How To Introduce Kids to Poetry, Fine Art, and Classical Music

by | Apr 17, 2015 | Catholic Mom Book Review, Homeschool, Mailbag | 24 comments

Mailbag time! As school winds down for the year for many of us, homeschoolers and traditional schoolers alike, many of us are looking for ways we can make the summer an educational time for our kids, but without trying to keep up the same rhythm of the school year. . . .


Hi Kendra,

My kids are 6, (almost) 4, and 18 months. We also recently found out #4 is on the way. My oldest is currently in kindergarten at our parish school and though I feel small tugs at my heart toward homeschooling, I don’t believe that is what is best for our family right now. As a former teacher (and a daughter of a teacher), however, my kids and I do a great deal of learning outside the classroom and throughout the year.

At an early age, they have all learned the essential Catholic prayers, but it has never occurred to me to teach them to memorize (other than nursery rhymes and songs). I would really like to start this with them and was wondering which poems you would recommend for young children? What does the process look like at the beginning of memorization and as they grow (your expectations, their willingness, etc.)? How do you do the poetry recitals?

Also, I was wondering if you had any resources for helping my young children gain an appreciation for the arts. I was thinking of doing some study of classical music and art over the summer and was wondering if you knew of any books or learning materials that would work well with young kids?

Thank you so much! I hope you are feeling better and I look forward to each new post you write!

Sincerely, Leanne


Thanks Leanne,

I’m feeling much better, and am trying to get caught up on the mailbag! So let’s jump right in here, shall we?

– Poetry –

The poetry memorization we do during our school year is really one of my favorite parts of the syllabus. One, it’s just adorable to hear kids reciting poetry. Two, memorization is, in general, a very useful skill to have. Three, it fills their little heads with good and beautiful patterns and forms of writing. Later, as they are writing for themselves, they can call upon those reserves of beautiful writing stored up in their minds, and try to base their own patterns of writing upon them. All good stuff.

The book we use is an anthology called The Harp and Laurel Wreath
. It was complied by Laura Berquist, who designed the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum that we use. It’s got an excellent selection of age appropriate poems to memorize. I really can’t recommend it enough.

We just work on each poem in chunks, at a pace that works for that particular child. I have a couple of really good memorizers, and a couple for whom it’s more difficult. So, we just work at the pace that works for that particular kid. First, I read the whole poem aloud and explain it, and set it in a historical context if I can. This is important, because it’s harder to memorize something you don’t understand.

Then we just take it chunk by chunk, usually two to four lines at a time. I say it aloud, he says it back to me in as large a chunk as he can handle, sometimes that’s just a couple of words. Eventually, he’s able to say that section on his own, and we review it the next day or two, then move on to the next. Slow and steady. We usually do a family poetry recital every couple of weeks. The kids get m&ms for successful recitations, which makes it very popular.

– Fine Art –

For fine art, I like having art cards. There are books of them available,
but you can also visit museums and buy a bunch of postcards there. Then, kids can look at them and interact with them and answer questions about them. It is especially meaningful to my kids when we have art cards of paintings that they have seen in real life.

We have multiples of the same cards so that we can play memory matching games with them, and we have multiples of the same artists, so we can play Go Fish with them. “Give me all your Kandinskys.” “Don’t have any. Go fish.” “I drew one!” . . . is pretty awesome.

We also have some great picture books that have helped my kids become family with great artists. The Katie and the . . . art series
is about a little girl who goes to museums with her grandmother and climbs into paintings and interacts with them. They are very cute.

Laurence Anholt also has a large series of picture books
in which artists interact with children.

Finally, we visit museums, with our kids. All of them. Even the crazy toddler. I think it’s really important to teach my kids that they can appreciate fine art. So many folks go through life just thinking art and museums just aren’t something they know how to do. I want to make sure that that isn’t the case for my kids.

We usually buy a book in the gift shop with some of the paintings we saw in it, so the kids can look through it again at home. There is almost always some level of undress in those books, but we just explain to our kids that art is art but they still have to wear their clothes.

 – Classical Music –

For music there is a great series of CDs called Music Masters
. They combine selections of music by a great composer, with a narrated biography of his life. There are eighteen of them in total, I believe.

The are great for listening to in the car, or for putting on while the kids sit at the table and color. If you want to REALLY embrace the theme, you can have your kids color a picture of the composer from this coloring book
while you listen to the CD.

As with the museums, I also mindfully expose my kids to a very broad range of music. We like pop music, and Irish folk music, but I also put on the classical music station quite a bit. In fact, it’s all we listened to in the car during Lent. We listen to whichever opera is playing on Saturday mornings as we drive around to various kid sporting events. When Anita was three, she once remarked, “Probably they put the opera on on Saturdays, because they know how much kids like opera.” So, weird homeschool kid moment? Perhaps. But what I loved about it was that it proved that my kids are able to be open to listening to lots of different kinds of music. They haven’t closed their minds off to entire genres.

I really think that’s all we’re trying to do with any of this. We do work on memorizing poems, and recognizing artists and composers, but my expectation really isn’t that my kids would retain that memorized information. It’s that they would grow up with a general sense that they are able to appreciate and enjoy sophisticated writing, art, and music, as well as what popular culture is offering in those departments.

I hope that helps some. If I misunderstood or didn’t quite answer your question, please let me know, and let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.



Related reading . . .

My Top Ten Books for Teaching Kids 


Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.)
If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching,
please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or an
expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of
experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in
marriage, mothering, and my faith.

you’ve got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail .
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  1. Isabelle Lubbock

    Great post, as always.
    I was wondering, what is your take on musical instruments? Do any of your kids play any?

    • Kendra

      No, they don't. We did piano and violin for five years and I finally had to admit that playing music doesn't seem to be one of our gifts around here. I see those article going around about how important it is that kids play an instrument, but they always seem to be being shared by my friends who are musically gifted. I would have loved for my kids to play instruments, but they were terrible and hated it. So we've decided to focus on appreciation. :0) We still have a piano, and the second one of the younger kids expresses an interest, I'm happy to start back up with lessons.

    • Isabelle Lubbock

      haha, I understand that! It's a discussion I have with my husband a lot, he is the musician, and extremely keen all his (potential) children learn to play, but I'm likely to be the one having to nag for practice, so I like your more mellow approach! (Way ahead of ourselves, obviously, Jude's only 10 months! ��

  2. Anonymous

    Oh, Kendra this is awesome. I have an almost six year old in our parish kindergarten, too. I am very certain homeschooling isn't for me, but I obviously would love to be more organized and structured with how we learn at home, for the summer and just in general. I love poetry, music, art etc.. but was not introduced to it at a young age and I think this would be so beneficial. I might l learn just as much as my kids! I think it's so important to have well rounded educational experiences but too often we just focus on the basics and standardized testing. (My kids parish school is certainly better than the public school I went to in this area). I second the question above from isabelle about instruments. Neither my husband nor myself are musical in any way, but we love consuming music. We thought about piano lessons, but its fairly expensive. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Kendra

      We did try lessons for the older kids, but like you, my husband and I aren't at all musical, which made supervising practices especially challenging. And after a day of making sure my kids got all of their chores and schoolwork done, I really didn't have it in me to force them to practice when they didn't much like it or show any aptitude.

      Listening to those Music Masters CDs convinced me that if my kid was a musical genius we'd know. And so far none of them are.

    • Elizabeth

      My kids are fortunate in that they go to a classical Catholic school where the music teacher is first chair violinist for the local symphony. She teaches any interested kid, 3rd grade and older, one of four string instruments, and they do orchestra concerts throughout the year. She also organizes kids' concerts with the local symphony. They are free and allow children a trip to the symphony. Bonuses: The school lessons are "free" (included in tuition for the school), and all lessons take place during school hours. My kids may not be musical geniuses, but they are getting some valuable lessons. Do you have any local kids' programs like that?

      That obviously isn't an option for everyone. What about the church choir? Our cathedral children's choir sings gorgeous traditional hymns, practices once a week, sing at Mass once or twice a month. The choir master treats them like adults, they read music, and they use the cheapest instrument around: Their voice. Most church choirs are free, as is ours.

      Other than those suggestions, you might find a local music major at a local college willing to teach your kids at a reduced rate? Is there anything online?

    • Elizabeth

      If you can't find affordable instrument lessons, I think Kendra's method is great. We do a lot of these things at home too, like listen to Music Masters. My kids love "Foster and Sousa" and "Verdi". We were recently at a local symphony concert specifically put on for 4th and 5th graders (but my younger kids came too), and my kids immediately recognized Sousa's marches.

  3. Amelia Bentrup

    We do a lot of the same things. Memorizing poetry. Having postcards/pictures of artwork around.
    Listening to classical music.

    I have a question on art museums though. Maybe it's just because we've only lived in towns with small, low-budget art museums, but the only art exhibits they are ever have are modern artists. No Reubens or anything like that. Which is okay…I guess, but personally I'm not a huge fan of a lot of modern art.

    • Kendra

      That's tough Amelia. We've only ever lived in LA and Chicago, so plenty of the masters available. But we do also make a point of visiting museums on vacations.

    • Maddy

      I grew up in a small city with no great art museum, but my parents taught me to appreciate art through pictures and through the expression of their desires to see great art. When I started travelling on my own as a teenager and young adult, I found that that reverence for art (if you will) was enough to keep me enthralled at the museums I would visit. I am not knowledgeable by any means, but I've learned a thing or two simply by standing and observing. Anyway, don't give up hope!

  4. Trista Roehl

    Thanks for the great suggestions, we already listen to classical music and visit museums (which is really easy living near the Smithsonians), but I love the idea of adding poetry recitation to the mix. And I second the Katie books; they are charming.

  5. Caroline

    Playing Go Fish with the art cards- what a great idea! they get to know the artists, and the work.

  6. Sarah C.

    Anita's comment about the opera was so sweet! We listen to a lot of classical music in the car, too, and my almost 2 year old always gets so excited ("moozic")!

  7. Hope

    She might be interested in Classically Catholic Memory! It's like a Catholic version of Classical Conversations. It includes memorization of the catechism, Latin hymns, a history timeline, science facts, poetry, and math facts.

  8. Laura @ Mothering Spirit

    Great resources, thank you! We're only at the very beginning of this journey since our oldest is 5, but I do lots of the things my parents did for us growing up to gain an appreciation for the arts (listening to classical music every day, having prints of beautiful art around the house, visiting museums, reading poetry, etc.) And one of our favorites for the very young set are the children's poetry books by A.A. Milne ("When We Were Very Young" and "Now We Are Six"). Lovely easy cadences for children to remember. I think this helps tune the ear to the music of poetry, even for toddlers & preschoolers.

    • Emily

      Our children also love those poems by A.A. Milne. I wanted to add that a family favorite of ours for poetry is "A Child's Garden of Verses" by Robert Louis Stevenson. There are many different versions out there, but we think the Tasha Tudor illustrations are so delightful!

  9. Faith E. Hough

    Great post, Kendra! I have to comment, as these three "subjects" are ones I feel passionately about! First of all, I second your advice to bring ALL the kids to museums! I wrote a blog post with some advice for anyone who might be intimidated by that:
    We read and memorize lots and lots of poetry–but this link is to an interview with an author and poet I greatly admire, Caroline Starr Rose: (Question #5 is the one related to sharing poetry with your children.)
    And finally, on music, take kids to concerts, too! Some orchestras will allow children to attend their "dress rehearsals" for free, and since their starting and stopping a bit more, they don't mind a few wiggly children in a sparse audience. And it's good training for attending the real deal. My children always enjoy music more when they know a bit about it, and for that NPR's Classics for Kids program has been a great resource. They have most of their programs and extra resources available online.
    Good luck, Leanne!

    • Kemma

      I grew up going to concerts, opera, musical theatre etc, and there's nothing like the real deal! Even if it's just a local group providing the music it's still a wonderful experience that so many kids never get to have (and I was always the kid dancing in the aisle or conducting from my seat!)

  10. Rosie

    I have so many music things to add that I think it's going to be too much for a comment… One of these days I'll put on my "certified music teacher" hat and blog about it 😉 But I'd definitely try to not just listen to music, but also discuss instruments used, dynamics, form, etc. It's something you can do in the car easily, and teaching kids to listen critically, not just passively, is HUGE!

  11. Melissa

    Thank you for this post! I am tucking away all these resources on my amazon wishlist and pinterest. 🙂

  12. Lucy Jones

    Thank you for your post!This tutorial is fabulous! Lots of great info including, Being a serious classical singer is like being a potential Olympic athlete Classically Trained pop Singer in concert or the operatic stage requires that a singer be in tip-top shape vocally, in order to meet the strenuous demands of the challenging music itself.

  13. Kyle John

    Writing Poetry is a wonderful hobby and a lot of people are fond of it. You are able to express things in a creative manner through this.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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