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In Celebration of Poetry
By: Lower School Director Elizabeth Zurlinden
One of my favorite photos of my children has them on different levels of an interior staircase, both grasping the wooden rail, as they headed to the second floor of the London home of Benjamin Franklin. They tease me now because they say I insisted they hold the stair rail because Franklin himself touched it. They are right. Just as I insisted they touch the pew in St. Paul’s Chapel where George Washington worshiped while serving as our nation’s first president and the brass knob on the blue door to enter Vincent Van Gogh’s home.
When traveling, I love to visit places that offer a physical connection to history, literature and art, and my visit to Amherst, Massachusetts and the home of Emily Dickinson is one of my favorites. Just like my children, I grasped the stairwell in the poet’s home as I ascended to the upstairs room where more than 1,800 hidden poems were discovered after Dickinson’s death. How incredible to stand in the room and walk the side yard where many of those poems were written. It’s the memory of the birthplace of the sweet poem, “Bee! I’m expecting you,” which makes me smile in this first week of April as we celebrate National Poetry Month.
In 1996, the Academy of American Poets created the month-long observance to celebrate poetry and the rich treasure the genre offers all ages. For thirty days we officially honor the impact of the literary form, from Green Eggs and Ham to “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
An Impactful Tool for Teaching
At Rossman, poetry is read and recited, discussed and analyzed throughout the year. Our youngest students learn about rhyme, pattern and repetition from many sources, including nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss and poetic literature, such as A House is a House for Me. First graders study many forms of poetry, such as Haiku, and spend weeks reading and writing poems, while they prepare to recite a favorite published poem by memory at their annual Poetry Party.
In third grade, students study poetic devices and author personal poems that they present at their Poetry Café. A book of poetry is created and published by each fourth grader after exploring a variety of poetry forms. And sixth graders recently shared a few of their flipped poems where the poem can be read from both top to bottom and bottom to top and make perfect sense in either direction, a challenge presented to them during an interdisciplinary study of mathematical tessellations.
Of course, Mrs. Edmonston, our librarian, reads poetry to all grade levels while teaching students about respected poets and their individual styles. She also enjoys encouraging the performance of poetry; second graders get to practice with two voice poems.
The dictionary defines poetry as “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative or elevated thoughts.” With precision and economy of words, poetry captures a story to be read and recited simply for delight, but it also serves as an impactful tool for teaching reading and writing. Rhymes are foundational for early reading skills. By singing and speaking familiar rhymes and rhyming stories, children develop auditory discrimination, phonemic awareness and a rich range of language. For older students, poetry broadens their vocabulary and challenges critical thinking skills.
As we teach 6+1 Traits of Writing to our young authors, poetry models the development of voice, word choice and organization and can also highlight lessons on grammar and literary devices, such as alliteration or metaphor, while stretching analytical brain muscles when dissecting word meanings and context clues. As children try their hand at writing poems, they naturally express themselves and interpret what they see and feel artistically. It’s a perfect genre for unleashing creativity while developing language skills. But it’s hardly effortless. Van Gogh said, “Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it.”
Celebrating The Beauty of Poetic Language
In a 2012 national poll, only 7% of American adults had read a work of poetry within the year. The question of how to get people to read more poetry was answered in part by the New York City program, Poetry in Motion. Now poems are displayed throughout the transit system, making poetry accessible to all subway riders. Poems are even printed on the backs of metro cards so millions of Americans literally carry a poem in their pockets. In a news article, a man who rode the Brooklyn-bound A train shared the joy of his daily routine reading and reflecting on the Emily Dickinson poem “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” which was mounted in the train.
For us at Rossman, we celebrate the beauty of poetic language, and you can do the same at home with your children. Maybe check out one of Caroline Kennedy’s books, A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children or Poems to Learn by Heart and enjoy a few at bedtime. I happen to love children’s books about poets; my favorite is Emily by Michael Bedard, a beautiful story of Emily Dickinson told through the memory of a neighbor child. There are also wonderful books written about Phyllis Wheatley, Pablo Neruda and Robert Frost.
Every Rossman student has memorized the poem, “Keep A Poem In Your Pocket” by Beatrice de Regniers, and everyone joins in when first graders recite the poem in Monday Morning Gathering. As a part of National Poetry Month, the official Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 26, 2018. On that day, we are asked to select a poem, carry it with us and share it. I’m sharing mine a few days early…
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.