Poetry Memorization

Poetry Memorization

You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket – John Adams


Andrew Pudewa* asserts that poetry is essential to linguistic development, and he means not just reading poetry, but memorizing poetry.

Why is that?

Well, unless you have poetry in your brain, you won’t be able to retrieve poetry from your brain. The assertion is that poetry helps students be better writers because to be a good writer, you need a good repertoire of vocabulary, syntax, and grammar, and you aren’t going to pull that out of thin air. You will have learned it and accumulated it by hearing or reading it, and moreover, by having internalized it. Without the internalization portion of that equation, it is less likely that you will write well. Case in point: I used to be a prolific writer and reader. I wrote endless journals both as a teenager and college student, and wrote pretty much everyday until I became a mother. At the same time, I read daily. I devoured books. Not blogs. If you go back and look through my journals (which, actually, I truly hope no one ever will), you will see my writing style changes as a reflection of whatever I was reading at the time. Nowadays, I hardly have time to read beyond the blogs I frequent, and this is largely, largely echoed in my writing. My writing is nowhere as good now as it was when I read quality literature nonstop.

Children repeat what they hear and sadly, a large portion of children hear mostly TV shows and songs. Neither of these will give children reliably correct, sophisticated, artistic repertoires of the English language. What better place to start than with poetry? Start with humorous poems that pull your children in and interest them. I started my 4 year old on Ooey Gooey with great success. He now has memorized more “serious” poems like Four By the Clock, but it took the first poem to get him interested in poetry. He delights in “showing off” by reciting his memorized poems. The memorization is not only going to help his English, and hopefully his writing one day, but it is giving him a sense of accomplishment from what he is capable of.

*We don’t use Andrew Pudewa’s poetry curriculum (just his writing curriculum) but the introduction of the poetry curriculum is available as a sample at his website and is a very good read.


How to Start?

I highly recommend something short and funny if you have never had your children memorize poetry before. This will make them memorize it quickly and then they will want to memorize more. Slowly increase the length of the poems. Pepper in some poems with a more serious tone. Keep reviewing the already memorized poems, because without review, they will disappear from memory.

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Where to Find Poems?

Andrew Pudewa has a sample list of poems from his poetry curriculum.
You can find an anthology of poems fairly easily at the library. My favorite anthology for children is this one by Random House because it has a nice variety of silly and serious poems, short and long poems, and modern and classic poems. We also have many of the titles from the Poetry for Young People picture book series, but if you can only get one book, go for an anthology. Bear started poetry memorization through First Language Lessons. This grammar program has built-in poetry memorization. If you already have a grammar program, but would like to see the poems from First Language Lessons, Jolanthe from Homeschool Creations has made printables of the poems.

A Parting Poem

I was never made to memorize poetry in school; however, I did inflict some poetry memorization on myself in third grade when I found the following poem in a book and felt it’s tug on my heart strings. I wanted that poem forever and the only way I knew to do that was to memorize it.

Keep a Poem in Your Pocket By Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

Keep a poem in your pocket
And a picture in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when you’re in bed.

The little poem will sing to you
The little picture bring to you
A dozen dreams to dance to you
At night when you’re in bed.

So —

Keep a picture in your pocket
And a poem in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when you’re in bed.

This is Day 3 of Five Days of Sharing Poetry with your Kids. Read the intro,  Day 1  and Day 2 if you haven’t already.