A while back, I began taking a more Charlotte Mason-esque approach to homeschooling and realized that poetry would need to be part my children's education. I started with my fifth grader and 100 Best-Loved Poems. It was horrifying.
I tried to get away with just assigning a poem for him to read through each week. But he wanted to know what they actually meant. "I...well....hmmm...um....isn't it snack time yet?"
I started to wonder if the authors even had a meaning behind some of their poems. After reading Kubla Khan, I was convinced the author was writing out of a drug induced stupor and couldn't himself explain what his poem was about. I didn't insist on him exploring the meanings very deeply after reading that poem.
Next, I introduced my first grader to A Child's Garden of Verses, with the most delightful illustrations by Tasha Tudor. It was delicious to behold and not totally unpleasant to read. And then a strange thing happened: Honor started telling people that POETRY (!) was her favorite subject in school. I purposed to pay more attention to whatever I might be doing correctly in those poetry lessons.
All we did was read a poem through, stop and discuss it line by line, and explore the illustrations on each page. I began writing out our discussions as lesson plans for the youngest to go through the next year. And then a truly strange and miraculous thing happened; I began to enjoy the poetry readings myself. I had always enjoyed the cuddle time and discussions with my daughter, but the poetry had only been the necessary medicine I had to endure. Now, it was something I looked forward to!
But Robert Louis Stevenson's children poems are a long way from Kubla Khan. I doubted I would ever understand grown-up poetry, let alone appreciate it. And if I couldn't understand it, how could I possibly teach it? I feared it was too late for my older boys to discover a love for any poetry beyond Dr. Seuss. How wrong I was!
Classical Academic Press put out a book called The Art of Poetry and it is impossibly perfect. The book is written in a way that helps you see things simply but is in no way written to make you feel simple. It is not watered down nor does it speak down to its reader. Instead, it opens doors and teaches students (of all ages) how to see and understand poetry for themselves.
Poetry had always been intimidating to me, but this book made it more than accessible. It made it enjoyable. I began the book with my 8th grade son. He was more than capable of doing the lessons by himself, but I always enjoy an excuse to spend one on one time with him and, quite frankly, I needed the accountability if I was actually going to learn the art of poetry for myself.
The lessons in the book are simple enough; a different element of poetry is introduced in each chapter and students read poems that contain those elements. After reading the poem, students answer a handful of questions designed to help the student recognize the elements taught and to appreciate different aspects of each poem. There are 16 chapters in the book and each chapter ends with guided activities that help students apply what they have learned.
The Teacher's Guide has answers to these questions and it was invaluable. There are many classes that I skip using a Teacher's Manual, but this would not be possible with these lessons. I cannot emphasize enough how helpful the guide was to me. In fact, if you are on a budget or if you are an adult learner, it would be easily possible to use only the Teacher's Edition and not need the Student Guide.
My son, who had absolutely no exposure to poetry before this book, understood and enjoyed these lessons. It was not poetry that caused him to enjoy the lessons. He watched his brother struggle through poetry lessons the year before. He saw his mother's lips curl during these lessons. He had no love for poetry before this book. It astounded me how quickly he was able to grasp the meaning of the lessons. His answers were much deeper than I had ever given him credit for being able to come up with before. I can honestly say that we both look forward to these lessons now.
If you would like to see a sample from the student book, it is available on the Classical Academic Press website, as well as other helpful links.
If you are interested, both books are on sale for 20% off from now until the end of December!
And just to clarify: I still detest Kubla Khan and everything he was smoking. It is one poem I doubt I will ever learn to appreciate.