Have you ever mentioned poetry and heard a groan? Every single time I told my students we’d be starting a poetry unit, the room filled with a chorus of nos. My students, like many people, found poetry boring and hard to understand. Poetry was a language they believed they did not speak.
I understood exactly where they were coming from. Until I took a teaching writing class in college, I stayed as far away from poetry as I could. What changed? Thanks to writing teachers, mentors, and poets, I learned how to approach poetry with curiosity instead of the idea that I needed to find a hidden meaning. I learned there are lots of ways to read and interpret poetry, and no one but the poet knows its exact meaning.
Best of all, I learned the importance of sharing this knowledge with my students. The groans about poetry in my classroom were short-lived thanks to my favorite ways to get kids reading and enjoying poetry.
Georgia Heard, in her book Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, says, “Poetry, like bread, is for everyone.” She says poetry can, “help our students open their eyes to the beauty of the earth, restore a belief in the power of language, and help them begin to understand the truths inside them.”
Poetry is a language we all speak. We just have to find the poetry within us.
Read a Variety of Poetry
One of the best ways to help kids learn and enjoy poetry is to read poetry to them and with them. There are many wonderful poetry books for children and teens. Seek those out first. Filled with themes and images kids can relate to, a good poem speaks to us.
Read a variety of poetry. Well known poetry such as Shakespeare’s sonnets and Robert Frost poems are fine, but don’t limit yourselves. Websites like poets.org and The Poetry Foundation have large collections of poetry from every time period and on every subject. Search a subject your child finds interesting and simply read poetry for the sheer joy of it. Collect the ones they like to play with later.
BookShark Language Arts has you covered here. Each level includes a volume of poetry and schedules your poetry reading in the Instructor's Guide. You don't have to integrate poetry into your homeschool. It's already done for you! Here are a few examples:
- Favorite Poems of Childhood in Level B All-Subject Package for ages 6-8
- Child's Introduction to Poetry in Level D All-Subject Package for ages 8-11
- Classic Poetry in Level H All-Subject Package for ages 12-14
- A Treasury of Poetry for Young People in Level I All-Subject Package for ages 13-15
Find the Lines You Love
Print out poems and read them aloud with your children. Underline words and phrases you like. Share with each other which lines caught your ear or attention. Often time these lines are the ones that say something meaningful about the poem.
Go on an Imagery Hunt
Poetry is filled with imagery: words that appeal to our five senses. Read a poem together and find all the words or phrases that you can hear, see, touch, taste, and smell. Come up with your own list of words that appeal to each sense. Maybe create your own poem with them.
Play with Figurative Language
One of the best ways to help kids learn about poetic language is to get them writing. Write metaphors and similes together. Write lines with personification and hyperbole. Let them choose the subjects—silly or serious—and play with words.
Find Out Where Poetry Hides
A wonderful lesson in Georgia Heard’s book asks students to think about the different places they can find poetry. Make a list with your kids of all the things a poem could be about. Where might a poem be hiding? Maybe it is hiding in the creek, in the recycling, in grandma’s cooking, or maybe a poem is hiding under the bed. Get excited about where poems hide, and your kids will get excited too. When you find one, write it down.
You might be asking what about standardized tests, college English classes, assignments that ask for a poet’s interpretation?
Once your child enjoys reading poetry (and maybe writing it, too), you can dig into the more complex aspects of poetry like rhyme scheme and analysis. Your children and teens will no longer groan about reading poetry. They will have experience appreciating poetry which means they will be confident and more prepared to find the hidden meaning, if it turns out there is one.
About the Author
Kelly left teaching middle and high school English to homeschool her children and reclaim how she and her family spent their time. Followers of interest-led learning, her family's days rarely look the same, but they tend to include a lot of books, art supplies, and time outside.
Kelly facilitates local writing circles for women and children and blogs about nurturing the love of learning on her blog, Curiosity Encouraged. She loves to journal, read memoirs, hike, and travel. She seeks quiet mornings and good coffee daily.