Category Archives: Poetry for Kids

Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Poetry


South Dakota sunsetLullabies 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’veBlack Hills 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.

Snow fortWhat 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)
Weather (Anonymous)
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)
Work (Anonymous)
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.




Our Poetry Collection

We do a lot of poetry reading and reciting in our homeschool.  Never underestimate the power of a poem!  Its utility spans grammar, phonics, vocabulary, art, and imagination.  Memorize the poem to stretch the neuronal pathways of the frontal lobe and provide beautiful phrases to bring to mind in life’s times of beauty, pain, love, or sadness.  Copy the poem and find long E phonics patterns.  Discuss the usage of commas, colons, and hyphens.  Find exceptional vocabulary used in context.  Illustrate the poem.  Just enjoy the poem’s words flowing around the recesses of you mind.

I have purchased some poetry collections, and I want to give a brief review of them in case others are interested in acquiring poetry material for their homes and children.

wpid-IMAG1519-1.jpgThe Barefoot Book of Classic Poems compiled and illustrated by Jackie Morris is a favorite in our collection.  The poetry selections contains all the classics you remember enjoying, from Shakespeare to Hughes, and the watercolors evoke as much emotion as the poem on the page.  Just leave this book around on the living room footstool, and it is sure to draw some human spirit into its bursting pages.  About 75 poems in all with accompanying illustrations for each and every poem, some magical and some natural, honest depictions.  This book is worth buying to keep in your library.  The poems are diverse, and they are NOT all geared for children, thus the attraction of the book for me.  It is not a book that will be outgrown.  My children and I will always be able to come back to it to find something to mull on.  See on Amazon.

wpid-IMAG0563-1.jpgWhere the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein delights my children and I to no end.  His simple drawings paired with his poems are genius and never fail to bring a smile, except on the serious ones, which may bring a sad little smirk.  Really, his work is amazing.  No childhood is complete without hearing Shel Silverstein read aloud.  We also have A light in the Attic, but we like Where the Sidewalk Ends best.  See on Amazon.

The Best of James Whitcomb Riley: Riley, an Indiana poet, helps me share my Hoosier roots with my children. wpid-IMAG1517-1.jpg If you have any farming heritage or rural, small-town background, you’ll enjoy his poems.  He uses native dialect which sounds like our Uncle Ron, and he uses strong rural imagery which takes us to visit Papa Bear’s farm.  Riley’s poems depict common people and themes, often rural based, which tug at your heart.  “Little Orphant Annie”, “Granny” and “When the Frost is on the Punkin.”  Riley’s poems touch a string.  A simple string.  He reaches back into childhood and pulls the happy memories (of swings, stories, and watermelon) and the bittersweet memories (growing up, dying, and changing).  I would not part with my Riley collection.  His words bring smiles and tears to my eyes, and I hope my children come to love his works as I do.  A must-read to get you started on Riley is “The Bear Story.”  These are real poems, for real life, spoken on a real level.  See on Amazon.  The Amazon link is in paperback, but I much prefer the hard cover.

wpid-IMAG1520-1.jpgPoetry Speaks to Children, edited by Elise Paschen and illustrated by Judy Love, Wendy Rasmussen, Paula Zinngrabe Wendland is a pearl because it provides a CD with poems read by the poet!  The poems chosen are comprehensible to children as young as, maybe, three years old, and the illustrations are simple and straightforward, appealing also to the younger crowd.    However, there are many cultural selections and many poems of various length and depth to be enjoyed by all ages, and the fact that you can actually hear the author’s own reading of the poem makes this book and CD appeal to all ages.  The CD has some background noise on older readings and some of the readers’ voices aren’t clear, but hearing the writer’s own vocal interpretation is stirring.  There are 95 poems, and 51 of them are read.  The book is not physically beautiful, but here is the perfect example of, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

wpid-IMAG0564.jpgWhisper and Shout:  Poems to Memorize (edited by Patrice Vecchione) is a book I’d probably borrow from the library to peruse, make copies of the poems we want to memorize, and to find poets I and the kids liked.  I don’t feel this one adds much to my collection above.  There are very few pictures to draw in unsuspecting children.  Just plain black and white.  The poems are to be for memorization, but many of them are poems without rhyme scheme.  For beginners, lack of a rhyme scheme makes memorization much more challenging.  I do like that the back pages provide a paragraph or two about each authors and a couple of their works.  And the works themselves are adequate.  See on Amazon.

Part 4 of “Our Third Grade Curriculum”: Poetry

As I’ve already posted on poetry in Fill Their Minds With Words, Make Them Their Own:  Poetry,  I will provide a brief update on our poetry curriculum.  I continue to be amazed at the children’s capacity to memorize poetry.  I have one who can memorize anything:  recipes, shopping lists, secret codes.  And I have one who forgets the days of the week.  They are in third grade and first grade.  Before we started poetry, I completely underestimated their ability to memorize and appreciate complex poetry.  Now it’s in there.  Forever, snippets of these poems will pop into their minds as the occasion arises!

Poems memorized since the last poetry post include:

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost 

  • 1.   YouTube reference:  A great reading by a small child that is fun and motivating for kids to watch!
  • 2.  We discussed the interesting rhyming scheme of this poem.  Each third line of the stanzas does not rhyme and sets up the         rhyming scheme for the next stanza.  Until the last, which all rhymes.  Forgive me, I do not know the appropriate words to discuss poetry yet.  We just memorize them for now!
  • 3.  I chose this piece because we are in the deep of winter in this part of the states, as well as for its beauty.
  • 4.  We looked at some phonics using this poem.  We’ve been working on the letter Y as a vowel, and we went through the poem looking for examples.  We also talked about the two sounds OO can make, and the sounds WH makes.  We could have went on and on.

“Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by William Butler Yeats (pronounced “Yates”–I was ignorant, had to look that up.)

  • 1.  YouTube reference:  Our favorite reading on YouTube was by Sir Anthony Hawkins.
  • 2.  This poem is in the Mensa for Kids poetry collection and thus has a nice little bit on Yeats, the poem’s meaning, and a way to go about memorizing it.  I really like the Mensa for Kids poetry collection and printed out all of it.  Some selections we will not do until the girls are older.  But I have been absolutely astounded at their enjoyment of memorizing these poems and their ability to do so!  The Mensa poems seem too advanced, but after giving them a try, I’m glad I did!  We pick and choose poems from it.
  • 3.  To bring this poem to their level, I talked about how they bring me their artwork to see.  “Do you like it, Mommy?”  “Of course I do!  It’s great!”  We talk about what if I said, “No.  I don’t like the color of your princess’s dress.  I wouldn’t have colored it that way.  You didn’t do a very good job.”  How would they feel?  And what if they told me they wanted to be an astronaut, and I said, “No.  You’re not good enough in math.  You can never be an astronaut.”  Finally, I told them that I was going to lay their favorite shirt on the ground outside and asked them how they would walk on it.  Would they stamp on it?  Run on it?  Why not?
  • 4.  We connected this poem to two other poems we have learned, “Hope” by Emily Dickinson and “Dreams” by Langston Hughes.
  • 5.  Lastly, we painted an illustration of this poem using tempera paint, some gold and silver oil paint, and glitter.
  • 6.  The kids chose this poem from a reading of a few poems.  I was surprised, but it worked into a great unit study!


How we learn a new poem:

  • The first day we “live with the poem”:  I read it aloud to them a couple of times then have them repeat the first line or two after me.  And put it away.
  • The second day we “live with the poem”:  I read the poem again to them.  They each get a copy of the poem and we read it aloud together or have them take turns with stanzas or lines.  I repeat a few lines and have them repeat the lines back to me without looking at their papers.  I push them as hard as I can without frustrating them AT ALL.  We may talk about the meaning, alliteration, and imagery.
  • The third day we “live with a poem”:  They repeat as much as they can from memory with my prompts.  We look up the poem being read on YouTube and watch a couple of different readers/presentations and pick a favorite.  This can really be a fun time full of giggling as contributor’s recitations can be quite different from your recitation interpretation!  We then repeat as much as we can or say it together.
  • The fourth day we “live with a poem”:  We work on trouble lines, reading them, repeating them, singing them, drawing them, whatever it takes.  We attempt to recite as much as we can.  Watch YouTube again if it seems like it will benefit them.
  • The fifth day we “live with the poem”:  I read the poem aloud.  I ask them to recite as much as they can from memory.
  • The sixth day we “live with the poem”:  By now most of the poem is memorized.  We continue working on the poem until perfected.  Sometimes we’ll look at the phonics in the poem and grammar of the poem, tying it into our other lessons.  I may have them circle long E sounds or long I sounds.  Point out capitalization.

We spend about 20-30 minutes maximum on poetry about 4 days per week.  An investment I find invaluable.  Something I never would have believed.

You are what you eat!  Eat well!

You are what you read!  Read well!

Fill Their Minds With Words, Make Them Their Own: Poetry

“Hope” by Emily Dickinson
“No Man Is an Island” by John Donne
“This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams
“Bed in Summer” by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Dreams” by Langston Hughes
“Captain Hook” by Shel Silverstein
“Little Orphant Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley
“When the Frost is on the Punkin'” by James Whitcomb Riley
“The Caterpillar” by Christina G. Rossetti
“Work” Anonymous
“Hearts Are Like Doors” Anonymous
“The Months” Mother Goose rhyme
“Mr. Nobody” Anonymous
“The Goops” by Gelett Burgess
“The Star” by Jane Taylor

When I read Jessie Wise Bauer’s recommendation (The Well-Trained Mind) for elementary age children to memorize copious amounts of information, I thought the idea absurd.  Painful memories of numerous all-nighters during pharmacy school and medical school haunted me.  Cramming endless facts into my head.  Over and over and over again.  Only to forget most of it.  Why would I subject my child to that?  I want to teach her how to think–not regurgitate!  Creativity!  Write poems–not spit them out!  Foster, not squash.

“Every two or three weeks, the child should also memorize a poem and recite it to you.  Memorization and recitation of poetry is an important part of the reading process; it exercises the child’s memory, stores beautiful language in his mind, and gives him practice in speaking aloud (early preparation for the rhetoric stage).  Aim for memorization of at least four to eight short poems during each school year.  Pick poems that the child has read and enjoyed, either during his ‘assigned’ reading or his ‘free’ reading.  These poems don’t have to be tied to the progression of literature from ancient to  modern; let him memorize anything that he likes,” writes Jessie Wise Bauer in her book.

So we did memorize a few simple poems.  Nothing too fancy…:

“Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November…”   (Mother Goose Rhyme)
“Caterpillar in a hurry, Take your walk to a shady leaf or stalk…” (Christina G. Rossetti)
“I know a little man as quiet as a mouse…” (Anonymous)

…And only because it was a part of our grammar book written by Jessie Wise Bauer, First Language Lessons, which I liked because we could curl up on the couch with it.  But my oldest moved on from that grammar text to one requiring more “seat-work” worksheets.  And poetry kind of fell to the wayside.  But for some reason, it naggled my brain.  It wouldn’t let go.

Whispers in my ear, “Memorize poems.  Recitation.  Great works of prose.  Don’t deny them.  You’re missing an opportunity.”

Soon, I came across a poetry segment by Mensa for Kids posted on the internet.  It was (is)  a great printable, free guide of selected, recommended poetry for kids to memorize with some fun worksheets.  I looked at it.  It was intimidating!  Even for me–an adult with a love (oh, but a neglected love) for literature!  I printed it off, but I decided the poems were just too tough for my first and third grader (and still agree that some of them will be best saved for later).  Maybe we’ll pull that back out for high school, I thought.  But it made me realize poetry recitation is important, and I wanted to incorporate it as a main part of my curriculum now, at this young age–not later when memorization may seem mundane.  From the Mensa for Kids site:

“Memorizing poetry turns on kids’ language capability. It not only teaches them to articulate English words; it heightens their feel for the intricacies and complexities of the English language—an indispensable attainment if they are to go on to speak, write, and read English with ease. . . 

It also stocks those bins with a generous supply of the English language’s rich accumulation of words. Research suggests that the size of a child’s vocabulary plays an important part in determining the quality of his language-comprehension skills. ‘The greater and wider the vocabulary,’ says education historian Ravitch, ‘the greater one’s comprehension of increasingly difficult material.’ . . .

[Jessie Wise] Bauer points out that if ‘a student reads a word in a novel, she might or might not remember it for later use. But when she commits it to memory in proper context (as the memorization of lines of poetry requires), she is much more likely to have it at her ‘mental fingertips’ for use in her own speaking and writing.’” from In Defense of Memorization by Michael Knox Beran [click on his name for full essay–very nice to read].

So, the benefits of memorizing poetry are varied and deep. It is free, uncomplicated, and has lasting, powerful benefits.”

OK.  Fine.  I’ll pursue it.  I bought some poetry books to read aloud to them.  We would read them together and leave them on the footstool.  By the way, I love reading aloud.  And I love The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease!

A funny thing happened.  My oldest daughter (at this time in second grade) picked up The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems with the awesome illustrations, and she memorized “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams that we had just read aloud.  First she recited it to my husband.  Then to Grandma and Grandpa.  Then to me.

And we never looked back.  We’ve kept right on trucking.  And we won’t stop until their capacity for it seems slammed shut.  Which I’m hoping will never be since we have started it so young.  But I don’t know.  Time will tell.  They already have more memorized than I ever did.  And it’s virtually effortless.  They don’t mind it a bit.  It’s easier to get them to recite poems than it is to get them to brush their teeth.

Although my oldest has a knack for absorbing words and verbal understanding, my middle child does not.  When we started really memorizing poems about 9 months ago, I thought she’d never be able to keep up.  I would only frustrated her.  I WAS WRONG.  Allow me to repeat, I WAS WRONG.  True, she does not memorize the words or meaning as quickly as her older sister, but she is by no means shabby.  And she’s much more animated in her presentation and recitations of them.  They both do awesome and are making connections I never dreamed possible.  “Look, mom, that’s by Robert Louis Stevenson.  We know him!”  “There’s that word, mom.  ‘Abashed’.  Did you hear it?  That’s in that “Hope” poem!”

In the beginning, we did something really fun.  For us girls.  Not for my husband, the “dumb” orthopedic surgeon (his words, not mine).  We all sat on the couch and we had on-the-spot poetry recitation contests.  We started with “Dreams” by Langston Hughes because it was beautiful and somewhat short.  Whoever got the most words right, won.  We ALL had to participate:  mom, dad, Mary (a new 8 year-old), Maggie (a 6 year-old), and Marcie (a young 3) got in on the action.  It was learning on the spot.  The next poem we did this with was “Bed In Summer” by Robert Lewis Stevenson.  Then my husband couldn’t take it anymore.  LOL!  His daughters absolutely killed him in the competition!  And to watch them gloat over it!  I will say, they were able to memorize the poems much more easily and quickly than either myself or my husband.

And what about my three year old?  Yep.  You betcha’.  She’s in on it, too.  My jaw just dropped.  If you think you’ve seen cute or motivating, you haven’t until you’ve seen and heard your three year old say…

“When duh fwost is on duh punkin’ and duh odder’s in duh shawck,
And you hee-yuh da kyouck and gobble of da stwuttin’ toowkey-cawck…
O, it sets my hawt a-clickin’ like duh tickin’ of a clawck,
When duh fwost is on duh punkin’ and duh fodder’s in duh shawck!–pause–what’s an odder?”

(When the frost is on the pumpkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!—-James Whitcomb Riley, an Indiana poet who vividly captures Hossier farm-life in words and dialect)

I’ve pulled the Mensa PDF file I printed off back out.  We didn’t go in order.  We started with “Hope” by Emily Dickenson.  Because she looked pretty to my daughters.  My kids LOVE to sing it to the Gilligan’s Island theme song, as recommended by those Mensas!  We’ve done “No Man Is an Island” by John Donne.  We tried the Teddy Roosevelt speech.  We’ve taken a break from it for Halloween (Lil Orphant Annie) and Thanksgiving (When The Frost Is On The Punkin).  But, we will go back to it after Christmas.

There have been a few we gave up on without complete mastery, but they tried:  The Teddy Roosevelt speech The Man in the Arena, “The Star” (the complete verses of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star), “Monday’s Child”, and “In 1492”.  There are pieces of poems they don’t understand.  There are words they don’t say quite right.  But over the months, they grasp more.  Incorrect words become correct.  Meanings become clear.  They hear as a child and understand as the years go by.

Our list of mastered and currently recitable-in-completion poems is at the beginning of the post.

My thoughts on how to incorporate poetry into a curriculum:
1.  Have a few beautifully illustrated anthologies that sit around the house within easy reach for the kids.  Lay them on the coffee table.  Lay them on the kitchen table.  Lay them on their bedside table.  Move them around to wherever they will be.
2.  Read aloud from the nicely illustrated anthologies while snuggling up on the couch.
3.  Pick a couple or a few very short, easy poems to memorize.  A practical one is nice, like “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November…”  They can use it to do grammar and math worksheets and they like that a lot!!!!
4.  See if the whole family will get involved in recitation in the evening.  Pick a new poem to read aloud a few times.  Then, have someone volunteer to go first to see how much they can say.  If there’s no volunteer, have an adult go first.  Take turns.  Repeat a few times to see who has the best memory!  It usually isn’t an adult, and the kids love that!  They love to correct mom and dad on incorrect words!
5.  Choose strongly rhymed poems at first.  They’re easier.
6.  Choose poems with strong imagery if they’re a bit more complex, and then point out images you see that go with the poem you’re reading.  (There’s a ‘fodder-shock’or there’s a bird ‘perching’).
7.  After they’ve heard a complex poem a few times, paraphrase it the best you can trying to keep the poem rhythm the same.  Then they can hear it in understandable language but with most words still in the correct “position” in the scheme of the poem.
8.  Set it to music if that works out and you can think of a song to match.
9.  After they’ve practiced the poem and have some of it down, play clips from You-Tube of people reciting the same poem.  My kids love this.  It’s even more fun if you can find footage on the internet of the poem being read by a person/people in a poetry recitation contest!  My kids became very excited to think about competing!  They had no idea that was possible!  And if you can find a couple of people reciting the same poem in different ways, the kids like that, too.
10.  Choose poems that relate to you and your family and things you may all love.  Poems maybe even you have loved.  I’ve always loved James Whitcomb Riley since I’m from Indiana.  Many of his poems are about the farm and written with a dialect that I am familiar with.  My children have easily memorized two of his poems, despite their length and dialect.  “Little Orphant Annie” they heard clips of from their Grandma and “When The Frost Is On the Punkin” reminds us all of our trips home to Granny and Papa Bear’s farm each October.  Pull from your heritage.  Pass it on.
11.  Keep them in a binder with the headings:  Mastered Poems and Poems to Learn.  Review the mastered poems as needed to keep them mastered.  Print off poems you or they want to learn and keep them there at your fingertips.
12.  Present a wide variety of poems, and don’t underestimate their abilities.  Sure give them some simple, fun ones–but also give them some rich, deep ones, too!

Poems for Children

Poems to Memorize, Recite, and Learn by Heart

You may be interested in another post I’ve written regarding two more poems we have learned:  Part 4 of Our Third Grade Curriculum:  Poetry.