Early last spring, as I began to more fully embrace a Charlotte Mason style of Classical Education with my children, I stumbled across this Charlotte Mason’s Attainable List for Children Who Are 6 (YEARS OLD)” and let’s just say, I was aghast:
This list would have been written during Charlotte Mason’s career, sometime around the turn of the (20th) century.  
People.  Do you not marvel at how dumbed down our modern academic expectations are?
Until that point, I considered myself to be a Charlotte Mason educator.  The more I read of her, the more I loved.  Her methods brought balance to my Classical-but-somewhat rigid teaching style.   Her “gentle art of learning” methods were a beautiful fit for us, and I was drawn to the way she valued the personhood of children.  I had been diligently “laying down the rails” to teach and build strong habits with my children.  We were keeping our lessons shorter and more meaningful. We had thoroughly embraced nature walks and learn-through-real-life & play experiences, and loved her Living Books approach.
Yes, you could say I was feeling quite Charlotte Mason-esque!
And then I saw this list~just as my oldest was turning 7.
Oh wow, I realized.
So maybe I am not fully embracing a Charlotte Mason approach after all. 😀
I could check off a few of these, but a precious few, and I was immediately challenged by #1 & #2.  
“Recite beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns.”
“Recite perfectly, and beautifully, a parable and a Psalm.”

And so we began working on our first of these “attainable” goals…to be able to recite 6 poems by heart.
Early in the school year, I wracked my brain trying to figure out if there was a single poem or hymn my oldest (now age 7) TRULY knew by memory already.
A couple tiny nursery rhymes, sure, but nothing substantial.
Finally, we remembered one–one! that we had learned when we used the CM Delightful Reading program the year before:
The Rain
by Robert Louis Stevenson


Then I thought, wait! She knows two! as I remembered last winter, I had taught the kids one of my favorite silly poems–
The Snowball
I made myself a snowball
As perfect as could be.
I thought I’d keep it as a pet
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas
And a pillow for its head.
Then last night it ran away
But first it wet the bed!
That was it.  Two poems.

So we made it a goal to memorize at least one poem and one Bible passage each month.  

Right off the bat, we found a delightful little poem in a First Reader from the 1800s that my grandmother had given me.  We’ve been reading our way through the sweet little stories in this book, but the very first lesson was intended to be a memory lesson.
Of course, we got right to work, and over the coarse of 5 short August days, my gal had memorized her third poem~
Just a Little Everyday
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Just a little everyday–that’s the way
Seeds in darkness swell and grow.
Tiny blades push through the snow!
Never any flower of May
 Leaps to blossom in a burst
Slowly, slowly, at the first,
That’s the way–just a little everyday.
Just a little everyday–that’s the way
Children learn to read and write
Bit by bit and mite by mite!
Never any one I say,
Leaps to knowledge and its power
Slowly, slowly, hour by hour,
That’s the way–just a little everyday.


By September, we were fully immersed in our study of Insects using {the always wonderful}  Apologia’s Flying Creatures curriculum.  And after reading through Douglas Florian’s Incectlopedia, my 7 and 5 year old each picked a poem to memorize~and they both happened to love the same one:
The Inchworm
by Douglas Florian
I inch, I arch, I march along.
I’m just a pinch, a mere inch long.
I stroll and stick to sticks in thickets,
And never pick up speeding tickets.

*Here is a cute little video of my son reciting this poem.*

Meanwhile, with four poems down already, we were also sharpening up on our scripture memorization, which I’ll share about in greater detail in another post.  
Suffice it to say, there was a lot of reciting going on by everyone in the family by this point in the semester~even my husband, who couldn’t help but learn the poems as many times as the children recited them to him, and also the scripture passages, which we have always loved doing together as a family.
When our study of flying creatures turned from insects to birds, we chose for our fifth poem~ the striking words of
The Eagle
by Alfred Tennyson
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
By the time October rolled around, we had sharpened up our memory of Psalm 23 and had learned Psalm 16 together as a family, and I so began looking for something a bit more challenging for our sixth poem.
Over at Ambleside Online (under poetry recommendations by year), I found what I was looking for:

James Whitcomb Riley’s When the Frost is on the Punkin.
It was perfect for the fall season, and I immediately fell in love with the words of this poem (especially after hearing the late Kent Risley recite it!).
And so, we printed a copy of it, and got started memorizing.
To date, it is the longest poem my daughter has memorized, and the 2nd longest for me (The Highwayman takes number one). 
To say she felt proud of herself after mastering it is an understatement.
It was quite fulfilling for BOTH of us, truly, and as you can tell at the end of the video, the little boys also learned parts of it over the 2-3 weeks we worked on it.
She has sharpened up the rough patches quite well by now, and enjoys sharing it with family members and friends. 🙂  Occasionally, I’ll hear her when we’re outdoors at our campsite, or in the yard, musing over and letting the delightful poetry roll off her lips as she plays.

And so we met our first goal, and though a year later than Charlotte Mason recommended~my 7 year old could indeed, recite 6 poems, and now 2 Psalms, plus several other Bible passages. Hymn worship is coming along, and we’ve begun work on a parable. 
As far as the rest of the lofty list goes, we’re making progress in other areas as well.  In fact, she’s nearly mastered numbers numbers 1-8, 18, and has made significant progress  in her nature journal on numbers 11-13 (common wildflowers, leaves of common trees, birds).
Some may wonder~

Why this focus on memorization in the first place?  What is truly to be gained? This is, after all, the information age, and we can have any old bit of information at our fingertips with the click of a mouse.
Anthony Esolen, in his book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, writes:

“A developed memory is a wondrous and terrible storehouse of things seen and heard and done.  It can do what no mere search engine on the internet can do.  It can call up apparently unrelated things at once, molding them into a whole impression, or a new thought…

Without the library of memory–the imagination simply does not have much to think about, or to play with.” 

Yet most of us “sniff at memorization, as hardly worth the name of study…[though] the most imaginative people in the history of the world thought otherwise.”

Esolen, writing with pure sarcasm, advises that “if we want to stifle the imagination, we should hold memory in check.  We can do this in two ways. We can encourage laziness, by never insisting that young people actually master, for example, the rules of multiplication, or the location of cities and rivers and lakes on the globe.  Then we can allow what is left of the memory to be filled with trash.” 

Friends, there is so much to be gained from the art of memorization!

Critics of classical education will pride themselves that they teach “critical thinking” not just rote memorization.

And yet, as I really worked with my children to memorize even just this one poem by James Whitcomb Riley,  countless natural learning opportunities presented themselves.

Consider just the first line of the poem~

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock…

Young children may not know exactly what frost is, or how it appears on the ground after a cold night. 

And they will wonder~
What is fodder?–and what’s a shock?
And once they know, they can understand better the picture these words paint for us, for poetry does indeed paint new pictures for us, but of course, it also mirrors that which is familiar and well known…

Later in the poem we read that 

Your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yeller heaps
And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
with theyr mince and apple butter, and theyr souce and sausage too!

As we read these words, my daughter and I nod our heads and smile in understanding, as we’ve been filling our own shelves with canned apple butter, sauces and jams for the winter.  No lectures are necessary as we simply connect to the poetry as fellow human beings, experiencing life at the changing of a season.

IMG_0714 IMG_0937
In summary, memorization of poetry has provided my children with rich “food for thought” and has given us a real sense of pleasure and accomplishment.  

And truly, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface.  

So where should one begin?

Anywhere, really.
Read and memorize the “greats,” memorize seasonal poems, memorize silly, sad, joyful and symbolic poetry. Memorize the poems that speak loudest to you~
In short~
Memorize what you love.


Keep a poem in your pocket
and a picture in your head
and you’ll never feel lonely
at night when you’re in bed.
The little poem will sing to you.
The little picture it brings to you
A dozen dreams to dance to you
At night when your in bed.
Keep a picture in your pocket
And a poem in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when your in bed.
 by Beatrice Schenkde Regniers


For further reading:

Why I Force My Students to Memorize Poetry
(despite the fact that it won’t be on the standardized test)
by Andy Waddell

Gratefully linking up with 
Trivium Tuesdays

8 thoughts on “Why Memorize Poetry? ( Plus a Video Share! )

  1. Amy Maze

    We use Primary Language Lessons, so we memorize the poems as we come to them in there. We have probably done about 6 of them, but I wouldn’t say that he recites them beautifully =) I love how you mix the Charlotte Mason and Classical styles. Thanks for another great post!

  2. Amy Maze

    We use Primary Language Lessons, so we memorize the poems as we come to them in there. We have probably done about 6 of them, but I wouldn’t say that he recites them beautifully =) I love how you mix the Charlotte Mason and Classical styles. Thanks for another great post!

  3. Wayne Kyle McVay

    We have truly benefited from poetry memorization in our lives. It’s precious to see the kiddos recite poems that appropriate to a situation for instance one of my kids was walking on another’s shadow and began to recite Stevenson’s My Shadow. She was filled with joy as she giggled and jumped on the naughty shadow. We’ve really enjoyed using IEW Linguistic Develpment through Poetry Memorization this year. In fact that is what I wrote on this week. Anyhow, I wish we had a little more time to dive a little deeper into poetry like you but as the Lord says all things have their seasons Enjoyed the post especially the pictures.

  4. Tonia

    Great post! I am a huge proponent of memorization and recitation. We have a daily recitation time first thing in the morning. We used to do poetry teas once a week, I really need to start that again.

  5. Beth

    Thank you for sharing this. I have been thinking about adding poetry to our day. I got a copy of the book And the Green Grass Grew All Around from the library and the kids are enjoying that.

  6. Amy Meyers

    Very interesting post! I also enjoy learning poetry with my children! We are doing well on most of the list with my 6-year old, except for all of the nature stuff lol! We sing a hymn before our meals as a family. It has been a wonderful tradition and nice way to introduce them to the great hymns of the faith (missionaries in Africa, and most of the songs at church aren’t in English!)

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