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.