If you have been following our Language Arts series from the beginning, you will remember that Charlotte Mason approached language arts in a balanced two-pronged way: first, she integrated many language arts skills into regular school subjects; and second, she taught some skills with specific language arts lessons.
We’re about to wrap up the series. Today we’ll discuss another specific language arts lesson: poetry. (And we’ll throw in Shakespeare too.) Next week we’ll finish up with how Charlotte taught English Grammar.
I hope these little peeks into Charlotte’s language arts program have reassured you that teaching language arts doesn’t have to be complicated and drawn out. A few power-packed methods can accomplish much!
Most moms I talk to have an aversion to poetry because their experience in school was a teacher who required them to analyze a poem to death. They had to search for all the symbolism and potential hidden meanings, and analyze the poem’s meter and rhythmical patterns, and perform other such exercises that can completely squelch the joy of poetry.
Charlotte’s approach to poetry was quite different. She wanted her students (and teachers) to enjoy the exquisite use of words. She believed that poetry is the highest form of literature. So she introduced the poet to the student and got out of the way, much the same as she did with other authors, artists, and composers.
Ways to Use Poetry
So how do you teach poetry in a Charlotte Mason way? Here are some ways that Charlotte tucked little poetry lessons into her program.
Read poems aloud often.
Charlotte recommended reading poetry daily. Good poetry. Not twaddle.
Occasionally assign a poem to be memorized and/or recited.
Model and give your children practice speaking beautiful words in a beautiful way.
Focus on one poet.
Just as Charlotte would focus on one artist or one composer for several weeks, so she recommended focusing on one poet for several weeks to help your child get a “feel” for that poet’s style.
Ask for a narration of a poem.
Just as you would with any literature piece, read a poem and ask your child to narrate it in his own words.
Use simple poems for beginning reading lessons.
Charlotte mentioned “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as an example.
Include nature poems in your nature notebook.
Charlotte explained that “the magic of poetry makes knowledge vital, and children and grown-ups quote a verse which shall add blackness to the ashbud, tender wonder to that ‘flower in the crannied wall,’ a thrill to the song of the lark” (Vol. 6, p. 328).
Copy a favorite stanza from a poem for copywork.
The entire poem may become too long a task for a beginning writer, so allow him to select a favorite stanza from the poem to copy.
Ask your older student to write a narration in poetry form.
Charlotte began asking her students to write some of their narrations as poems when they were about eleven to fifteen years old. She would use this exercise to also reinforce the style of some poet or poem they were familiar with, asking them to write their narration in that style. (You can find several examples of narrations written in poetry form in Hearing and Reading, Telling and Writing: A Charlotte Mason Language Arts Handbook.)
Study a Shakespeare play.
Shakespeare does not have to be intimidating if you follow these three easy steps:
Read the lines from the play in Shakespeare’s words.
Watch a performance of the play—either live or recorded—that is as close to the original as possible.
Don’t let your bad experiences with poetry rob your children of the joy it can bring if done correctly. Try some of Charlotte’s little poetry lessons, and watch your child grow to love beautiful words presented in a beautiful way.