Living Lessons in Poetry
Poetry imparts life to its readers in a way that no other expression of the English language can boast of. It is also, sadly, most often the expression of language that seems most intimidating to readers. In poetry, we find ourselves and we find a world that we haven't physically beheld but can nonetheless SEE with the eyes of our souls.
And, in poetry we see expressions of the human soul that simply can't exist in prose.
What we love is what we choose to love, and we can all choose to love poetry.
Poetry is good, true, beautiful, and worthy of our affection.
Last week I shared a few of the things I share when I gather moms for a SCHOLE workshop that I call "Loving Poetry", with hopes that it gives you food for thought and inspiration regardless of whether you are an ardent lover of poetry, a beginner filled with trepidation, or anything in between.
And now I will share some basic principles and practices for making poetry lessons living and delightful in your homeschool.
Principles for Poetry Lessons
- Taste is bred, and exposure breeds taste. Good taste is bred, and the only way to breed taste is to be exposed to what is good and true and beautiful. Just like the food that is best for our bodies, the mind's nourishment isn't always palatable to us, particularly when we have been satiated on lesser things; the more that we are exposed to what is good, however, the more our tastes will be cultivated. We will have an ever increasing appetite for what is good and true and beautiful. With poetry, choose what's good, and don't let a lackluster reaction discourage you. Taste is bred. Exposure breeds taste.
- Your child's reaction doesn't determine the worth of something. A living education isn't a child-led education. A living education respects children, and their personhood, immediately. And one of the ways that Mason implored mothers to respect their children was to give them what was good and true and lovely. Beauty, truth, and goodness are inherent, and are not diminished in any way by whining and complaint and nonchalance. We would never allow our children to have a diet solely made up of potato chips and cookies simply because they complain about the rich nourishment of what is provided to them. We can apply the same principle to what nourishes their mind and souls.
- Your own attitude is worth its weight in gold. I can find the cause of many of my own homeschooling struggles when I direct my attention to my own attitude. You can't force another human to learn, and you can't control how another person feels or reacts to something good. But, you can ensure that you have a posture of wonder and that you use words that convey that you are grateful to get to spend time with your children nourishing your mind on the best ideas of the best minds in history, and the phenomenal command of the English language displayed in a poem.
- Loving poetry is a marathon, not a sprint. Every poem matters, and every moment that you spend breeding good taste and cultivating rightfully ordered affections adds up to much.
- Keeping poetry lessons synthetic ensures that a love will grow; fragmenting poetry hinders that growth. Poetry, in the younger years, should simply be read. It holds its own power, and its power isn't diminished if it isn't fully understood. Every word need not be defined, and the ideas within a poem can rightly be interpreted in more than one way. Just read. Enjoy. Experience.
And, allow poetry to form you and become a part of you in a way that only poetry can do.
There is time for understanding and composing after a foundation of synthetic enjoyment.
Practices for Poetry Lessons
*Note: Everything that I present as a practice is rooted within Mason's volumes and programmes, and my extensive research within them. However, these are MY practices developed from what I know about what Mason recommended and also from my own thought, experience, and knowledge.
- Maintain two "streams" of poetry. This is optional, but I often recommend it when a mom or family wants to use a beloved poetry anthology (a book of poetry by many poets). I recommend this because a poetry anthology is wonderful, but if we solely read anthologies then we miss out on the benefit of getting to know a single artist by immersion into his work for an entire term. I have found it to be great practice to have a two "streams" of poetry within our school lessons so that we can enjoy both a poetry anthology and also get to know single poets over time. I have done this in a few ways:
1. Use anthologies at Tea Time, and a single poet within lessons.
2. Read our term's single poet each school day except for the last day of the week, and then read from our anthology.
3. Read our term's poet on one school day, an anthology on another, and seasonal poetry on the other (we have 3 day school weeks, plus a co-op day).
- One Poet Per Term
Mason didn't specify this, but I find it to be of great value. For a couple of years, I watched my children getting to know a single artist and a single composer at a time, and becoming familiar with their work, through Picture Study and Composer Study. But, they weren't getting to know poets in the same way. I immediately aligned my poetry lessons to be much like my Picture Study and Composer Study lessons, and I have never looked back. It has allowed them get to know poets and their work, and to be able to attribute a poem to its author like they can a painting to its artist and a sonata to its composer.
- 1 Poem Each Day. Poems are potent. A single poem will give the mind much to work with.
- Just Read (Don't require narration). Poetry is the one thing that Mason instructed there to be no required narration of, and this is for good reason. Poetry is a language all its own, and the mind works with it differently than with prose. It ruminates, and its power is subtle and often slow. Poetry can do its work within the mind by just being read. If your children have an observation or are bursting with something to say, you can certainly let them. But, don't require anything.
- Repeat poems.
- Finish the term with a biography of the poet.
- Use one poem by the term's poet as the term's recitation piece.
- Combine types of poetry throughout your year (modern poetry for a term, nonsense poetry for a term, and a naturalist poet for a term, for example). Don't read a single type of poetry every term.
- Start with nursery rhymes, always. It is of great value, no matter how old your children are, to spend at least a year in nursery rhymes before moving on to other poetry. Nursery Rhymes are the breeding ground for the type of thought and the navigation of the English language that poetry requires of us. Plus, they're just really fun! :)
- Go OUTSIDE of your own comfort zone. Taste is bred, and you CAN stretch and grow your own affections. Sure, you will always have favorites. And some things will never be your absolute delight. But, everything good and true and beautiful deserves the effort it takes to grow an affection and respect for it.
- Use anthologies for:
Tea Time, Morning Time, Evening Basket, Family Time, Sunday Reading, Mealtimes
- Use Seasonal Poetry at the beginning of each month as a special treat.
- Use thematic poetry for special units or within other lessons throughout your school week (Space Poetry during a Special Studies lesson on the solar system, for example)
Also, if you'd like to explore these ideas, you can listen to my interview with Crystal from Triumphant Learning, on the All in a Homeschool Day Podcast.
How to Add Poetry and Recitation to Your Homeschool