Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter.
Each season brings with it an invigorating freshness that mingles the jadedness of the season passing with the optimism of the season beginning. We who love beauty love to relish in the novelties and renewed wonder that the shifts in temperature and holidays bring to the imagination every few months. Each season truly is new. There may be only four which cycle on, but the seasons of this year aren't the same as last year - not quite - because you aren't the same as last year. Each trip around the sun welcomes untapped potential. Seasons, with their perpetual fluctuations of bleakness and bloom, seem to be in harmony with our humanness, ongoing reminders through which God encourages us: We have regrets, we learn, and we renew.
Experience. Time. Traditions. Memories.
"Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers."
Poetry is like the seasons. Both shape who you are as you become acquainted with what they offer. The traditions which we form around significant seasons or holidays will no doubt begin humbly and simply; yet with each repetition, the memories grow richer and become more deeply rooted within us. Likewise, we may read a poem or Scripture with nonchalance at one time, only to come to it later in life with renewed wonder and a firmer appreciation - only that which time and experience can vitalize.
The concept of a poetry tea is not my own. I came across the idea when first learning of Charlotte Mason. Looking to incorporate more beauty into our homeschool days, I stumbled upon this article by Pam Barnhill. It was the seed planted for me. Organizing a poetry tea seemed to offer an immense amount of beauty, while being fun and feasible even for a busy homeschool mom with littles. What a wonderful way to nudge a newbie Charlotte Mason-er into the accountability of putting some principles into practice. As Pam aptly states:
"Poetry is best shared with those you love, so every once and a while it is fun to have a bunch of friends over and throw a poetry tea party. This is a fabulous way to encourage kids to explore the genre of poetry."
For our family, the poetry teas began as a randomly-scheduled thing with close friends and family, at which the kids were encouraged to recite a poem of their choice from memory. Our next few teas were sporadically spaced over the next year-and-a-half or so. For 2019, I decided to commit to the regularity of a seasonal tea. Setting the dates at the beginning of the year, making sure to have one in December (because I have yet to fit in a poetry tea around Christmastime, and I think this would be especially enjoyable), I sent out an email with four dates for the other families. This keeps me accountable, and has been working out well.
From the several poetry teas I've hosted thus far, some pleasant evolutions have taken place. With the first tea I ever hosted, I had gone all-out with lots of treats and decorations. It was SO much fun.
Homemade treats abounding...lovely, but not always possible!
However, not all seasons in life have allowed for this extravagance. One idea that has proven to be more sustainable is that of making it a potluck. Though completely optional, most families enjoy bringing a treat to share, whether homemade or store-bought. There are other practical way to ensure the preparations aren't resting solely upon any one family, perhaps even rotating host homes. As host, I have made sure to at least provide the drinks - usually seasonal delights such as pink lemonade in summer and chai tea in Autumn.
Originally, the occasion consisted of only poems. Then, I had someone ask if perhaps they could do a Bible passage instead. Of course!! When hosting a tea in the fall of 2017 ( around the 200th anniversary of The Reformation), I prompted that the children feel free to come in a costume related to their selection, if they wished. To our delight, we had a wonderful child come dressed as Martin Luther, singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"! So, we now have expanded to include songs as well—with, and without instruments. As we've held them more regularly, the adults have begun to share poems and Scripture more, along with the children.
Of course, poetry recitations (as opposed to readings) require that a poem be committed to memory. If adding this into your child's school days seems daunting, be encouraged: I have witnessed that the simple practice of reading the poem aloud once each day plants it within the child's mind with no more effort than that of reading a storybook. They absorb it.
"...beautiful words and sounds appeal to children to a remarkable degree. Everyone knows how easily children learn by heart, and that a verse of poetry repeated to them two or three times is fixed in their memories without further trouble..."
We have had plenty of children and adults read a selected poem rather than recite, and this is fine as well. Though whenever possible, the challenge of reciting from memory ought to be encouraged, so the child can maximally benefit from the experience.
One last thought on logistics: It can be a tricky balance: expecting decorum from a large group of children and curbing the rowdiness to which children are sometimes inclined while showing grace and keeping the experience positive. It’s an impressive challenge for young people to go in front of a group to recite, and it is painfully more difficult if there are giggles, whispers, or distractions from the audience. We want our little ones to learn good listening skills as well as good speaking skills, but we must always lean towards grace. Our poetry teas currently have 4-5 families with about 20 kids total, aged 11 and under; I now add the reminder when I send out the invitations that, if needed, parents go over the golden rule with their children prior to the teas, encouraging them to be the audience they would want for their own recitation. Show grace to the little ones who are still learning how to be respectful listeners. Teach and encourage it, but please don't stress about it. Kids are bound to fall at some point in this, and it's OK! The more you model a respectful decorum and encourage them to do the same, the more natural it will become for them as they grow. I've also found it tremendously helpful to split the recitations into 2 sessions, with a break in the middle to give the littles a chance to fidget.
The Main Goal
The goal of these teas is to cultivate truth and beauty in our hearts and minds through poetry, song, and Scripture, while deeply connecting with our loved ones as we share. We enjoy the fellowship while giving children and parents a comfortable, respectful atmosphere in which to build public speaking confidence, challenge our minds in recitation, encouraging and inspiring each other in the process. We have a dad in our group who has memorized the entire book of Hebrews, and he shared the first two chapters with us at the last tea. Talk about inspiring!
Remember that the poetry tea, like the season, ought to fit right into where you are in life. There will be seasons for making it elaborate, and seasons to keep it simple—just as long as each season contains growth, fellowship, and good poetry.
I hope this encourages you to call up your friends and families and plan your own poetry tea. Find a groove that works for you! I'd love to hear about your own version of this lovely ritual.