When the subject of poetry memorization begins, it generally conjures scenes similar to Chardin’s late 18th century painting The Good Education: frilly dresses, bonnets, serious expressions, and an open book in hand. Although I love that painting (and even have a postcard-size copy of it on my bookshelf), poetry memorization looks quite different in our home full of raucous happenstance. Still we do have a process of sorts for this memory work. Here’s a bit of what it looks like for us:
READ A POEM TOGETHER DAILY // Before we begin memorizing a poem, we read it and talk about it together. Sometimes the poem has unfamiliar words or phrasing, so we’ll talk about those a bit, too. I keep a small collection of poetry books on our shelf, and often read a poem during our snack time or our daily language lessons. Everyday, we read a new poem, even if we are not intending to memorize it. Sometimes the poem is funny or small, and other times, it is confusing or too abstract. When the last bit occurs, we might re-read it to see if we understand it better, but mostly we move on. At my children’s ages, I don’t want them to be bogged down in analysis. That will come as they grow older. For now, the purpose of poetry is to experience language in a new way.
BEGIN WITH SMALL, FUN POEMS // When you are first beginning memorization with your children, choose simple poems they will enjoy reciting. Shorter works will help them feel a sense of mastery and confidence to do it again. My six year old began the year with a two line poem Happy Thought from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse. She has since moved on to a bit longer poem by Christina Rossetti–another poet who is a perfect start for young children, as her descriptions tend to be more concrete observations or comparisons with nature.
COPY + ILLUSTRATE THE POEM // If your children are little, this might be more difficult or even unnecessary yet. My children span the grade school years and are all practicing writers, so this works well for us. Copying poetry helps them notice the poetic form itself–capitalization, punctuation, rhyme, and so on–and how it differs from prose. Illustration provides imaginative space for my children to transfer the meaning. Plus, it makes for a beautiful keepsake or reference as they continue memorizing.
CELEBRATE // When our children complete a poem, they recite it for all of us and we applaud them. Sometimes they forget a line or need a helpful nudge, and that’s okay, too. Make note to return to those lines again later. Memory work is difficult, and we love to celebrate their hard work and accomplishment.
COLLECT YOUR FAVORITE POETRY BOOKS // There are so many wonderful poems, so I love anthologies that give a diverse sampling. Here’s a few of the books on our own shelf:
Poetry for Young People series, various poets
A Child’s Anthology of Poetry, Edited by Elizabeth Hauge Sword
Classic Poetry: An Illustrated Collection selected by Michael Rosen
A Child’s Introduction to Poetry, by Michael Driscoll
A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson