The Vulture, by Hilaire Belloc
The Vulture eats between his meals
And that’s the reason why
He very, very rarely feels
As well as you and I.
His eye is dull, his head is bald,
His neck is growing thinner.
Oh! what a lesson for us all
To only eat at dinner!
I’ve found poetry to be a great way to introduce children to several aspects of communication all at once: vocabulary, rhythm, thought patterns, the ability to pay attention, memorization, humor, moral lessons.
So our family is a proponent of poetry. Of course, not all poetry is equal – there’s a lot of immoral verse out there, things that little ones should never see. But there’s also a lot of good verse floating around, and that’s the stuff they need to read and memorize.
It takes some time and effort to read the different types of poems, do some research on the author, and sometimes find out what the poem really means. But once you have confidence in a handful of poets, whether dead or not, then you have a good start.
Some of our favorites are Robert Louis Stevenson, Christina Rossetti, Lewis Carroll, Ogden Nash, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, G.K. Chesterton, and Rudyard Kipling. Not all of their poems are good or acceptable, and, for some of them, only a handful of poems are good for kids to learn something proper.
It’s great for history, too. You can teach your kids when the poet lived and what he wrote about. That gives a good timeline. E.g., Robert Louis Stevenson, was born in Scotland shortly (1850) before the American Civil War. And it’s a good way to have children “meet” the authors – with the high-availability of the internet and biographies, it’s not hard for children to find out how diverse authors’ lives are.
One of the pertinent details about poetry is introducing children to the concepts of character and competence. We teach our children the non-correlation between the literary giftedness of an author and his faith. All of the poets were excellent and acclaimed poets and authors, but not all were excellent men. They could write well, but they couldn’t live well.
What you pick is entirely up to you. Keep in mind your goal – Morality? Religion? Humor? Household lessons? You’ll learn how to pick up on the purposes, the themes, motifs. Compilations like “The Moral Compass” and “Children’s Books of Virtues” are good for morality, and contain lots of material, but they’re not ALL Christian, and can lead to teaching humanism, with man as the measure of all things. Books like “Poems for Patriarchs” and “Verses of Virtue” are great material for focusing in on Christian themes, but they are a little short on practical detail. Since we like to start them young, it’s helpful to have a host of shorter poems handy.
Limericks are an easy way to start out, as they are simple, straightforward, easy to read, easy to write, and pleasing to hear. For older ones (starting around age 5), simple haiku is good. You’ll be able to judge in your own household easily enough which of your children are geared toward harder poetry. But limericks and haikus can fit into any time of day or place.
Here are some good poems to get you started:
All things Bright and Beautiful – Cecil Frances Alexander
At the Seaside, and Whole Duty of Children – Robert Louis Stevenson
There Was a Little Girl – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Riddle – Christina Rossetti
Hoppity – A. A. Milne