Home schooling book review: The Harp and Laurel Wreath

I previously reviewed Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist. The Harp and Laurel Wreath: Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum is a companion book, though it could also be used on its own.

Basically it is an anthology of poetry and some prose selections meant to be used throughout the school years. As the subtitle suggests, the selections are intended to be used both for memorization and dictation.

Berquist argues, and I agree, that “the appreciation of the fine arts is formative for the soul.”
“If the soul holds beautiful, noble and heroic images, it will be inclined to love those things.” More, love of the beautiful paves the way for love of the truth.

Thus she suggests that at a young age children be encouraged to memorize poetry. Young children are quite good at memorization and they naturally love the sounds of poetry for themselves without necessarily worrying about the meaning. Thus she includes selections for young children to memorize and also for older children to analyze and study as well as suggestions for questions and study techniques at the various levels of development (following hte trivium these are grammatical, analytical, and rhetorical). She also suggests that copying and taking dictation are excellent ways of learning the conventions of written English, the traditional way of following good models that seems sadly to have been lost in schools in recent years.

I think her methods make sense. My head is still crammed with all the nursery rhymes my parents read to me when I was little, with poems and speeches I learned for school. I wish I knew more of them than I do. (On the subject of poetry that has been memorized also see Louise Cowan’s essay “Poetry and Therapy” for great reflections on the power of poetry to heal the soul, she recounts how she recalled and recited poems previously memorized when she was going through an ordeal with eye surgery.)

As I flipped through this book I found many old friends as well as some pieces that I was unfamiliar with. In general I like the selection… though of course there are some poems and speeches I would add to supplement and others I would skip over. But what do you expect from a poetry-loving english teacher nerd?

I will definitely buy this book, a valuable resource to have on the schoolroom shelf. I’d recommend it even for people who aren’t homeschooling.

I can’t wait to hear our daughter reciting “The Charge of the Light Brigade” for her grandparents…

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