Teaching Poetry to our children: the idea sounds picturesque, high society, serene and intimidating. The reality I have found, is that it’s simple, fun and easy. Last year, we started including it because it was part of our curriculum from Sonlight. Most days we were assigned to read a couple pages from our Mother Goose Anthology or from a collection of poems. It wasn’t love at first sight but as time went on the kids recognized various Mother Goose rhymes they heard other places and enjoyed the rhythms. Quickly it became one more place in our day I would hear, “One more please!”
All I was doing was following a pattern and reading the next one each day. The slow exposure was feeding and growing their appetite for beautiful words. They were hearing rhythm and rhymes, discussing the descriptions in a passage and breaking apart new words. Its easy to want to jump to the great classics and read Henry Longfellow, Maya Angelo, and Langston Hughes to our kids right away, but that would be like giving them black coffee and expecting them to like it the first time. They have to work up to it like weaning oneself off of sugar and cream in coffee.
Where do I start
Head to your library and start browsing, poetry can be found in the 800s by the Dewey Decimal System. Pull a few off the shelf and start reading. Don’t feel bad if you don’t like the first few you choose. Our family really enjoys Something Big Has Been Here by Jack Prelutsky. I have even caught them memorizing his work for fun, but we didn’t enjoy Shel Silverstein in the same way. I know many families who love Where the Sidewalk Ends but it’s just not our style.
Anthologies are some of my favorites because you get to taste the best of many poets in one place as you find your favorite voices to read. You will want to preview whatever you choose as different poets have different flavors to their work and see what fits your family’s tastes. Caroline Kennedy and Julie Andrews have each edited anthologies for children as well. Andrew’s Treasury for all Seasons, is on my wishlist right now, I love the idea to read through the seasons with poetry. There is a good series called Poetry for Young People that is designed to help expose young students to great poets. Check it out if you are looking to do a study on a specific poet.
What do we do now?
Now that you have something to read, start reading. Read regularly together. We start our read aloud time with a poem. We are using Favorite Poems of Childhood right now. Each morning I open to where we left off and read the next one, and if it’s less than a page we might read two. I like to read it twice so that we can be introduced to it the first time, and then savor it the second time.
After I read it the first time I like to ask questions to see what they noticed or understood. Opened ended questions like “What do you think this poem about?” or “How does this poem make you feel?”
After we discuss our initial thoughts I read it again so we can think about our discussion as we hear it again. Busy hands help us focus on listening sometimes, so we doodle while we listen or sometimes get Play-doh out. Last week we read a poem that mentioned Seahorses. After we were done reading, we used our Step by Step Drawing book and everyone followed along to draw a seahorse.
Poetry doesn’t have to look pretty and polished when you add it to your school or family. It can be loud and boisterous. There can be interruptions and giggles. Just as we enjoy beautiful stories together as we read novels, it is good to enjoy beautiful words when we read poetry together. Find poems you enjoy, and don’t worry about the Classics or Shakespeare. If you want to make Poetry an event at your house check out Poetry Teatime by Bravewriter. I love the idea but this mom does not have time for that, so for now we settle for reading daily on the couch with doodle books, savoring the sounds of the poetry together as we begin each school day.