Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Importance of Poetry...

Over on Instagram @charlottemasonirl, they're talking poetry this week. So, today I thought I'd share here some things we've used for poetry study over the past few years as a supplement to my IG post. I'll try to answer some of the questions they posed.

What is the purpose of poetry?

Poetry teaches us to speak beautiful words in a beautiful way. It originated as a way to pass on history and stories from one generation to the next through tales and epics. It was a means of enabling remembrance. In Vol. 5, Formation of Character, Charlotte Mason says....
Poetry takes first rank as a means of intellectual culture. (p. 224)
There are many benefits to studying poetry. Poetry is rhythmic. There are patterns of sound in it's iambs and meters. Even very young children who may not always understand the meaning of the words in a poem, can feel the rhythm and beat of a well-read poem. I read somewhere that poetry is the most kinesthetic of all literature. I believe that's why nursery rhymes are such a wonder to children. And, rhyming is actually an important early reading skill. Poetry also builds vocabulary. It encourages thinking. As students get older, analyzing poetry to find the author's intent can be very rewarding. Poetry can help us to understand the abstract. It puts words to feelings through imagery and personification. Sir Philip Sidney, an Elizabethan poet, said, "The purpose of poetry, is to instruct and delight."

How do we learn it?

In Charlotte's schools, poetry was read aloud and enjoyed frequently. The students narrated occasionally, but not after every reading as in other subjects. A variety of poets were studied, perhaps one, for a period of time - "at least a year". The children memorized and recited poetry each term. Poetry was used for copy work and dictation. Charlotte believed the students could deepen their character from studying heroic and noble poems. Charlotte also qualified Shakespeare as part of her student's poetry study. We have studied poetry through a variety of ways in our homeschool, including a simple reading, recitation, narration, illustration and re-writing. 

What resources do you use?

In the preschool years, I love to read aloud nursery rhymes. In early elementary, books like A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and A.A. Milne's When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six were favorites. Once Riley was old enough to read poetry for herself, we started following Ambleside Online's poetry rotation, studying a different poet through each 12-week term. For this, she used the Poetry for Young People... series. Riley also completed one year of Micheal Clay Thompason Language Arts by Royal Fireworks Press in which she completed a more formal Poetics Program, learning about the elements of poems and such things as patterns of sound, meter, stanza, figures of speech, poetic techniques, and meaning. This year, in 8th grade, Riley used the The Oxford Book of English Verse ed. by Arthur Quiller-Couch, reading approximately three poems per week. She then chose one of those poems to re-write in modern English. 

I have used some of the same resources listed above with Ruben in the early years. However, last year, he studied Robert Frost for the entire year. Each week, he read and illustrated a different poem. He then copied a verse to go with his illustration. 

Somewhere around 5th grade, Riley read Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. Last year, I studied an actual Shakespeare play with Riley and Ruben, reading Julius Caesar. First we read it using the Oxford School Shakespeare edition. Then we watched the movie with Marlon Brando. This year we are studying Macbeth, much in the same way. First, I read aloud Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare story. Now, we are reading the play from the Oxford School Shakespeare, taking turns reading the parts. When we are finished, I will most likely find a movie edition to watch. We typically spend one 12-week term on the play. We do not cover Shakespeare every term, but rather, one play per year. I like the exposure and flexibility this schedule affords us. 

One other source of verse we have used in our homeschool is poetry as history and biography. Marilyn Nelson's biography of George Washington Carver is written in a series of lyrical poems. We read it as part of our Beautiful Feet Modern American and World study. Also, in 8th grade, my older homeschool graduate read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, as part of Sonlight's Core 100. Out of the Dust is a story that takes place during the Dust Bowl. It is written from the 14-year old protagonist's point of view as a series of "free-floating" verses, much like the Oklahoma dust. I remember my daughter really loving the story. We have also read retellings of The Iliad, The Odyssey and Beowulf. These retellings are the original source of poetry that I mentioned above used as a means of remembering history. They are the key to understanding cultures of the past. 

Memorization and Recitation

I have coached my children in recitation throughout the years in fits and spurts. Angel and Riley have both participated in public speaking events where they recited poetry. At one point, we gathered with another home educating family and the kids took turns performing their recitations. It has since fallen by the wayside, but I aim to pick back up and do more of this in the future. 

My Favorite Poet

Lastly, one of my favorite poets for children is Eugene Field. I remember Wynken, Blynken and Nod being read aloud to me before bed as a little girl. It's probably my all time favorite poem because of the memory it sparks. I can still recite verses from it even though I was never asked, nor required to. It is a poem, my older daughter memorized and recited in a 4-H competition many years ago. Ruben and I studied the poetry of Eugene Field a couple years back. I personally love poems that rhyme and/or poems that tell a story. 

When I think back, we have already studied more poetry and Shakespeare than I set out to or ever seemed possible. Be encouraged as these are not things we do all at one time, but rather, a little at a time. They have provided a slow progression in building a love of poetry for my children. I believe spreading the feast over the years makes for a beautiful well-rounded education. Slow and steady wins the race!

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