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Poetry for Homeschoolers

Isabel Shaw

Take the Plunge


Parents who homeschool their children face many challenges, and teaching poetry is certainly one of them! Recalling their own school experiences, many parents remember poetry lessons as boring and even painful. Endless analysis, forced memorization, and having little or no choice about the poetry studied are all part of that picture. Thankfully, kids who learn at home don't have to learn the way we did. They have the freedom to explore an array of resources designed to encourage budding poets (and assist teaching parents).

But first you must get past the idea that teaching or understanding poetry requires special training. The truth is, if you can read and appreciate a book or short story, you can — with a little guidance — introduce your kids to the wonder and beauty of poetry. The reward? A glimpse into the soul of the writer and a chance to experience the world through the poet's eyes.

Still feeling insecure? Help is just a click away. "How to Read and Understand Poetry" (CD-Rom, $49.95. Available at www.learningservicesinc.com.) provides a comprehensive poetry program with extensive readings from the world's greatest poets.

Exploring Poetry Together


Reading a poem aloud and encouraging your child to speak it aloud will help you experience the beauty of the message. Read the entire piece with your child, and then read it again. For older kids, keep a good dictionary handy and look up unfamiliar words.

Be careful not to overanalyze or dissect a piece, especially with younger children. "Until children are old enough to take pleasure in the sound and sentiment of poetry, there is little reason to study it technically," explains E.D. Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy. Hirsch goes on, "A child's knowledge of poetry should come first from pleasure and only later from analysis." He advises parents to be respectful of the craft that went into making the poem, rather than isolating words and phrases and analyzing them. "Acknowledge that the poet carefully chose and arranged certain words, just as a painter would carefully choose certain paints." Knowing a little about the writer sometimes helps us understand the message, but a good poem should stand alone.

It's important to find poetry appropriate for your family. For instance, my younger daughter loves bugs. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (for ages 9-12) by Paul Fleishman is filled with funny poems about insects, written for two readers to enjoy together. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (ages 6 and up) by T.S. Eliot should be on every cat-lover's reading list. Would you like to incorporate a little math in your poetry? You'll find clever poems celebrating angles, fractals, Fibonacci numbers, and googols in Math Talk: Mathematical Ideas in Poems for Two Voices (ages 8 and up) by Theoni Pappas.

Poetry Books Age by Age


Little Kids
Even babies enjoy the rhythm and rhyme of poetry, from Mother Goose to Dr. Seuss. A Frog Inside My Hat: A First Book of Poems by Cyd Moore and A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson are good choices for the pre-K to eight-year-old set. Where Fish Go in Winter by Amy Goldman Koss cleverly answers over a dozen kids' questions (like, "How do birds fly?") with poetry.

Ages 6 through 12
For a reluctant reader, try any book by Shel Silverstein (ages 6+). Falling Up, A Light in the Attic, andWhere the Sidewalk Ends are hilarious and sure to captivate. The Harp and the Laurel Wreath (Laura M. Berquist, ed.) includes beautiful poems that fit nicely into a classical curriculum. The editor of A Child's Anthology of Poetry, (Elizabeth Hauge Sword, ed.), warns parents "not to underestimate the ability of their children to understand poetry." This book belongs in every homeschool library.

Teens and Older
The Norton Anthology of Poetry is the definitive poetry book for teen through college years. The Invisible Ladder: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poems for Young Readers (Liz Rosenberg, ed.) is a powerful collection of poems by writers like Allen Ginsberg, Alice Walker, and Robert Bly. A Poem a Day (Karen McCosker and Nicholas Albery, eds.) includes 366 memorable poems from Blake to Yeats, with interesting notes about each poet.

Special Interest
Journey Through Heartsongs is a very special book written by Mattie J.T. Stepanek, an 11-year-old homeschooled boy and award-winning poet. His poems, influenced by the reality of living with muscular dystrophy, are filled with love and a deep desire for world peace. Don't miss this one.

Writing Poetry


Once your children are familiar with different types of poetry, it's time for them to make a little joyful noise of their own. Writing poetry is a wonderful way to improve vocabulary, spelling, and communication skills. Essential to the process is a good dictionary, a thesaurus, and a rhyming dictionary. Allow lots of time for ideas to flow, and revisions to be finalized.

The types of poems your kids write and their choice of subject matter will depend on their interests and learning styles. Be flexible and avoid negative comments if their first attempts are less than successful. Encourage but don't push — not all kids like writing, and that's okay. For more ideas, suggestions, and guidance, try these resources:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Poetry by Nikki Moustaki. A complete guide for all ages, explained in a friendly but thorough manner.
How to Write Poetry by Paul B. Janeczko. Here's an idea-packed handbook that parents can use for younger kids, and older kids can use on their own.
Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises by Stephen Dunning and William Stafford. These clear, concise exercises are geared for the serious poetry student.
Poetry Writing Handbook: Definitions, Examples, Lessons by Greta Barclay Lipson. This detailed workbook for kids in grades 4-6 has simple instructions and lots of space for hands-on activities.
Poetry.com. Have your work published online and enter a daily poetry contest.

Homeschooling provides a wonderful environment for young poets to thrive. In today's world, quiet and privacy are rare commodities that are essential for creative self-expression. Tori Bryk, a 12-year-old homeschooler and accomplished poet, sent me this hauntingly beautiful poem:

Shall I?

Shall I wait in the shadows
Shall I wait in the dark
Shall I wait in the bitterness
Waiting for a spark

Shall I wait in the distance
Shall I wait in the near
Shall I wait in the wrong
Waiting for it to be clear

Shall I wait in the crimson
Shall I wait in the blue
Shall I wait in the useless
Waiting for you

Shall I wait in the fire
Shall I wait in the cold
Shall I wait in the crowds
Waiting to receive my soul

— Tori Bryk (2002)

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September 1, 2014



Don't forget to hydrate! Forego sugary juices and sodas and pack a bottle of water in your child's lunch. If your child likes a little more flavor, spice it up with lemon, lime, cucumbers, or fresh fruit.


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