Why do people read and study poetry? Obviously people don’t analyze poems simply to make an academic work out of it. But often it appears that way. Teachers and professors emphasize the study of poetry without really allowing students to understand why poetry is important.
Poetry can do what no novel or essay can do. It can take a moment in time and stop it. It can express only that moment in minute detail without using half the words required in an essay.
So how can you approach poetry in a way that will express these truths to your children and create a desire to read and understand poems?
Read poetry to them.
Really. It is that simple. Poetry was not started as an intellectual exercise. It is as old as music and human society. The earliest recorded poems were narrative stories that were passed down through oral memorization.
Poetry is both an art form and a means of communication. In order to appreciate and enjoy art, you must be exposed to it. Later, when you want to further understand the message and the form of the art, you can begin to use the tools of analysis.
Studying and analyzing a poem can be useful, but it is not essential to enjoy the poem. Children have a natural ability to pick up on themes, rhythms, and tones in poetic language. Reading poetry to them, or reading it together out loud, provides a great starting point for conversations about poetry and how to further understand what is being portrayed.
Where do we start?
If you have no idea what to read with your children, I would suggest starting with what is familiar to them. Try reading such authors as Jack Prelusky, Shel Silverstein, or Ken Nesbitt. Or try Mother Goose. Even reading some Psalms from the Bible is appropriate.
After they have an interest in poetry and a feel for what poetry is, then you can move onto more heavier subjects. Look for a good children’s anthology or find some classics online.
Engaging in discussion
After you have read a poem, if your children seem interested, ask them what they thought the words were saying. This is called narration (or paraphrasing), and it basically involves the child or student expressing their own comprehension of the piece. You can get a good idea of how much they grasped through this process, and sometimes even be surprised by how much they picked up.
If a child doesn’t know what the poem was saying, try asking what words he heard. Read a line or two again and try to pick out together some familiar words. Talk about what the author might be trying to say.
Here are some other ways you can approach a discussion:
- Talk about the mood/tone of the poem. What emotions are being expressed. Sadness? Happiness? Does the mood change?
- Who is speaking in the poem? Is it describing something? Does it tell a story?
- Does the author or speaker mean what he says? This might be tricky for younger children. Irony and sarcasm are difficult concepts.
- Are there any words or phrases that are unfamiliar to you and your students? Remember, you don’t have to understand everything in a poem to enjoy it. Only explore the unknown language if they show interest in finding out more.
One great way to bring a poem alive is to draw a picture. You could draw individual pictures based on what each of you saw and thought through the poem. This can help bring out imagery and figures of speech that are not immediately evident on a first reading. The pictures can be used to discuss how people can hear the same poem yet each find a different meaning that appeals to them.
Mark and highlight
Just like hearing a poem being read appeals to the auditory learning, marking key words and favorite phrases appeals to visual and kinesthetic learners. You can fully enjoy poetry once you have read it, heard it, and played with it.
Use different colored highlighters, pencils, or pens. Mark favorite words, images, metaphors, or rhymes. Record your own thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the poem. Draw symbols to represent the ideas and emotions expressed. Go crazy and do whatever makes sense to your family! Since there are no rules to writing poetry, there really are no rules to studying it either.
Save your favorites
When any of you find a poem that really speaks to you, save it for later. Make a poem file or mark it’s place in the book. Come back to it later and re-read it. Poems have a way of evolving and changing over time.
Try memorizing a short poem or a few of your favorite lines. Share those words with someone else. Maybe you could organize a poetry reading with other families.
When you and your children become comfortable with enjoying poetry, try writing some of your own.
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
Article by Aadel Bussinger
Aadel has been married to her career Army man for 11 years and they have 2 daughters and a freshly made son. She is a homeschooling mom, volunteer, and online college student. Her hobbies include cooking, organic gardening, sewing, and crocheting. She blogs sporadically at These Temporary Tents.
Aadel has written 82 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.
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