Homeschooling

Poetry Explained

I had a few worthy questions about poetry the other day, so I thought I’d do a little explaining.  But remember, this is just what works for our family.  Your family may look a lot differently than mine and thereby have different needs and desires.

Question #1:  How do you choose your poems?

I choose poems that I like, and you should too.  I think this is really important.  Your children will sniff it out immediately if you think a poem is dull or lame.  And you’ll hate teaching it.

For example, if all your friends’ kids are memorizing Shakespeare, but you don’t understand Shakespeare, and it makes you break out in hives just thinking about reading all that “foreign” language, then don’t do Shakespeare!  Quit stressing yourself out and pick something you do like and understand.

If you’ve never done poetry before, I recommend getting a book of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry.  He’s just plain fun, and I love reciting Autumn Fires while raking and burning leaves in the fall. And all my children love belting out The Swing while pumping their little legs back and forth on swings.

Question #2:  How do you teach a poem?

We always do our reciting at the breakfast table.  Usually I read the poem first and then let everyone else have a shot at it.  For the first couple of days, though, I have the children repeat after me, but they catch on quickly.  If you have five children memorizing the same poem, it really doesn’t take that long before everyone has it memorized.  Think about it.  That’s six times of hearing the same thing every morning.

We keep at it until the poem is well memorized or I’m sick of it.  Sometimes we work on a poem for a few weeks, sometimes for two months.

Question #3:  Are you always memorizing new poetry?

Yes and no.  There are certain poems that we always return to because they’re family favorites.  I already mentioned Autumn Fires.  We do this poem every fall because it’s what we’re living.  We’re really raking leaves and burning them.  And every winter we revisit Stevenson’s Wintertime and Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on Snowy Evening.  In the spring, we always do Gerard Manley Hopkins, which I mentioned in a previous post.  The summer always brings us around to a more patriotic theme with Paul Revere’s Ride and the Declaration of Independence, which of course, is not actually poetry.

But again, throughout the year, we do whatever strikes me.  We also memorize passages of Scripture too.  (Now there’s an endless supply of good stuff!)

I also keep a running list of the poems that we’ve memorized over the years.  It’s fun to see what the children have done, but then also it’s good to review our favorite ones from time-to-time.

I hope that clears a few things up.  Just ask, if you have any more questions.

Homeschooling

Poetry with Hopkins & the Declaration of Independence

We’re done with “school.”  We’ve been done for awhile because we started the year extra early, like in July, because I wanted to be coasting when the baby came, which was in February.  (Click HERE for the post on her birth.  Whoa, what a story.)

But even though we’re finished with the big stuff – Math, Latin, Grammar, Writing – we’re not really done.  We never are.  I always liked to have something for the children to do otherwise they get bored.  And start fighting.

Poetry

Poetry is the one thing that never goes away.  We’re always memorizing something because it’s fun.  And it’s not hard, as we always do it at breakfast, and we all do the same piece.

Every spring we do Gerard Manley Hopkins.  He was an Anglican, but was received into the Catholic Church by none other than John Henry Newman in 1866.  Hopkins then became a Jesuit priest and spent the rest of his life teaching and writing poetry.  (He was a terrible teacher, by the way, but excellent at writing the most beautiful poetry.)

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Hopkins.  The Father of Sprung Rhythm.

We just finished up with Hopkins’ God’s Grandeur, Pied Beauty, and Spring.  If you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and read them.  In fact, print them off, go stand outside in the warm sunshine and recite Pied Beauty aloud to any birds who might be listening.

Declaration of Independence

Now, however, we’re gearing up for summer and the 4th of July, when we revisit our patriotic poetry.  We’ll do Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride and the Declaration of Independence.  (Not the whole Declaration of Independence, just the first paragraph and a half of the second.)

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This short compilation has all the U.S. founding documents and a few important speeches that I hope to get to someday, like the Gettysburg Address.

If anyone is interested, I’ll write more about the rest of our Summer School later.