In our technology-driven age, teaching poetry to children may seem as unimportant as teaching them morse code. I believe it is just as important as ever.
Rose, Will, and the other students in their weekly classical academy can recite dozens of poems. Some are as short as four lines. Others over twenty.
Why spend time memorizing poetry? Partly because children’s minds are incredible. The amount of information they soak up puts us adults to shame. As a classical homeschooler, one of my goals in this early (grammar) stage is to fill their minds. Not just with facts and information, but with the good, the true, and the beautiful.** Good poems help me do that.
Poetry touches the mind, emotions, and spirit in ways that prose often can’t. It also expands vocabulary and improves syntax, while burning beautiful word images, hilarious stories, and inspiring examples into the soul.
I knew I wanted poetry to be a fundamental part of our homeschool days, so last summer I spent weeks cozied up with poetry collections and started compiling my favorite poems for children. Some are sacred, some are silly, and some are simply beautiful.
One of my goals this year is to finish compiling them into a robust poetry program for grammar-stage students. At my friend Brooke’s request, here is a sneak peak.
Christina Rossetti’s The Caterpillar is rich with color and imagery, but simple enough for children to connect with and enjoy.
The Caterpillar by Christina Rossetti
Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry;
Take your walk
To the shady leaf, or stalk.
May no toad spy you,
May the little birds pass by you;
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly.
Teaching poetry to children
(Many thanks to our friends AK and Keiah for their example and encouragement in teaching poetry.)
Although poetry is an important part of our homeschool days, we only work on in for a short time each day. Just by devoting fifteen or so minutes to poetry daily, you can give your children the gift of a treasury of fun and beautiful poetry for the rest of their lives. Here’s how I teach poetry to my children (and the sweet students at school.)
Read the poem aloud
Usually I make the students close their eyes while I read, so that they can focus on simply enjoying the poem. Read it slowly, and let them soak in the beauty of the poem. (Or its humor, depending on the poem!)
Talk about the poem
Explain any words they may not understand and ask questions to help them understand the poem, like “Why is the caterpillar in a hurry?” “Is the caterpillar in danger?” “Why does it have to die?”
Have them repeat the poem after you
Read the poem again, but this time have them repeat each line after you.
Have them illustrate the poem
Poetry paints pictures with words. Once you’ve read the poem and discussed it, have them draw or paint an illustration. (This is optional, but the kids love it!)
Keep reading, listening to, and repeating the poem
Every day, read the poem aloud and have them repeat it after you until they are able to recite it fluently on their own. (I’m working on audio recordings, games, and other teaching tools as part of the poetry collection.)
Recite the poem
Once they have mastered the poem, have them recite it at home, for grandparents, and/or in front of friends. Although they might be a bit nervous at first, getting used to speaking clearly and confidently in front of others will help them a lot down the road!
Review, review, review!
Learning a poem is great, but unless you review it, you’re almost certain to forget it. After they learn a poem, review it daily for several weeks, then at least once a week. (I’m working on tools to make review fun and easy too.)
Make poetry part of your children’s education
Poetry engages the mind and soul, expands vocabulary, increases memory, and is just plain fun! Make poetry part of your child’s education.
P.S. If you’d like me to let you know when the compilation is ready, sign up for my [almost] weekly highlights.
** In the classical model of education, the early (grammar) stage focuses on memorizing core facts and concepts of history, science, language, etc. As the child matures to the logic stage, they begin to compare, analyze, and “argue”. Then, in the the rhetoric stage, they learn to take what they have learned and present it in a beautiful and compelling way. Memorizing poetry in the grammar stage sets them up to excel later on.