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Rhyme and Rhythm: Enjoying Poetry as a Family

Revisiting Some Archived Articles that Have Not Been Lost, but May Have Been Forgotten and Are Worth a Fresh Read

Original Post Date: March 5, 2012

Smooth ebony fin
Rising over rolling waves
Dipping down to depths

This week, while on a business trip with my husband to Laguna Beach, I composed this poem. If you stretch back to your school days, you will probably recognize it as a haiku. Haiku are simple Japanese poems about nature with lines of regular syllables—5, 7, 5. Because haiku is a very regular form and because it is almost always used to describe nature, it serves as an excellent form of poetry for young writers. Take a short walk around your neighborhood, and give your children time to really look at the birds, trees, squirrels, cacti, or lizards. Take paper and pencil if you would like for them to compose in the great outdoors or return home to record your experience.

Studying poetry enriches your children’s vocabularies, sentiments, and ability to worship. Each year in Challenge III, we study poetry using The Roar on the Other Side. Students are required to keep a poetry journal, present original poems in class, and submit polished poems at the end of the year. Each year, I am saddened by students who tell me that they just do not have time to write poetry. I try to teach them to see this assignment as a gift, forced solitude to contemplate their own souls, the world around them, and their place in it. More than any other subject, poetry fights against the impoverished text-speak of our modern world.

So, how can you train your children to love poetry from an early age? Well . . . the truth is you do not have to. Children are born with an innate capacity to respond to rhyme and rhythm. If you do not believe me, ask Dr. Seuss.

The first step is to choose a few good poems to share as a family. I like to start my children on poetry when they are very young. One of my favorite collections for preschoolers is Poems to Read to the Very Young compiled by Eloise Wilkin. This board book is full of classic children’s poetry by Christina Rossetti, Sara Coleridge, and Robert Louis Stevenson. In addition, the attractive illustrations appeal to young listeners. Because it is a sturdy board book, children can be encouraged to look at the book by themselves.

Read the poems aloud as many times as your toddler requests them. Repetition allows them to memorize their favorites. Young grammar students can be encouraged to copy short selections as a handwriting exercise. Older grammar students can copy longer selections and illustrate the poems with their original drawings. One of my prized possessions is my daughter’s notebook in which she copied and illustrated Sara Coleridge’s poem The Year, a poem comprised of rhyming couplets about each month of the year. If you find that you enjoy a particular poet, find a larger collection of his or her works. Many children have been raised on Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Other good choices include the historical poems written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow such as “Hiawatha” and “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” While they may not be exactly historically accurate, they are beautifully written and the repeated phrases make them easy for children to memorize. Try reading the Psalms from the King James Version to enjoy the beauty of the language and imagery. Once you have developed the habit of reading poetry, read the lyrics to great hymns which originated as poems before being set to music. As you read, do not rush. One Psalm or poem a day is enough. Read it several times throughout the day. With each reading, you and your children will find new treasures.

Do not forget to be silly once in a while. My children and I like the nonsense poems of Lewis Carroll such as the “Jabberwocky” and “Father William.” We have also memorized poems from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. When I introduced quality adjectives to my Essentials class, we read Silverstein’s poem “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out.” As I read to them, they circled all of the strong adjectives he used to describe a family who is buried in garbage. (As a side benefit, I hope they thought about their own chores.)

Poetry exposes your children to rich language and imagery, giving them the ability to beautifully express their own complex ideas and emotions using complex language. I feel so strongly about the importance of poetry that I read a poem each week to my Challenge III class. We began with the 14th century sonnets of Petrarch and are working our way toward poets from the 1970s. Together, we try to pick out rich images, metaphors, and similes and we attempt to piece together the poet’s meaning by examining each stanza closely.

Resources for studying poetry with your family:

Lobel, Arnold. The Random House Book of Poetry.

Rhodes, Suzanne. Roar on the Other Side.*

*Although the text might be complex for younger students, many of the exercises are not. Some of the exercises encourage students to describe the fruit in the grocery store or to describe the sounds of a quiet room after listening for 20 minutes. Try a few together.

Silverstein, Shel. Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Wilkin, Eloise. Poems to Read to the Very Young.

CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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