“Genuine poetry can communicate before it can be understood.” T.S. Eliot
As I was pulling out my favorite books and resources on poetry, I became convicted. I’m an idealist. The world of beauty, goodness, well-chosen words and pursuit of truth is the world in which I aspire to invite my children. I love poetry. I’m thrilled that my children share some semblance of that same sentiment. But as with so many other lofty aspirations, I’ve allowed the “necessary” to crowd out the routine enjoyment of our sharing poetry together.
In writing this post, I’ve been reminded… of the wonder of childhood… of the joy found in falling in love with words… of the magic of language.
In the spirit of repentance, I dutifully dug through a shelf crowded with binders, loose papers and workbooks to extract our book used for poetry memorization (more on that later). My children’s responses to the sight of the book were delightful. They clamored to recite long-forgotten verses. They wanted more.
“Poetry is the liveliest use of language, and nobody knows more instinctively how to take delight in that playfulness than children.”
Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, and Sam I Am. Although it may have been years (or decades) since we’ve intentionally invested our time in reading poetry, most of us can recall these childhood rhymes with little to no effort. They’ve been stored deeply within our memories alongside Christmas carols and favorite birthday presents. Memorizing them came at little cost – we loved the words, the rhythm, the beautiful illustrations, and the endless repetition, which provided comfort in a sometimes-unpredictable world.
Poetry invites us into a magical realm where individual words, each which alone have only their assigned meaning, can be arranged in such a way as to result in a thing of beauty… or mystery… or cleverness. To discover and enjoy poetry with our children is to cultivate their love for language.
Poetry can provide a vibrant thread to be woven into the unique fabric of our family culture. When asked, “Who left the door open?” I’ll often get the clever response ”Mr. Nobody.” “Jonathan Blake” who ate too much cake can serve as a warning for all those consuming too many sweets. “I eat my peas with honey” (the opening to a clever poem taken from Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin) is recited when those particular veggies are served for dinner, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without A Visit from St. Nicholas.
In addition to igniting our children’s love for language and enriching our family life, poetry provides the added benefit of contributing to their intellectual growth.
“There is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain, and there is perhaps nothing more effective than poetry to provide exactly what we want: reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns… By memorizing and reciting, you practically fuse neurons into permanent language storage patterns. Those patterns are then ready to be used, combined, adapted, and applied to express ideas in a myriad of ways. Additionally, because of the nature of poetry, poets are often compelled to stretch our vocabulary, utilizing words and expressions in uniquely sophisticated—but almost always correct—language patterns.” Andrew Pudewa
We enjoy using A Word Well Spoken… Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization (found here) by Andrew Pudewa. This thin spiral-bound book gives simple strategies for memorization and is divided into four sections, each with twenty poems. The level of difficulty and length of the poems increase with each level, beginning with such fun poems as “Ooey Gooey Was a Worm” and ending with “The Hunting of the Dragon” by G.K. Chesterton. Although children may occasionally memorize poems for school assignments, this approach allows a family to enjoy the process together. A few minutes a day (perhaps right before dinner) 2-3 days a week is all the time required. We have also found the companion CD helpful, particularly for young children to listen to during nap time or rides in the car.
Some of our favorite books of poetry:
~Book of Nursery & Mother Goose Rhymes by Marguerite de Angeli
~Mother Goose by Kate Greenaway
~A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa or Tasha Tudor)
~The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
~Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book for Young Children by Christina Rossetti
~Animals, Animals by Eric Carle
~Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill
~The Beauty of the Beast by Jack Prelutsky
~The Complete Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear
~Poetry for Young People by Emily Dickinson (includes fun “riddle” poems from nature)
~Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot (especially fun if you’ve shared the music from Cats with them)
Jim Weiss audio Cds including Famously Funny – A Beloved Collection of Stories & Poems
Blackstone Audio Cd collection Winnie-the-Pooh
Dover Publications coloring book of A Child’s Garden of Verses
When we share the gift of poetry with our children, we are giving them an inheritance of deep love for language. It is a gift to be enjoyed while they are young, appreciated as they grow older, and passed on to future generations.