Would you like to hear your children spontaneously quoting stanzas of poetry? (Real, meter-and-rhyme verses about real things?) I know I do! And when certain poems become a part of your family experience, quoting snippets at each other can be like an affirmation of love.
What surprises me into gratitude is how easily – not quite accidentally, but with very little stress – it happened for my family.
Now poetry, like calamari, is not for everyone, so don’t add this to a list of things good parents should do. And I think a love of poetry is more alchemy than science, so I’m not claiming that we discovered a guaranteed process. But my family owes much to the beautiful collection, A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Lewis Stevenson.
A treasure-trove of sixty-one poems, this book includes “Rain,” which is beautifully explicated by Zach Franzen here, and my kids’ most-quoted, “The Swing.”
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside –
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown –
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
—– —– —–
We hardly ever visit a playground without hearing that poem a couple of times!
Now if, as Roger Housden argues, poetry is valuable because it gives us fresh eyes, then it has the potential to call forth wonder and gratitude for the smallest things. And the poetry of Robert Lewis Stevenson does exactly this for the smallest people.
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Allison Redd says
We have this collection, but we haven’t really memorized entire poems yet. I’m curious as to what “not quite accidentally, but with very little stress” looks like in practice.
Did you just read them to your kids over and over? Or did you focus on one particular poem for, say, a week? Do you have them purposefully memorize them and recite them, or just kind of listen to them enough times to say it on their own?
I have 6 and 4 year olds (and a toddler) so I’m just asking b/c I feel so new at this, but would love for poetry to be a daily part of our routine. 🙂
James Witmer says
Allison, I had to appeal to my wife to make sure I got the story straight. She says:
“We started by just reading it. Sometimes it is a bit awkward for kids to listen to poetry, when they are used to listening to stories. It took a little more work at first to stop and “unpack” or explain some of the metaphors, ask them what the words make them think of, or just repeat it a few times. Our kids showed early interest in some of the rhyming poems. Anything that rhymes is much easier for a child to remember! They started wanting to say “The Swing” poem when we were out & I had to hurry to remember it so that I could give them the correct lines! That one came naturally because they were interested in it. But we have also learned some of the others, like “Rain,” and “Where go the boats,” by reading/saying them all together every morning for a week. It is amazing what their little minds can remember! Listening to a good recorded reading can be really helpful too. There are several for RL Stevenson works to choose from on Itunes.”
Hope this helps!
Peter B says
“The Swing” makes an appearance in an early Rocky & Bullwinkle episode. Maybe I need to revisit those.
Julie Silander says
Allison – You can print the poems out individually, using a nice font and leaving wide margins. As you read to your children, let them draw and color in the margins whatever comes to mind. It helps them engage the senses as well as the mind, so connections take place more easily. It also gives you a peek into what they’re hearing/seeing. Choose your favorites to frame for a gift, for their room, etc. or put them together in a book. They can make wonderful presents for grandparents.
Kimberlee Conway Ireton says
This is a wonderful idea! Thank you. I read poetry to my kids quite a bit (including RLS’s), but I’ve never incorporated drawing with it. I like the idea of making it multisensory….and then giving it to the grandparents 🙂
I loved his poetry and the artist now and as a child! RLS poems were one of the first I ever read and some of them are etched in my mind forever; like this one
At the Sea-side
When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.
My holes were empty like a cup.
In every hole the sea came up
Till it could come no more.
Julie Silander says
James, Thank you. I have this same copy from my childhood. FYI, there is a coloring book that I used when mine were younger and being introduced to the poems: http://www.amazon.com/Coloring-COLORING-Stevenson-Jun-01-77-Paperback/dp/B007SLLPN0/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1371739484&sr=8-2&keywords=child%27s+garden+of+verses+coloring+book
James Witmer says
Julie, very cool. Thank you!
Amy L says
I am exceptionally relieved to know now that calamari is not for everyone. If I had to choose between calamari and poetry, I’m fairly sure I’d choose poetry.
I’ve heard my son quote a line he liked from an opening poem of his “High Five” magazine. So that’s a good start.
James Witmer says
Ha! I’ll take poetry and calamari (extra hot, with extra garlic) when I can get it.
Neat that your son is showing interest on his own. Have fun with it!
We just checked this book out from the library a couple of weeks ago and LOVED it! It’s on my list to add to our collection. So fun to see this today! :o)
Thea Rosenburg says
This is one of our family’s favorites! Our copy has really lovely illustrations by (I think I have this right) Johanna Isles, and my daughters got into the spirit of things and composed a collaborative poem about the rear jacket illustration. You know it’s good poetry when you want to close the book to go off and compose your own poem.
Count me among those who had this edition growing up and loved it! I’m sad it fell off my radar when my own kids were younger.
I did not grow up with poetry and, like many others, felt intimidated by it for the longest time. But I stumbled upon the Facebook page of Julie Bogart one day, and before I knew it, I was gathered around our dining table one afternoon, conducting my family’s very first “Poetry Teatime”. Did it appeal to me? Yes. Did I think it would actually work? Not a chance. But…it did! It has become a beloved pastime for all four of my school-aged kids, and the routine is simple: brew a pot of tea (or coffee…or hot chocolate…or all three…), set out a plate of treats, and lay out a stack of poetry books. While the tea is guzzled and the treats are consumed, everyone takes turns thumbing through the poetry books and reading selections aloud. I can’t believe how fun it is, or how long the children will sit there, reading just one more poem! I’m still slightly intimidated by poetry, but of all the poets we’ve read, Robert Louis Stevenson is my favorite. He pinned down childhood, for sure, and I am sure that his works will prick me with that painfully beautiful sort of nostalgia when my children are grown.