Most of you know that we’re a homeschooling family, and from time to time I like to review what we’re doing for memory work, which consists mostly of poetry. As some of you may be new to this, I’ll answer a few questions first.
Question #1: How do you choose your memory work?
We memorize those poems, public addresses, Bible verses, or other literary works that we like. It’s as simple as that, but I think it’s an important point. Your children will sniff it out immediately if they think you think a poem is dull or lame. And you’ll hate teaching it. So don’t choose memory work that you don’t like.
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 enjoy and understand.
Furthermore, If you’ve never memorized anything with your family at all, ever, don’t panic, but do begin somewhere. It’s worth it. We cannot truly own something until we’ve interiorized it, or memorized it. If you really don’t know where to begin, crack open your Bible to the book of Psalms and pick one. Go for Psalm 23 if you’re completely lost. There are obvious reasons why everyone used to have that thing memorized.
Or, if you want a book of poetry for your small children, but don’t know where to start, buy Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. He’s just plain fun, and we love reciting Where Go the Boats and Foreign Lands this time of year. Or belting out The Swing while pushing those little sweeties back and forth on swings.
Question #2: How do you teach a poem?
For a number of years, we always did our reciting at the breakfast table. Usually I’d begin by reading the poem first and then let everyone else have a shot at it. 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.
A few years ago, however, we began reading the Bible at breakfast, so now our poetry has become a part of “Morning Time.” This is a half hour slot in the mid-morning when everyone comes together to review Latin vocabulary, pray, and recite.
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. For example, every Fall the little ones recite Autumn Fires 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 return to the great Catholic priest, 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.
But again, throughout the year, we do whatever strikes me or the children.
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, and it’s good to review our favorite ones from time to time. I don’t have a problem with repeating again and again our favorites.
Question #4: What are you memorizing now?
At this very moment, the boys are memorizing and loving Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day Speech. It’s from his play, Henry V. In this selection, King Henry V is encouraging his English soldiers to fight valiantly against the French, on the feast day of St. Crispin. In spite of terrible odds, they do win.
One of my little girls is reciting Hopkins’ Pied Beauty, and the other little girls are enjoying Stevenson’s Foreign Lands.
The Eldest is required to recite at her school, but she isn’t home at the moment, so I don’t know what she’s working on. (Although I think it might be some Edgar Allan Poe.)
I hope that clears a few things up. Just ask, if you have any more questions.
Lastly…The Well Read Poem
For those of you who might want more, I came across a lovely podcast that features one poem a week, read and explained by Mr. Thomas Banks. I’m greatly enjoying it.