Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Recently, I've been having P and E memorize some poems. E has a ridiculously good memory, which I noticed as we review the Bible verses we've learned. P will say what she remembers, and E will fill in any words she stumbles on, in addition to flawlessly announcing the reference.

Over Christmas, Ari read Tolkien's original The Hobbit to the kids, and they fell in love with the poem "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates". It is recited by the dwarves as they clean up after dinner, and goes as follows:

Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates –
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!

Cut the cloth and tread on the fat!
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!
Splash the wine on every door!

Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;
Pound them up with a thumping pole;
And when you’ve finished, if any are whole,
Send them down the hall to roll!

That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So, carefully! Carefully with the plates!

About a month ago, I started working on memorizing the poem with them. This has been a fairly effortless process with the following strategy. On the first day, I read the poem through 3 times on 3 separate occasions. Then, each day for 2 weeks, I read the poem through 3 times just once. Then, I started saying just the first word of each line and waiting for the kids to fill in the blanks for me. They're getting better at not needing me to say very many of the first words any more, and the entire process has been thoroughly enjoyable. We review the poem once daily now, with great relish.

This week, we've started in on another poem, which I first met in my Order of Magnitude Physics class at Caltech. When I first read it to the kids 2 years ago, they knew it was funny but didn't really get it. I had printed it out then, and somehow the printout surfaced again. When I read it to them a week ago, I knew this was another one they would love memorizing. It's written by Jack Prelutsky, who has written a wide variety of kids' poems.

The turkey shot out of the oven
and rocketed into the air,
it knocked every plate off the table
and partly demolished a chair.

It ricocheted into a corner
and burst with a deafening boom,
then splattered all over the kitchen,
completely obscuring the room.

It stuck to the walls and the windows,
it totally coated the floor,
there was turkey attached to the ceiling,
where there'd never been turkey before.

It blanketed every appliance,
it smeared every saucer and bowl,
there wasn't a way I could stop it,
that turkey was out of control.

I scraped and I scrubbed with displeasure,
and thought with chagrin as I mopped,
that I'd never again stuff a turkey
with popcorn that hadn't been popped.

(In case you're curious, in Order of Magnitude Physics, we had to calculate the approximate velocity of the turkey given only the information in the poem. This led to all sorts of experiments, including some classmates of mine stuffing Cornish hens with popcorn and discovering that the corn got too waterlogged to pop, and me stuffing an empty spice container with popcorn and putting it in the microwave, and discovering that the odor of melting plastic becomes offensive before any kind of explosion occurs.)

There are many things to love about both of these poems. They have a steady meter and predictable rhyme patterns, which makes them easy to memorize. They are also full of delicious vocabulary words (ricocheted, chagrin), which, memorized in context, will be easy for my children to recognize when they encounter them in future. Most importantly, they are lots of fun. The kids have a great sense of accomplishment in memorizing and reciting long poems, and thoroughly enjoy the images created by the words. I intend to keep them memorizing poems throughout their education - I'm enjoying it too.