Read Aloud Thursday: Memorizing Poetry

I have made John memorize poetry since first grade and David has joined him this year as well. It’s not always his favorite activity but it is one from which I see a lot of benefit. Both boys seem to have a natural talent for memorization and find it fairly easy. However, I’ve seen John’s natural ability sharpened by challenging him to memorize more complex and longer poems. John is a bit shy and when we first started memorizing poems he would get very nervous about reciting the poem even for close family members. Now he looks forward to the recitation and often comes up with his own gestures and movements to interpret the poem. As a homeschooler there aren’t a lot of ways to push him out of his comfort zone a bit and get him used to speaking in front of people (something I also find very stressful but that I think is important to be able to do) so I appreciate that poetry recitation is one way to do just that.

Perhaps the most important reason in my mind is for the boys to have an internal voice that speaks poetry as well as prose. Will they remember every poem they memorize? Probably not. However, I hope they remember parts of poems. I hope snatches of phrases like “the crooked sea beneath him crawls” and “His mother only, in her maiden bliss,  worshipped the beloved with a kiss” and “so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow” stick in their hearts and rattle around in their brains.

Figuring out how to find poems to memorize and how to go about the process can be a little overwhelming at first. Which is why I’m happy to recommend this new anthology of poems edited by Mary Ann Hoberman, former children’s poet laureate of the United States (and author of one of our favorite books ever). At the beginning and end she offers some brief thoughts on poetry memorization and some brief guidance on how to go about the process of memorizing. In between is a wide selection of poems of every type organized nicely into categories. There are poems ranging from a few lines to several pages in length. There are funny poems and sad poems and scary poems.  Many great poets are represented including Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost and Hoberman herself. The illustrations by Michael Emberley provide a perfect accompaniment to the poems. My boys often picked a poem to read based on the picture and then found they really liked the poem itself.

Forget Me Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart has been nominated for a Cybil in the poetry category. Tomorrow I’ll share some of the poems we have memorized and a little bit more about how the boys work on learning their poems by heart.

Stop by Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word for more great books to read with your kids.


12 thoughts on “Read Aloud Thursday: Memorizing Poetry

  1. Adding this one to my wish list! We sort of fell off the poetry memorization wagon but I’m trying to push us back on to it!

  2. I will definitely check out that book, it sounds amazing! I have a suggestion for pushing your boys out of their comfort zone with public speaking. Ask your children’s librarian to let them recite a couple of poems to a storytime group. I would love to have older children come to my library and help with the little ones. I get nervous talking in front of adults but little eyes and ears can see and hear no wrong, so they’re the perfect audience. I’m definitely NOT as nervous publicly speaking anymore after having a captive audience (of littlies) for the past 6 years!

  3. This book looks great! My 5 year old just memorized his first poem beyond nursery rhymes, and is very excited, but will only recite it for me. I had to get a video of him for dad to see. Yet he loved showing his nature journal to his new friend. I think I’m going to ask our extended family at the holidays to let him share one or two things of his choice–art, poetry, nature journal. He has a couple of cousins that are homeschooled, so maybe we can do a small presentation. Then we can work our way up to more public speaking.

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  5. This book looks great, and I always hoped that poetry memorization would feature in our homeschool but it hasn’t happened yet (beyond some things that have been “accidentally” memorized through repetition! This and the next post inspire me to make poetry memorization a priority at our house.

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