Most parents understand the importance of ensuring their children are proficient in the three R’s. There can be some other studies which get neglected is pursuit of that proficiency. Poetry is often one of them. While I would agree to the idea that reading classic literature and learning algebra are important to a basic education, I would also like to suggest that we owe it to our children to give them to opportunity hear the magic of language in poetic form.
It can begin as simply as hearing Mother Goose read or recited. Meter and rhyme are easily internalized as they have fun with finger plays. Some rhyme schemes work as great memory aids (Red at night- sailor’s delight. Red in the morning- sailors take warning, etc.) There are beautiful pieces written to commemorate historical events such as O Captain, My Captain and Paul Revere’s Ride. Poets such as Shel Silverstein and Edward Lear delight us with nonsense poetry. And the classic poets such as Wordsworth and Frost give us images about which to ponder and lessons to learn.
Each day read a poem or two with your children. Memorize some. As they get older, try and find a message in them. If you are uncertain how to interpret poetry, it can be easier to find meaning if you keep the following in mind.
- Poetry generally fits into one or more of the following categories- deity, life/death, joy/depression, love, humor.
- Poets often use symbols and/or allusions to well-known cultural themes. Save this kind of poetry for when your children have enough literary exposure to understand the references.
- Poetry can be a great opportunity to learn new vocabulary. Don’t shy away from unfamiliar words. Look them up. Find ways to incorporate them into your own communications.
As you study poetry more seriously in the high school years, take time to write some. Explore the various forms, meters, rhyme schemes, and purposes of poetry. Have fun with limericks. Tell a story in a ballad. Paint a picture through haiku or another different visual form. Study the lives of famous poets. (Where they lived. Why they wrote . Was it a source of income, or a way to process life around them?) Not all poetry rhymes; some takes a different, but still planned form.
Poetry cannot be paraphrased. It cannot be abridged. It must be experienced in it’s entirety. It can serve as a voice for the deepest feelings of the heart.
Some of my favorite books of poetry are:
Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
The World of Christopher Robin by A.A. Milne
The Best Loved Poems of the American People selected by Hazel Felleman
A Family Book of Verse selected by Lewis Gannett
Complete poems of Robert Frost
Walking the Bridge of Your Nose selected by Michael Rosen
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson