Poetry. What comes to mind when you read that word? The name of a specific poet? A certain poem? Does that word bring out positive feelings inside of you? Or like me, does if bring out more negative feelings as you think back to highschool English and that poetry unit you did?
I never understood the joy of poetry that some people seem to get out of it. Probably because my only exposure to it growing up was in "boring" English classes and I either didn't understand what I was reading or felt like I wasn't creative enough to write decent poems. Can you relate?
When I first started homeschooling I learned about Poetry Teatime from Julie Bogart at Brave Writer. I knew this was the answer to changing my own view of poetry and giving my children a much more positive experience with poetry.
One of my favourite aspects of homeschooling is being able to do activities that my children wouldn't be able to do in a traditional classroom. Poetry Teatime is a perfect example of one of these activities!
In our home we do Poetry Teatime every Tuesday afternoon. We call it Teatime Tuesday. We set the table with a nice table cloth or place mats. Sometimes we have a centerpiece of flowers or other items depending on the season or theme. We get out fancy plates and teacups, or sometimes crystal glassware. Sometimes we use cloth napkins if we want to be especially fancy! My kids have even taken it upon themselves to put on fancy clothes sometimes.
Once the table is set it's time to add the drinks and food. I have to be honest, we aren't really tea people, so our tea cups often have juice, water, hot chocolate, or smoothies in them. For food we often have muffins, cupcakes, cookies, scones, or other baked items we made the day before.
My daughter is old enough to bake on her own now so this has kind of become her little weekly project. Every Monday afternoon or evening she bakes something for us to enjoy the next day. If your kids are younger, than this could be a great opportunity to bake together each week.
Once the table is ready it's time to sit down and read poetry! There is really no wrong way to do this part. Have a couple of poetry books on display for the kids to choose some poems out of. Depending on their level they can read their chosen poem themselves. Or if they aren't ready for that you can read for them.
The idea behind poetry teatime is simple. This is to be an enjoyable time so that kids associate enjoyment with poetry. When your kids are little the poems are short and often silly. As they get older you will progress into longer poems with more symbolism. And once they hit highschool, reading from William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson or Edgar Allan Poe during tea time won't be daunting or intimidating. It will just be this thing you've always done. Teatime is about instilling joy with poetry and creating these happy memories with your children.
In order for this to be truly enjoyable though, there does need to be some ground rules. When you have your very first tea time you'll want to lay down these ground rules so everyone knows what is expected. Here are the rules I use:
1. No talking when someone else is reading.
2. Everyone must remain at the table for the entire tea time. You may not leave once you have read your poem. (This has never been an issue but I still said it at the beginning so my children would know what I expected.)
3. Behaviour is to be very proper. We are using expensive teacups, saucers, or crystal so this is a short time to sit up and keep our bodies in control.
We've been doing this for three years and I've honestly never had a problem. I laid down the ground rules at the beginning and since the kids so look forward to this each week they desire within themselves to behave properly.
Now you might be wondering how long teatime should last. There is no standard answer for this question. It very much depends on your children, their interest, and attention span. Most likely for younger children you will be looking at about 20 minutes. As they get older and the poems get longer that time will obviously increase. But please don't fixate on time. Pay attention to your kids and their cues. Remember, this is to be enjoyable! If after 10 minutes they are fidgeting all over the place and have clearly lost interest, it's probably time to move on!
The library is a fantastic resource for poetry books! I stop into the library frequently and pick out books for our upcoming teatime. I like to have some kind theme. It could be things like:
topic (poems about summer, Thanksgiving, animals, etc.)
author (poems all by the same author such as Shel Silverstein)
type (acrostic poems, shape poems, haiku poems, etc.)
Of course you don't always have to have a theme. Sometimes we just read silly poems and enjoy a good laugh! (I guess silliness is the "theme" on those days.)
A word of advice on the library: If you go to the library and search, "poems about summer", nothing will come up! Talk to your librarian though and he or she will be able to very quickly direct you to the children's poetry section. Don't waste time struggling to find what you need. Librarians are AMAZING helpers!!
On a side note - poetry teatime also has the added benefit of teaching kids how to conduct themselves at a fancy meal. My kids know how to carefully handle china and crystal. They know that a cloth napkin sits nicely on their lap. And they know when a table is set in this way that they should also sit up and conduct themselves in a mature manner.
Poetry teatime has become a much loved and anticipated weekly activity in our home. With the clear benefits of instilling enjoyment of poetry and creating a positive attitude towards poetry, I have found this to be a valuable experience that I know will carry forward as my children get older.
I encourage you to give this a try with your children. I guarantee they will not refuse fancy drinks, treats, and reading time with their favourite person - you.