All you have to do is look at my homepage–at the lovely poem by Hafiz that stands front and center–to know that I love poetry. It is among my favorite forms of expression. How else to describe beauty in so few words? Poetry can have the power of a photograph–depicting a scene so vividly you can see it, simply because of words. Narrating a story so succinctly that to read it is like watching a film. Portraying an emotion that overwhelms the reader as if she were feeling it herself. No wonder the epic poems of Homer, Virgil, and Dante have been handed down for so many hundreds of years.
Teaching poetry in your homeschool can be a daunting challenge, especially if you dislike or are intimidated by poetry yourself. However, breaking it down into simple, understandable steps can make it easy on you and fun for your students. Here are some ideas that can help.
When the Littles were still learning handwriting, we started every morning with copywork. I would write a seasonal poem on the chalkboard, and they would copy it down. Once they had copied it, we would go through the poem line by line until they understood it. Sometimes we used simple poems, like those in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, sometimes we would copy poems from the greats–Longfellow, Keats, Dickinson. Robert Frost has several lilting poems that are perfect for the winter months and easy to translate into phrasing young people can understand.
Poetry for Children
Believe it or not, a great way to introduce your children to poetry is through Any of Dr. Seuss’s books. Green Eggs and Ham provides a child’s first look at rhyme and meter. My favorite (and in my opinion, the most brilliant) poet for young people is, of course, Shel Silverstein. What child can resist a poem called “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes?”
(Such an awful, boring chore)
If you have to dry the dishes
(‘Stead of going to the store)
If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor–
Maybe they won’t let you
Dry the dishes anymore.
Again, a great and entertaining way to learn about meter and rhyme. And Silverstein’s books are full of such uproarious poems. The Littles get them out and read them for fun, never realizing that they are learning what a rhyming poem looks like.
Another superb poet for children is Jack Prelutskey. I love A Cow’s Outside:
undoubtedly this leather
retains a cows insides inside,
and holds a cow together
Simply having your children read a selection of these poems and then asking them to mimic them is a great introduction to poetry.
The most important aspect of poetry is language. The ‘poetic device.’ Poets are limited in the tools they can use. They have only Words with which to convey an image, idea, or feeling. So they have to use the right words, every time. An introduction to this idea might contain lessons on alliteration and assonance–the repeated sounds of consonants or vowels, respectively. Onomatopoeia–words that sound like their meanings such as tick, hiss, and gurgle–is one of my favorite poetic devices, and one that littles can have a lot of fun with. Hyperbole (the outrageous exaggeration of something) can provide a lot of laughter, too. Metaphors and similes are some of the most important and oft-used devices by poets from all eras. Personification is also a good language activity to get students’ poetic juices flowing: “The vase stood still until I knocked it off the sill.” Vases don’t stand; that is personifying. A great web page to get you started is at Education Portal.
Different Types of Poems
The following poems are far from the many various types to be learned. They are fun, simple ways to start teaching your students to write their own poetry. You can get into free verse and sonnets later. 🙂
Acrostic–Uses a word going vertically down the page as the first letter in each horizontal line. For example:
Littles run round my house
Over and under like a mouse
Valiantly battling deadly foes
Ever erasing all my woes
Diamante–This style has seven lines arranged in a certain structure. It starts out describing one thing and ends up describing another.
Haiku–Haiku consists of 3 lines and 17 syllables. Lines 1 and 3 have five syllables and line 2 has seven syllables. They do not have to rhyme, but a fun challenge can be rhyming lines 1 and 3.
The sky is so blue.
The sun is so warm up high.
I love the summer.
Cinquain–This consists of five unrhymed lines, with each line containing a certain number of syllables.
Line 1: 2 syllables
Line 2: 4 syllables
Line 3: 6 syllables
Line 4: 8 syllables
Line 5: 2 syllables
Limerick–This style has 5 lines with lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyming and lines 3 and 4 rhyming. It usually starts with “There was a…” and ends with a name, place, or person. Lines 1, 2, and 5 should have 7-10 syllables and lines 3 and 4 should have 5-7 syllables. The last line should be a little farfetched.
There was an Old Man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
His daughter, called Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.
When you use these tools for learning both reading and writing poetry, the idea of it suddenly becomes much less intimidating. Breaking it down into simple lessons makes it a pleasurable (even funny) experience your children will truly enjoy.
What about you? What ways have you introduced poetry into your homeschool?