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Pursuing Poetry

  • Dari Mullins TOS Magazine Contributor
  • 2013 22 Nov
Pursuing Poetry

“I think that I shall never see / a poem as lovely as a tree.” So begins the immortal poem “Trees,” written by Joyce Kilmer. Memorization of this poem in second grade ignited a love of poetry in me that exists to this day. That second-grade poetry project consisted of compiling an anthology of poems, illustrating them, and choosing one to perform in front of the class. The total time allotted for the project was only a few weeks, but the fruits have lasted a lifetime. A love of poetry instilled in students is a gift that they will always treasure.

For many homeschoolers, the study of poetry remains a daunting task that often gets pushed to the bottom of the lesson plans. However, including poetry in those plans is an achievable goal. Poetry adds an exciting dimension to school life! Many questions pop up regarding this overlooked topic, including these: “Why teach poetry?” “How do I teach poetry?” and “How can I make it interesting?”

But I’m Too Busy for Poetry!

Covering the “basics” as homeschoolers takes time, energy, and effort. Deciding which “extras” to include can be an overwhelming endeavor, but poetry is one of the extras that should be placed at the top of the list. Poetry enhances the literary experience and adds a new dimension by merging pictures, words, and sounds to create a masterpiece. Poetry commences the listening and literary life of a child. Some of the first sounds a baby hears are the lyrical notes of Mother Goose, the beautiful harmonics of the lullaby, and the semantic rhythm of Biblical verse. By including poetry in our studies, we continue to cultivate and feed that literary bud within our children.

Poetry also awakens the imagination and helps us to see the world in a new way. Poets are artists who help us visualize and hear what we otherwise might have missed. Poems merge the worlds of art and music like no other medium. The beautiful pictures painted by the poet’s words expand and deepen our children’s imaginations and creativity. By encouraging growth in these areas, we sharpen our children’s wits and exercise these pathways in their brains.

Every civilization throughout history has utilized poetry to express emotion and ideas. Throughout the centuries, poets have asked the major questions in life. By connecting our students with these great minds, they connect, on a personal level, with poets who have had the same struggles, battles, and triumphs that we experience today.  Teaching our students the historical value of poetry helps them appreciate the rich heritage of this art form.

Poetry often reflects the beauty of God. It can encourage us to know God better, love Him more, and walk in His ways. Poetry often reveals an aspect of God’s character. Augustine said, “In every poem there is some of the substance of God.” Robert Browning acknowledged this when he stated, “God is the perfect poet.” We can use poetry to appreciate the majestic characteristics of our Creator.

Can Poetry Be Entertaining?

Poetry can be entertaining—when approached with the right attitude. You can teach poetry, regardless of your educational background, past experience, or knowledge of the topic. All you need is a willingness to try. With a few simple steps you can enjoy studying poetry with your children! Here are three helpful tips to equip you to succeed:

1. Start early. By reading, singing, and reciting poetry to young children, you begin to cultivate and instill a love of the lyrical language in the novice ear of the child. Lullabies soothe the soul, Mother Goose rhymes reinforce the ability to put words together, and Dr. Seuss teaches us that poetry can be humorous.

2. When teaching poetry to the very young, read aloud with feeling and emphasis, stress the rhyming words and the visual imagery evoked by the vocabulary. Use poetry as a springboard to learn about other topics. For example “Forgiven” by A. A. Milne is a wonderful story about a beetle. Read and recite these verses several times. Use this poem as a starting point to learn about beetles, and then branch into learning about other insects.

3. Introduce young children to different types of poetry. Nonsensical poems, such as those written by Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss, help children see the “funny side” of life. Imaginary poems, such as “The Land of Nod” by Robert Louis Stevenson, can transport children into a fairyland world and unleash their inner creativity.

Moral lessons can be taught through poems such as “Whole Duty of Children” by Robert Louis Stevenson. As children mature, stories in rhyme such as “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by Robert Browning or “The Duel” by Eugene Field can be introduced and contemplated. Historical poems, such as “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or “A Ballad of the Boston Tea Party” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, can be used to examine and expand on actual events that shaped the world we live in today.

A full poetry course such as The Art of Poetry by Christine Perrin is a wonderful resource for high school-aged students. Helpful anthologies such as The Harp and Laurel Wreath or Favorite Poems Old and New provide great choices for reading aloud.

How Do I Get Started?

Enjoying poetry begins with listening. Teach your children to listen to the way a poem sounds. Focus on the sounds rather than on the meaning. As they read a poem, teach them to experience the poem by rereading it, emphasizing the rhyme and rhythm.

The exercise below will help children focus on the sounds and then use vivid vocabulary to describe and paint a picture of those places.

  • Fold a piece of paper into fourths. Have each square represent a different place, such as a beach, forest, city, etc.
  • What sounds would be heard at each place?
  • Describe each sound with at least three adjectives.
  • Younger children can simply draw pictures and list the sounds beneath each picture.

Another way to teach listening is to have children record nature sounds or listen to them on the Internet. They can listen to birds, wind, water, insects, rain, etc. and then create a list of words that describe each sound. Have a thesaurus handy so that they don’t rely solely on their limited vocabularies.

Teach children to observe the environment around them. Take note of the sights, sounds, and feelings of the seasons. What colors are evident in autumn? What emotions do those colors trigger? What about winter? How does each season evoke different feelings, scents, sounds, etc.?

Learning to observe and describe their world helps students learn to read and appreciate poetry. Consider the word choices and the sounds of words used in a poem such as “The Eagle” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Ask how the rhythm, rhyme, and repetition of certain sounds all help to sculpt the feel of the poem.

Once the children learn to “listen” to a poem, more in-depth information can be introduced. A great way to begin is to introduce the poet. Do a short background study or have your student to do it, and discover what influence the poet’s life had on his work. For example, Robert Louis Stevenson spent much of his childhood in bed due to sickness. This would explain much of his “imaginary world” content.

As children mature in their familiarity with and enjoyment of poetry, they will begin to notice the styles of different poets and be able to identify the works of certain poets by their unique styles. The Poetry for Young People series (from Sterling Publishing) is an invaluable resource for teaching poetry. Each book focuses on one poet, providing a short biography and several age-appropriate selections.

What Next?  

Add copying or acting out short poems. Use your personality and talents to enhance your teaching. If you are a gifted artist or musician, incorporate those talents within your poetry lessons.

Young children may enjoy acting out a poem such as “The Pancake” by Christina Rossetti, and they also can illustrate the poem. One fun activity we did with the poem “Color” by Rossetti was to cut out pictures from magazines with the colors she mentions in the poem and then paste them on a piece of construction paper of the corresponding color.

Students can also memorize a poem, perform it, and share it with friends or relatives. Keeping a poetry notebook in which a student illustrates the poem and then writes the stanzas beneath the illustrations makes a great keepsake. This could grow into a lifelong habit: keeping a poetry journal.

Please note that there will most likely be poems that simply don’t appeal to your children. That’s okay. When this occurs, just move on to a different poem, topic, genre, or activity.

Once your students have learned to internalize a poem, older elementary-aged children can interact with poetry. They can read it aloud with you or to you. As children grow, they can focus on the deeper meanings and themes of longer and more ambitious works. They also can begin to learn about the technical aspects of the poem and memorize and perform more challenging works. The Roar on the Other Side by Suzanne Rhodes is a great tool for teaching poetry to older children.

Poetry—Gift for a Lifetime  

Perhaps you are a little intimidated by the thought of teaching poetry. Don’t let this mindset hamper your willingness to jump in with a sense of wonder, adventure, and a little humor. Anyone can learn to appreciate poetry by doing these fun activities with their students. You can create a love for poetry and thus give your students a gift that will remain with them forever. My second-grade teacher introduced me to a lifelong love of poetry, and a few lessons on poetry can open doors to an entire new world for your students too. They will discover that poetry is satisfying in many unexpected ways!

Dari Mullins, co-author of Galloping the Globe and Cantering the Country, is the mother of three teenagers. She and her husband, Allen, have homeschooled for twelve years. They live in Asheville, North Carolina, where Dari teaches in a co-op. Dari is a popular speaker at conferences throughout the country.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: November 22, 2013