Teaching Children Poetry Makes Them Smarter

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Poetry memorization imprints beautiful language into the hearts of children. Once a prominent subject in every language arts program, it’s a wonder why poetry is no longer taught in the public schools.

Yet, some of the most literate people I’ve known, both in their vast knowledge of the English language and in their colorful expression of thought, have been poets.

Whether schools offer lessons in  poetry or not, it’s something you should be teaching your children at home if you want to improve their language skills, enrich their minds; and even, on a more mundane level–not at all fitting for a discussion of poetry– improve their chances of getting into a better college.

In short, it makes them smarter.

What exactly do children gain from studying poetry, you might ask?

• extensive vocabulary building

• increase in general knowledge

• stimulation of the imagination

• learn creative syntax

• understand simile and metaphor

• versatility with language

As you can see, they gain a lot and all that they gain develops their minds. Let’s examine each benefit one by one.

Vocabulary

Looking down the road, and getting the mundane out of the way first, entry into colleges today is highly competitive. If you plan on your children entering a four-year university then good SAT or ACT scores are vital to the process, and part of what the children will be tested on is vocabulary.

Possessing a good vocabulary could give your child the edge he needs to score high.

Exposing children to an extensive vocabulary by reading poetry, especially words they may not learn anywhere else, and memorizing poetry will automatically build their vocabularies.

A larger vocabulary is also associated with higher intelligence, therefore, people who have larger vocabularies are perceived as being more intelligent than others.

Whether they are or not is another matter, but the larger vocabulary they possess at least shows that they are using their minds more which would improve their intelligence according to modern research.

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General Knowledge

Poets not only have an extensive working vocabulary, but they are well-read and much of their general knowledge about the world is found in their poetry. Hence, reading poetry increases a child’s general knowledge too.

Poetry is truer than history.
— Aristotle

Imagination

Poetry stimulates the imagination and evokes feelings we can’t always put into words, at least, not to the same effect. Memorizing poetry stirs the workings of the child’s heart.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Syntax

Poets know how to play with words, and they become masters of the figures of speech like no other.  It’s the ability to arrange words in original and powerful ways that makes some writers stand out above the rest. When children memorize poetry, they are memorizing the skilled writing of master poets.

Poetry is beautiful language distinguished by unusual and unforgettable words.
— David J. Hanson

The language of the poet stays in the children’s hearts and later emerges to influence their own use of language both written and spoken. Just the other day I was writing something and I automatically used the phrase “and above all else.” Why? Because long ago I had memorized a line of poetry that contained the same phrase.

Children who memorize and study poetry will be better speakers and writers having been influenced for life by the great poets both past and present.

Simile and Metaphor

As they get older, children will learn about the adornments of language through poetry: simile and metaphor;  both powerful tools in good writing and persuasive speech.

Versatility

Learning how to play with words to create original expressions of thought is the hallmark of the poet. I had a dear friend who has since left this world, Daniel Moore, and he was a great writer though mostly unrecognized during his time.

I seldom laughed as much with anyone as I did with him, because he was funny, but he also had such an enormous vocabulary and he knew how to play with words. Some of the things he used to say would not only have me in stitches, but I’d be silently marveling at his tremendous understanding of the English language.

He knew a lot of words, he knew their meanings, and he knew how to use them.

This is just some of what your children will get from studying and memorizing poetry.

When children memorize poetry, they are not only storing it in their minds, but also in their hearts. It becomes a part of them, and it shapes who they become.

In Gwynne’s Grammar, Mr. Gwynne begins his chapter on verse-writing by saying this:

Time was when even the most ordinary education included training in competence at writing verse.”

He uses this chapter to define and explain the rules of poetry according to the classical understanding. I’m going to uphold his position here and encourage you to choose good poetry for your children, not the free verse modern stuff that is mistakenly taken for poetry today.

I’ll leave you with a poem my father used to love by his favorite poet after Shakespeare.

The Road Not Taken 

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The Smart Homeschooler Academy will launch soon with its signature course: How to Give Your Child a Private-School Education at Home. Join the waiting list!

Elizabeth Y. Hanson combines her training in holistic medicine, parenting, plus 17+ years working in education, to provide you with a unique approach to raising and educating your children.

A veteran homeschooler herself, she now has two homeschooled children in college. 




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