For a couple of years, I have been wanting to squeeze poetry into my sons’ course of study. But how to do this, especially when my eldest son loves to tell me how much he dislikes it. This makes me sad. When I was his age, I was writing poetry!
I understand how poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though, and some kids may need to grow up before they begin to appreciate it. Sometimes it’s an acquired taste; sometimes not. I thought my musically gifted son would be able to understand poetry in a way I never could. After all, music has a lot in common with poetry. But he doesn’t like it. Not yet. (With the exception of Shel Silverstein.)
I don’t make it a habit to force my kids to do something they really don’t want to do, but then again, there are things I think are important for everyone to learn or become aware of, if not an expert at. I would love for my boys to develop an appreciation for poetry, but even if they don’t, I don’t feel I’d be educating them properly if I didn’t teach them about it. But I waited until the right time and resource came along…
Along it came a couple of years ago when I did a review of grammar programs for home/school/life magazine. I received a complimentary copy of Music of the Hemispheres because it was part of the first level of the Michael Clay Thomas language arts program by Royal Fireworks Press. I was not reviewing that specific book, however, so it sat on my shelf for about a year and then last summer I picked it up after we finished reading through Grammar Island and Sentence Island. It was in the sequence of books for this curriculum, and we loved the first ones, so I thought I would read this one to the boys too. And, wow! I loved it. I mean, Where was this book when I was a kid trying to understand poetry better? Not only is it a beautiful book and visually appealing, it explains all those tricky elements of poetry in a way that kids can understand. (Okay, iambic pentameter and dactylic, iambic and trochaic tetrameter is still a bit tricky, but it was a good introduction.) It was a beautiful way to explain simile, metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and it’s not a long book, so it’s perfect for kids. (Tip: If you’re on a tight budget, all you need to buy is the teacher’s manual.)
With this book, I came up with a game plan on how to teach poetry to my kids.
How to teach poetry to a kid who hates it? Here’s what I decided NOT to do:
- I’m not going to require him to memorize it. While I love the idea of memorizing poetry, why put him through that when he hates it? What would it really achieve, especially when he’s memorizing great musical works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Scarlatti and many other great composers?
- I’m not going to make him write poetry. Not even a haiku.
- I didn’t make him do the exercises in Music of the Hemispheres.
This is what I decided I WOULD DO:
- Read poetry to him. But….>
- …just once a week
- a few poems at a time
- 30 minutes tops
- he is fine with that
- Also, I will read from children’s poetry anthologies or other works that are age appropriate and hopefully more appealing than the esoteric stuff I read in college.
- This year we read all the poems in The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems. I also read from back to front of this book because I thought the more modern poems would be more appealing to my boys to begin with, and I was right.
- Along with reading a few poems, I’ll read a few pages from Music of the Hemispheres. (See above for a review of that.)
- All I did was make him listen to a few pages, and I occasionally asked questions or expanded on the book with my own knowledge. Again, just once a week.
- When possible, I will find unique poetry that may interest him more, such as Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, which was a gift from relatives. (Thank you!!) He actually likes this book, which uses poetry to tell the stories of three important scientists.
- In lieu of memorizing poetry, I bought three folders with fasteners, and I told both the boys that as we read the poetry, whenever they find a poem they really like, I will photocopy it and put it in their folder. That way, they can slowly accumulate a nice booklet of poems that they like.
Fortunately, my younger son does like poetry. What a pleasant surprise! He has picked several poems to include in his folder. My eldest son? Well, after a full year of reading poetry, he’s picked one. At least there was one! lol
It is my hope that exposing him to poetry in this (hopefully) less painful way will at least make him aware of the art form because as a musician, I think it’s important that he has knowledge of and respect for all the arts. (Everyone should, really!) And as for my younger son, I’m pleasantly surprised that he enjoys it, and I’m glad I’m exposing him to it because otherwise it may have taken him a long time to *find* poetry on his own.
As for the future, I plan to get the next poetics book in the Michael Clay Thomas language arts program, but I’m not sure when. I plan to keep reading poetry once a week to the boys. Since we finished the Oxford Children’s Anthology, we’re working on Finding Wonders now. Yes, it’s a slow way to teach poetry, but it’s perfect for my reluctant poet, a good introduction for my younger son, and over time, a little bit each week builds up to a good dose of poetry.
Do you teach poetry to your kids? What are some of your favorite resources?