Lullabies aren’t really to soothe the baby. No. Lullabies are to soothe the frazzled parent putting the screaming child to sleep. Thus enters poetry into our homeschooling curriculum. That’s how I feel about poetry in our studies; it soothes and benefits me as much, if not more than, the kids. For the last couple of years, we’ve been pretty diligent about poetry memorization. We probably work on recitation, on average, about three days per week. We have no formal lesson plan and I haven’t marched out the poems to be learned for the year. I know nothing in particular about poetry, other than I like to read it. My fourth grader and second grader usually do poetry together at the same time.
Besides the “soothe factor,” these are my logical reasons for incorporating poetry memorization and recitation. My children appreciate and learn:
- Vocabulary: Reinforcement of known vocabulary and introduction to more difficult, unknown vocabulary.
- Concise expression of thought: Poetry requires some precise, concise grammar, often to relay something complex and abstract.
- Value of oral sound: In poetry, each word choice and phrase must make maximal impact on the listener, creating emotions and mental images. Later in the school years, I anticipate that we can apply some poetry skills to our speech skills. (Sometimes when the kids memorize, they’ll change a word which changes alliteration or rhythm. We correct the word and talk about how the simple word change disrupted how the poem was experienced.)
- Memorization skills: Memorization of massive volumes of information is sometimes required in various subjects, whether we like it or not. I believe that helping my kids recognize early on that they CAN memorize large volumes of information using their own methods and tools will benefit them in all their schooling endeavors. I‘ve noticed that each of my children overcome memorization difficulties in ways unique to them. One child literally seems to see the poem on a page in the sky. The other sets the poetry to song.
- Shared feelings: She can always nod her head and say, “Yes. That line of poetry captures this nicely. Thank you, Mr. Poet. I’m so happy to share this moment with you.”
At this point, we keep it pretty informal. We don’t study the poems in-depth. We haven’t gone over types of poetry or written poems much yet (although they’ve done a couple on their own). Pretty much, we just memorize, enjoy, and internalize the poems. I anticipate beginning more formal poetry teaching, poetry writing attempts, and learning about the poets at about the sixth grade level and thereafter. Here is what we often do with a poem:
- Explore spelling and phonics concepts that we’ve worked on using select words in the poems
- Talk about simple poetry concepts: rhyme, rhythm, alliteration
- Act them out
- Watch them being recited on You Tube
- Use fine art supplies to create art based on the poem
- Recite them to grandparents
How do we choose our poetry selections?
- What’s the weather outside? Pick a poem about it.
- Are we taking a vacation somewhere (such as to the beach or mountains)? Learn a poem to complement our trip.
- What are the animals doing this time of year? Find a poem to describe it.
- Is it time for a complex poem? Pick a long one or “deep” one.
- Is it time for a simple, fun poem? Pick a silly one.
- Is there something I need them to do (like have better table manners, pick up the house, eat a particular food)? Find a poem about it.
- Peruse our poetry anthologies (James Whitcomb Riley, The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, Whisper and Shout, plus another one or two). Just pick one we like.
What poems are in our repertoire now? We review all memorized poems often enough to keep them in recall. The following list has been accumulated over the last two years since we started memorizing poetry as part of our curriculum.
The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost)
Something Told the Wild Geese (Rachel Field)
Beautiful Soup (Lewis Carroll)
maggie and milly and molly and may (E.E. Cummings)
The Germ (Ogden Nash)
Long-Leg Lou and Short-Leg Sue (Shel Silverstein)
The Sun-Dial (Adelaide Crapsey)
The Duck (Ogden Nash)
Windy Nights (Robert Louis Stevenson)
A Book (Emily Dickinson)
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven (William Butler Yeats)
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)
The Star (Jane Taylor)
Hope (Emily Dickinson)
When the Frost is on the Punkin (James Whitcomb Riley)
Little Orphant Annie (James Whitcomb Riley)
No Man is an Island (John Donne)
Captain Hook (Shel Silverstein)
This is Just to Say (William Carlos Williams)
Bed in Summer (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Dreams (Lanston Hughes)
The Caterpillar (Christina G Rossetti)
Hearts are Like Doors (Anonymous)
The Months (Mother Goose rhyme)
Mr. Nobody (Anonymous)
The Goops (Gelett Burgess)
Closing: I’m curious how much poetry work other families do and what benefits they see in making this effort. I’d love the devil’s advocate to say how much they detest poetry and see no point in all that memory work so I can see that point of view, too! For us, we enjoy it, and it doesn’t feel like a chore. We will keep it going.