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Teaching Poetry in Your Homeschool

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.

Copywork

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?”

If you have to dry the dishes   A-Light-in-The-Attic1-320x480

(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:

 

         A cow’s outside is mainly hide,

        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.

 Language

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.

Picture

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?

Love wins,

KT

Those Everlasting Tucks (or Using Good Description)

If, like me, you use your children’s reading experiences to enhance their writing, there is no better book to showcase good description than Tuck Everlasting.  Natalie Babbit tells her tale of a family who accidentally drank from a spring of eternal youth with such eloquence that the story seems to float along on a dry, August wind.

Which is just what she intends.  Writing with intention is one of the best lessons a student can learn, and Tuck Everlasting is one of the best books to illustrate the idea.  Let me give you an example from the prologue:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autum, but the first week of Autumn is motionless, and hot.  It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.

Wow.  Sure, we’ve felt that in the first week of August, even noticed it, but how many of us could describe it so vividly in so few words?  I am fascinated by the idea of that week being like the car poised at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the Littles and I discussed it for, oh, about twenty minutes.  It is a rare pleasure for an author to ensconce you so deeply in her setting so quickly.  Just reading and discussing that description can help your student imagine interesting ways to describe things in his own work.  Here’s another, from chapter 9.

The pastures, fields, and scrubby groves they crossed were vigorous with bees, and crickets leapt before them as if each step released a spring and flung them up like pebbles.  But everything else was motionless, dry as a biscuit, on the brink of burning, hoarding final reservoirs of sap, trying to hold out until the rain had returned.

Image result for tuck everlasting images

Can’t you just hear the grass crunching underfoot?  See the swarms of gnats hovering at eye level?  This is what we want to teach our students–to evoke even more images by writing about just a few.  There are lots of way to teach descriptive writing, including lessons on metaphors and similes, using specific, strong words, and, of course, showing and not telling.  But nothing can teach good description better than seeing it in action.

There’s a reason Tuck Everlasting is just as popular today as it was forty years ago.  The idea of living forever is appealing but, as Babbit demonstrates, comes at a price.  The novel helps children understand a little about death and why it is necessary and even about how life should be lived to the fullest because the reality is we have a limited time on Earth.  Guided reading has afforded us with so many conversations that I’m kind of feeling like this is the best book we’ll read this year.  The real reason it’s still so popular and intriguing is that it is so well-written.  The words are beautiful.  It’s as though Babbit took each individual word, stuck it in her mouth, sucked on it, and savored it before putting it to the page.  By doing so, she tells part of the story without words–she puts it in our minds more even than a film would.

If you have a child who struggles writing descriptions, read Tuck Everlasting with her.  Pause every time your heart wells up (and it will) with the amazing feelings evoked by Babbit’s descriptions.  Discuss what she means by her words, how it makes you feel, and see if your student can come up with other colorful ways to phrase the description.  I promise you, it will help.

And, heck, even if I’m wrong, no one should trade the reading of this invaluable book for watching it on film or stage.  There is pure joy in the pages, in the author’s love of language, that just doesn’t translate.

Love wins,

KT

A Fun Read

I have mentioned often our experience with reading Oliver Twist this year. We finished it several weeks ago, and it was an adventure in reading for all of us. Because of the level of difficulty for my Littles (they are, after all, 9 and 12, and Dickens’ language is not that of Rick Riordan. lol), I scheduled a much simpler book to follow it. I say simple because it’s an easy read for their ages, but the layers of Rabbit Hill were complex enough for a variety of lessons.

Robert Lawson wrote this Newberry Award-winning gem in 1944, just after World War II.  It could be considered a precursor to Watership Down by Richard Adams-a rich political novel told from the personification of rabbits.  Rabbit Hill has its own style of politics.  It gave us a view of what it is to live in a place torn apart by war, when food is scarce and everything needs rebuilt, but Lawson tells it from the point of view of Little Georgie the rabbit and a cast of other animals who are looking forward to New Folks (humans) moving into the house on the hill.  It provided an opportunity to discuss WWII a bit, though we aren’t studying that war till next year.  It also gave us ample opportunity to discuss the aftermath of war, the scarcity of food and comforts and the fear that things will never get better.  The book also touches on accepting differences.  We discussed prejudice and how very different our colorful country was in the not-so-distant past.  But my favorite part was the discussion sparked by how the people treat the nature around them.

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Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of daily life, we forget that we (even city folk) have a deep connection with the natural world.  We get so busy shutting it out we forget that it is an important part of who we are as a species.  Rabbit Hill is one of those books that will remind your children to be kind to animals, to live in harmony with their natural surroundings, and to be careful of the footprint they leave in the world.  It’s an important lesson that cannot be taught enough.

Rabbit Hill would be fun to incorporate into a nature study.  In fact, the study guide I made up involved a lot of nature study activities.  The Littles enjoyed it immensely, and it was a nice break for their brains after Dickens.

What about you?  Do you have any favorite books that teach your children about our responsibility to the environment?  If so, please share them.  I am Always looking for someting new to read.

Missing Out on Mythology

While perusing my many homeschool sources the other day, I read an article that disturbed me.  The author was listing some books she was using in her homeschool and she wrote that she had left one out (she didn’t mention the title) because it was a mythology book that wasn’t Christian-friendly.

I admit, I was a bit confused by this.  What book on mythology could possibly be Christian-friendly? was my first thought.  By definition, mythology books aren’t about Christianity.  They’re about the myths of other religions.  And at one time, the stories in them were considered as factual as we consider the Bible.  I understand completely that some parents might choose to leave certain things out of their curriculum because they are at odds with the family religion. What I don’tgreek arch understand is leaving out such a big chunk of human history because people no longer believe in it.  How is it possible to learn about Greek architecture without learning who all those statues and temples and relief sculptures represent?  How do we learn about Roman sculpture without learning about the religion that often inspired it?

Just as important, we shouldn’t keep our children from knowing these amazing stories.  The reason they have been passed down through hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years are the same as for any good story.  They touch us, they teach us about human nature and human existence, they make us remember we are not alone.  Mythology is a rich part of our past.  Without it, to what can we compare Christianity or any modern religion?  When we don’t know where we have been, our path to where we are going is harder to navigate.  I have said this many times about all types of history, and really, at this point, that’s all mythology is.  History.  It doesn’t have to have a Christian bent.  It just has to teach us something.

I hope you, my dear readers, are secure enough in your beliefs to acknowledge that mythology does indeed have something to teach your children.  Otherwise, they are going to miss out on a lot of really engaging stories that will give you a starting point to teach them so many different things.  I mean, where else will you get the opportunity to say, “This is not what we believe, and here’s why,” without sounding like your arguing Against something instead For something?

Plus, it makesgreen myth teaching about the Greeks and Romans (and even the Celts) so much more fun.  Not for you.  For your littles.  Who just might learn a lesson better from a story than in any other way.

What are your thoughts on teaching mythology in your homeschool?  If you don’t do so for religious reasons, I would love to hear your rationale.  If you do, regardless of your belief system, let me know what made you decide to include it.  Either way, I will continue to include mythology in the Lit Mama Homeschool curricula.  Remember, the world wouldn’t be the same without it.

Love wins,

KT