a good point about when a metaphor becomes a simile.

Lighting a candle with water is like. . .
A) riding a bike no handed
B) using a banana for a telephone
C) wearing socks that don’t match
D) none—-it’s more like:

Fishing with a blueberry is like. . .
A) riding a bike with one peddle
B) reading a book in the shade of a tree
C) laughing ‘til your side hurts
D) none of the above—-it’s more like:

A guerrilla with an umbrella is like. . .
A) a mouse with a house
B) a frog with a log
C) a boar with an oar
D) none—-it’s more like:

Building a block tower so tall that it falls down is like. . .
A) eating so much cake and ice-cream that you get sick
B) washing your hands with scented soap
C) using a lot of colors in an art project
D) none—-it’s more like:

Doing math homework is like. . .
A) doing chores
B) singing
C) riding a bike
D) none—-it’s more like:

Having only one crayon in your box is like. . .
A) having only one box of cereal in the house
B) having only one book on your shelf
C) having only one radio in a car
D) none—-it’s more like:

Not giving something back to a friend after you borrow it is like. . .
A) telling the friend that he or she has a spot on their shirt
B) telling the friend that he or she has a hole in their backpack
C) telling the friend that he or she doesn’t really matter
D) none—-it’s more like:

Writing a book report is like. . .
A) doing an art project
B) cleaning the house
C) inventing rules for a new game
D) none—-it’s more like:

Getting stuck in traffic is like. . .
A) waiting at the top of a roller coaster
B) waiting for your birthday
C) waiting at the doctor’s office
D) none—-it’s more like:

Another way to promote your child’s familiarity with metaphors is to have metaphor competitions. Simply agree on the first part of the comparison. Then each person writes down the second part of the comparison. Now share and compare your answers. For example, start with ‘Giving a radio to a giraffe is like…’ and let each player write an answer.

Showing examples and practicing metaphors with kids is a fun way to play with language and ideas, and exposes kids to the world of comparative thinking. It may not impart a command of producing metaphors (as Aristotle tells us). But then—if you never give paint and brushes to kids, you’ll never find out what kind of art they can make.

Good luck!

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