“Whose woods these are, I think I know….” You know how I know? My mother told me that would be a good poem to memorize when I was eight. I still know it by heart.
One of the best things you can do for your children this summer is encourage them to memorize poetry. Children’s minds are naturally open to memorization as any parent of a kid who loves dinosaurs or who can repeat verbatim some promise you made months ago knows only too well. These days, many kids (and their parents) are so used to having all the information they could ever want immediately accessible via Google have given up on the mental exercise of memorizing. But it is an excellent way to challenge their imaginations and a great family project. Jean Kerr’s classic essay about her efforts to get her children to memorize poems is one of my very favorites. And Salon has a marvelous piece by Laura Miller on a proposal by Britain’s education secretary Michael Gove to go back to some of the classic school assignments like memorizing poems.
“People associate it with fusty, old-fashioned teaching styles,” [homeschooler Leslie] Kauffman told me. “Memorizing anything is associated with rote learning, the mindless parroting of information under an authoritarian teaching style.” Perhaps that’s what Gove has in mind, but it doesn’t have to be that way. “If you want your child to appreciate beautiful writing,” she said, “then memorizing poetry is one way to do that. It’s not just exposing them to it, but actually getting them to take ownership of it.”
It stretches the brain, it expands the spirit, it connects the family, and for the rest of their lives, as they remember what they have learned, it gives your children something to do while waiting in line that is, unlike Angry Birds, soul-enriching.
Have you memorized a poem? Which one?