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How and Why My Kindergartener Memorizes Poetry

poems for kids to recite

Over the last year, I’ve mentioned that part of Ella’s homeschool schedule is memorizing poetry.

A few people have asked for more details on the hows and whys, and since April is National Poetry Month, I figured now would be the time to do so.

why i teach my kids poetry

I grew up memorizing poems.

I can still recite the entire The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, a skill that has come in handy more than . . . okay, actually never. I memorized all 17 stanzas of The Highway Man when I was in elementary school, and if you’re familiar with the classic Anne of Green Gables movie, you’ll recognize it as the poem she recites and Gilbert gives her a standing ovation at the end (and now I need to go watch the whole thing again).

I also memorized all 300+ lines of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and countless other shorter poems – some famous and some not.

So, of course, it just seemed natural to me that I would add short poems to memorize as part of our curriculum when we started homeschooling.

poems for kids to memorize

I hadn’t memorized much of anything in the last decade or two, but then when Ella started it up, I began memorizing poems with her and I’d forgotten how much I loved it.

It feels really good to stretch my brain a little bit, and I loved having the language of these lovely poems rolling around in my brain while I did mindless tasks.

I’ve also found that when I memorize a poem, I feel much more connected to that poet – after memorizing Daffodils by William Wordsworth when I was five or six, I’ve always loved his poetry.

Each week, we pick a new poem (unless it’s a little longer, in which case we do two weeks). We usually pick something from National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar! or Poems to Learn by Heart. We switch back and forth between who picks – I tend to choose ones written by famous poets and Ella likes the funny, short poems the best.

poems for kids to memorize

how to memorize a poem

Each day we learn a few lines or a stanza, depending on the rhythm and meter of the poem, and we recite it four or five times until we have it down. She’ll recite it once or twice, then she’ll look at the book while I take a turn and she’ll correct me if any words are wrong. When I was child, I remember my dad writing the poem on the whiteboard and then erasing a few words each time until I could say the whole thing with nothing written on the board.

It’s an easy way to introduce different kinds of poetry and styles and poets, and I love the rich vocabulary she learns because of it.

To my surprise, Ani picks up most of the poems too. After Ella recited The Pasture by Robert Frost to me one week, Ani asked if she could recite to too. I said yes, assuming she’d make it through one line, maybe two. And then she rattled off the entire thing with only one tiny misstep, and I just about died of the cuteness.

short poems to memorize

Maybe Star has them memorized too, but since she doesn’t speak yet, I guess I’ll never know.

And I couldn’t help but make a little video of Ella reciting a few of them.

If you have favorite poems or tips for helping your child memorize poetry, I’d love for you to share them!

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  1. Thanks for sharing the video! Wonderful job, Ella! One of my favorite poems is The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson. I used to have the second graders use it as a typing practice piece. My mom used to love Ogden Nash's poetry and they are fun to learn. Tell me, o octopus, I begs, is those things arms or is they legs? I marvel at thee, octopus. If I were thou, I'd call me us!
    Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky are also favorites. Did I give you the Julie Andrews book of poetry? It was a book I liked giving for baby showers.

  2. This is awesome and I could not agree with you more! My almost five year old is in the process of memorizing "The Children's Hour" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It's a classic and it's beautiful. And I love the mispronunciation of certain "harder" words like turret and banditti. 😉
    Love your "Anne of Green Gables" reference too!

  3. The second you mentioned the Owl and The Pussycat, it's like I was hit with an epiphany, and all the words flooded into my brain. I memorized poetry as a child too, and had completely forgotten that I had that one completely tucked away. I think memorizing as a child was such a great activity and so helpful for later life. It was all self motivated, as I owned a great amount of poetry books (thanks mom and dad!) and had little challenges in school. I also memorized piano pieces and historical documents if you're ever looking to switch it up.

  4. I tend not to enjoy poetry, but just the other day when I was out for a run I was thinking I should memorize some. One thing I read said to measure your effort by reciting something outloud, or holding a conversation, and since I was alone it felt very awkward to hold a conversation. I was horrified to realize the only thing I still have memorized is the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord's Prayer, and the first few lines of Gone with the Wind.

  5. my absolute favorite poems are "A Child's Garden of Verses" by Robert Louis Stevenson. reading them totally brings back childhood memories of siting in bed, reading them over and over.

  6. Emmy was SUPER into that video. She sat on my lap and we watched it twice while she giggled. The cutest.

    Jones's preschool teacher had them memorize a poem each week (I think? Maybe each month). They were pretty short poems but I remember being like, "Um, what." when she told us that requirement. And then he totally LOVED it and rocked each poem. I think high school english classes turned me off poetry but doing preschool poetry reminded me that poems are really quite enjoyable.

  7. This is such a great idea! I love like you said that it really broadens her vocabulary… Also she'll be well prepared for scripture mastery in high school 😉 Also, how cut is Ella in that video?! I die.

  8. Ahhhh she's so cute! We didn't grow up memorizing poetry but I did have to memorize the preamble to the constitution in 5th grade and yep, I can still rattle that off 20 years later without batting an eye.

  9. I love this idea! We don't home school our kids (though seeing you and others do it does intrigue me). But the thought of all the new vocabulary from poetry is so true and one I hadn't really thought about. I just bought both the books you recommended. Thanks for the idea!

  10. Oh my goodness, she is adorable! I never really discovered a love for poetry, but I want to. I think I'll pick up a couple of anthologies at the library this afternoon.

  11. I think I just died of cuteness!!! Ella reciting poetry is adorable! I think it's a wonderful idea to teach her poetry. I just begun reading poetry to my toddler. We are currently reading through "Childcraft, vol.1 Poems and Rhymes." Are you familiar with these old-school books? I inherited mine from my dad (it's a 1950's edition) and it's delightful! There are tons of classic poems with adorable illustrations. My daughter also loves "The Swing," by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Julia Morstad. http://www.amazon.com/The-Swing-Robert-Louis-Stevenson/dp/1897476485 It's adorable! I can't help but recite it every time she's on a swing 🙂

    Finally, given the Anne Shirley reference, I couldn't help but wonder if you're familiar with the illustrated version of Tennyson's "Lady of Shallot." It's gorgeous! http://www.kidscanpress.com/series/visions-poetry

  12. So fun! My five-year-old sounds like Linus from Charlie Brown, and we recorded him reciting Linus's Christmas speech and sent it to grandparents last year for part of their Christmas present. It's amazing what their minds can do! I'll have to get him started on something else 🙂

  13. Love this. Hearing the words really makes you appreciate language differently. One of my favorite books growing up was Poetry Speaks, which has the audio of poets reading their own works. If you haven't already looked into it, it sounds like something you and Ella would enjoy.

  14. Oh I love this and sweet Ella. We do poems too and it is so rewarding. Nell does them for homeschool but we also let all of the girls use a memorized poem to make up for a missed check mark on their chores list that week. I love watching them pace the floors trying to get a poem to stick.

  15. I used to memorize poetry when I was little, and on a recent trip back home I was browsing a book store with my little girl and found a book which I had memorized years and years ago… and I still remembered it by heart! So I bought it for her. It was only logical. 😉

  16. I'm dying over the cuteness. I loved that first poem, especially how she slowed down at the end. Shannon memorized it in first grade but I didn't video it. Hope you can keep filming these, it will be a brilliant collection to look back on when she's older. Even if she only did one or two a year on her birthday. I needed to take more video of little kid voices.

    Sienna and I were memorizing a poem earlier this summer and she found it hilarious when I'd forget a word she remembered. Really motivated her to keep going. We often toss a stuffed animal between us as a baton for the speaker. Say a few words, then toss it for the kid's turn.

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