Monday, March 15, 2010

What: Teaching Poetry


I love poetry and always have. I read and write it myself and I want to pass that on to my kids. Poetry is writing at it's highest art form. The economy of language forces the poet to make each word count, using tricks like alliteration and onomatopoeia like a painter uses brush strokes. I can't help but get enthusiastic about it!

If my children love poetry, they will want to do the work later on to understand it, both the words and the historical context.

If you can read and write poetry effectively, you can read and write anything. And reading and writing is all about communication. And communication is all about reaching the hearts of another.


The only 'formal' things we do is our 'refined afternoon tea' on Wednesday afternoon. We have something special to eat and cups of peppermint tea with honey at the table with a table cloth and POETRY. I have several books of it and we will each take it in turns selecting a poem - even Tool Man. At first they selected the illustrations that interested them (being non-readers) but now, after doing this for over a year, the older two are starting to ask for some of the poems by name. Princess Doc carefully reads each one in the book she has chosen before making her selection, so I get her to start choosing BEFORE the rest of us are at the table!

Nonsense verse and nursery rhymes are a large part of our poetry reading and sometimes the 'refined' nature of our afternoon teas go out the window with toilet training accidents, upturned tea cups and detours into "manners training" and sometimes we just take a quilt outside and make it a picnic. What I want to pass on in this session is a love for the art of putting words together. Nursery rhymes are the river stones of our language, smoothed and refined in the mouths of generation after generation. Nonsense verse makes us laugh and evokes vivid imagery. My own favourites make appearances even though they are "above" the children's understanding, but the sensation of the words still speaks to all of us. Each afternoon tea starts with a special grace where we thank God for beautiful things and beautiful words and pray that all beauty will point us toward Him. It is a high point in our week!

Rudyard Kipling's "If" and Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat" are equally adored in this house and it isn't unusual to have Wordsworth's "Daffodils" straight after "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star". I am saving up to get my hands on a copy of "Unreal Banana Peal" and "Far Out Brussel Sprout" because of my own fond memories of the gross out humor in my own child hood and I think my own kids will be equally delighted!

I think the most important thing with teaching poetry is to get down and dirty, throw out all the preconceptions of what poetry 'should' be and let it MOVE you. If you laugh, if you cry, if you get mad at the words on the page - they WILL learn.