I have learned that children memorising poems is a regular thing in French education. I am wondering what is the point of this? I understand when they are young how nursery rhymes help with language development, is this the reason why they are expected to memorise a poem every week? Also, how do you get them to memorise the poem? I am just curious about what methods people use. Do you just repeat and read to them every day or do you read a sentence and have them repeat the sentence back to you? At the moment we do not have a live in au pair, so I rely on someone to come in 2 or sometimes 3 times a week to help with the homework. I am just trying to think of the best way to help her learn it.
Hi Marie, I would say the benefits of memorising poems is two-fold: educational because it develops certain skills (obviously memory, but also language, rhythm, etc) and cultural (because children - or adults for that matter - develop a body of cultural works that they know and can refer to (and separate into different genres - there's obviously a big difference between the Fables de La Fontaine and Jacques Prévert. You will notice no doubt that most of the poetry to be memorised is from the French 'canon'.)
I really used to love reciting poetry at school as my teachers would encourage us to be creative, so that's a benefit, too.
As for how to remember it...my daughter just started this year with poems for homework and basically they have already learnt them at school so she just needs to practice, so I don't have much experience. I would probably go with reading the sentence and having them repeat back, and gradually building up the sentences (because this is how I learnt them myself), but as your daughter can read perhaps you could read it with her together?
Marie, I really don't have anything to add to what Nellie said.
My daughter's class is expected to memorise poems on a regular basis, and she's had at least one of the Fables de La Fontaine already. When she gets home, she already has it mostly memorised, same as Nellie's daughter, so I only ask her to recite it and prompt when she gets stuck. Repeat, until she has it.
I remember from my German school days we had to memorise poems too, maybe not as frequently, and later in middle school longer ones. I'm quite happy that I still remember (parts of) two or three classic ones. Cultural works, as Nellie says.
How you go about it would probably also depend on the length of the poem. If it's a long one, do it rhyme by rhyme.
It also depends on the person. I have a very visual memory, I learn better when I see the words. Someone else might have a more oral memory and learn better by hearing them. Try different methods and find out what works best for your daughter.
This all started when I read an interesting article in The New Yorker called Why We Should Memorize. Written by the poet and professor Brad Leithauser, the article explores the value of memorizing poetry in a day and age when, with computers and smartphones always at our fingertips, we have no apparent need to memorize anything at all.
Leithauser, though, compares the two experiences—that of memorizing a poem and simply searching for the text online—and suggests that memorization “provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen.” He goes on to quote Catherine Robson, a professor at New York University and the author of Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem, who argues that “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.”
Reading these words, I couldn’t help wondering: Would some form of memorization in the minority language (in my case, that’s English) benefit my own kids by enabling the targeted text to sink to that “deeper, bodily level” where language becomes fully organic and heartfelt? Since they seem to remember the lyrics to favorite songs so easily, couldn’t I take advantage of the same rhythm and rhyme found in poetry to actively nurture more sophisticated forms of language, including advanced vocabulary?
That’s when I thought of the rats.
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My kids always memorize way faster than I expect them to. I can read a poem to them every day for a week (repeating the poem two or three times each time I read it), and by the end of the week my daughter can recite it. She doesn’t even have to repeat after me each day (although sometimes I do that also). My son has even memorized poems my daughter was memorizing just because he was playing with toys in the same room. So my advice is don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. You want it simple enough that you can repeat your routine regularly.
Another idea is to look on YouTube and see if you can find people reading poems. You could then listen to the same poem every day at breakfast or something like that.
To synthesise, school uses poetry as a tool to "awaken" the child to the language and its variety. It's also to help the child train their memory and play with their voice.
With my daughter, I ask her to read it first and then recite it without looking at the text. When she stumbles, I gently whisper a couple of words or the next line. In fact, it seems like the teacher already teaches them the poem in class, so when comes homework time my daughter already knows a lot of it.
What I do to avoid it being too boring is that I start with the poetry homework, then move on to the next homework, then revert back to the poetry and ask her to recite it. I often find that after this short break, her brain has been unconsciously working on it and she remembers it a bit better. Another thing I plan to do is to have her recite her poem once on the way to school the following morning.
Don't sweat it too much. There is no special way to learn poems. Just the drill. All you can do is break it down over time to make it less boring.
Thanks all! I appreciate the feedback on why learning poems is important. I now understand. Will see tonight how much my daughter already knows, as today we have help from a French nanny after school for a couple hours. And tomorrow our old au pair will watch the kids for 3 hours so will continue with the homework help.
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