Last weekend I had the joy of attending the Modern Miss Mason conference in the heart of England and I wanted to share a few thoughts I've taken away about how we can all enjoy more poetry in our home learning routines. We were treated to a brief but impactful talk from an accomplished poet, Joshua Luke Smith, about how we can all learn to look at the world through a poetic lens by making time to read and reflect on poetry. It slows us down in a way no other literature can.
"Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn."
- Thomas Gray -
It can be easy to get into a rut with any subject, but we must remember that poetry is not first and foremost to be studied the way we would study a specimen under a microscope; it is like the air - it must be breathed - inhaled and exhaled. It instructs our hearts about the world and I believe there is merit in children growing to appreciate poetry for its own sake, whether they end up writing it or not.
Here are 12 ideas to help you vary your poetry experience
Sit with one poet for a while. This was Charlotte Mason's preferred method: simply choose a poet, learn a bit about their life story, and then read one of their poems each day - over breakfast, morning time or lunch. Try to vary between older and new poets. You'll find treasures in second-hand book shops.
Illustrate a poem. Read a poem out loud to your children and then ask them to illustrate one line from it that stood out to them, or illustrate the whole poem depending on length. These could be kept in a journal and illustrated with pencils or watercolour in 20 minutes or less, once a month.
Read aloud from an anthology. Right now my 10 year old is reading a poem each day from the Oxford Book of Children's Verse. My 8 year old has been reading a daily poem from "A Treasury of New Zealand Poems for Children" and as a family, I am reading one poem each morning from "A Poem for Every Summer Day" by Allie Esiri which includes some helpful background information.
Recite poetry. Choose one poem per term and ask your child to recite it once a week, focusing on reading for an audience. This is also a great way to memorise too.
Host a poetry tea party. It can be as simple as inviting a few families over, baking something sweet, pouring some tea of choice and scattering a variety of books around the table and asking the children to take turns reading their favourites. In this way they associate poetry with delight rather than labour.
Listen to spoken word poetry. It is so helpful to hear poetry read aloud by the masters who know how to read for impact. A great resource is the Children's Poetry Archive which has brief recordings of poems read really well. There are some wonderful artists on YouTube who also combine spoken poetry with video for a different experience.
Research the Poet Laureate. In the UK every two years, someone is named the Children's Poet Laureate. Find out who the current Laureate is and learn some of their poems.
Learn folksongs, ballads and hymns - these are simply poems set to music and they often tell a story about lives and events from the past.
Experiment with writing poetry. There are lots of ways to do this, but here's one idea: after you've finished an art appreciation lesson one day, ask the children to take a few minutes to try and write a poem that captures some of the essence of the artwork they've just studied.
Enter a children's poetry competition. There are a whole host of opportunities for children to submit their own poems into competitions. Here's a good list.
Write famous poems by hand. Because poetry often includes rich and sometimes obscure language choices, it can be a great way to learn to spell a wide vocabulary, as well as exposing children to the grammar techniques used in poetry. All Copywork Cave collections feature poetry of some nature each week.
Keep a personal poetry book by your bedside, in the bathroom or in the kitchen for your own consumption whenever you have a spare two minutes. Develop a culture of enjoying poetry yourself and in this way you'll naturally generate a literary-rich atmosphere in your home. I've just started reading a collection by Wordsworth.