Celebrating Poetry Teatime in a Foreign Language

homeschool poetry teatime.jpg

Let’s play a little word association game. When I say “poetry,” do you say….

Iambic pentameter? (I never did quite grasp that…) 
Counting syllables?
Or maybe….teatime?

Yes, Poetry Teatime! What’s that, you ask? Well, I’d love to tell you! 

Poetry Teatime is the brainchild of Julie Bogart, the founder of Brave Writer. It’s a practice that she developed while homeschooling her own five children--a practice that allowed her to rescue poetry from the drudgery of technical lessons and infuse its study with wonder and delight in her home. Here’s a video in which Julie explains Poetry Teatime (starting at 0:58): 

Even though my children are still young, Poetry Teatime has become a beloved ritual in our own homeschool. About once a week (although sometimes more often), I make a special treat—almost always this vegan hot chocolate—and combine it with snacks to entice my children to the table. Sometimes we do Poetry Teatime in the dining room, sometimes outside on our patio, and sometimes I just throw a book of poetry and snacks in my diaper bag and we read together at the park (this travel high chair attaches to a picnic table and keeps the one-year-old under control, in case you were wondering). Along with our hot chocolate and long-lasting snacks (think popcorn, popsicles, and Pirate’s Booty), the boys love listening to me read poetry of all kinds, from nursery rhymes to biographies-in-verse to whole volumes of pirate poems.  

Our routine proves that Poetry Teatime doesn’t have to be elaborate to be enjoyable. While I love to ogle the special desserts and themed teatimes on the Poetry Teatime Instagram feed, with a preschooler and a toddler, I’m just not capable of pulling off something like that right now. But even without delicious scones and coordinated centerpieces, my children are still learning to love poetry and engage thoughtfully with it—and that’s the whole point of Poetry Teatime!

And here’s one more thing: our family also uses Poetry Teatime as a way to sneak in extra foreign language practice. 

Using carefully chosen poems, Poetry Teatime can be a great way for homeschoolers to study a foreign language. Of course, the poems that you read need to match your child’s proficiency level in order to prevent needless frustration. But when you get it right? Well, your child can learn to revel in the sounds and images created by poetry in another language—a true delight!

If you’re not ready to do Poetry Teatime in another language, of course, don’t forget that English language poetry can still help your child along his or her language learning journey. Cultural learning (including in English) is an essential part of learning a foreign language—not just because it's valuable in and of itself, but also because it provides big picture motivation for language learning. So if you’re reading this post and thinking that my suggestions are totally impractical, don’t be discouraged—a Poetry Teatime in English will serve just as well! 

If you’d like to make Poetry Teatime a part of your homeschool routine, now is a great time to start—April is even National Poetry Month! Here are my three favorite tips to help you do this successfully: 

1. Find the right poetry “fit” for your homeschool language learner—the simpler, the better.  

Poetry is a challenging subject in a child’s native language, so studying it—or even just casually listening to it—in a second language can be an intimidating experience. For Poetry Teatime in a foreign language, be sure to choose poems that reflect the vocabulary that your child is familiar with. Simpler is always better to start with; you can always read more complicated texts later on! 

If you don’t speak the language that your child is studying, this is a great opportunity to take advantage of audio companions and audiobooks, which will do the reading for you! Among the books that I’ve selected below, I’ve deliberately included a few that have audio resources to accompany them, so that you can enjoy your Poetry Teatime regardless of your personal language ability. I’ve also done my best to include bilingual resources where I could, for those parents who would rather read in English. 

Below, you'll find my recommendations for Spanish, French, Chinese and German learners (and if you have your own suggestions, I'd love if you'd add them to the comments!): 

For Spanish Homeschool Students: 

La Madre Goose (Bilingual) 

This sweet collection of nursery rhymes is technically written in Spanglish…and for that reason, it’s a a great volume to use for your first Poetry Teatimes. The interlingual rhymes of these poems make them easy to learn and ultimately helps kids build their Spanish vocabulary as they internalize the meaning of new words. 

The Poetry Friday Anthology of Celebrations — and Audiobook (Bilingual) 

This collection of simple poems in Spanish and English has poetry to celebrate every holiday you can think of—and some that you’ve likely never heard of! No matter what the week or month, you’re sure to find something timely to share with your children. The accompanying audiobook also provides readings of the poems, and in both English and Spanish, the language is simple and easy to understand. 

Poesía española para niños (Spanish) 

Passionate homeschool language learners at the intermediate or advanced level will enjoy some of Spain’s best poetry as it is collected in this short and affordable volume. For those who want to take it a step further, many of the classic poems contained here are also available on YouTube—just search for performances by title. 

For learners at all levels, Spanish Playground also has wonderful Spanish poetry units—all of which are available for FREE. These include poetry units on Spanish body parts, Spanish winter vocabulary, and Spanish summer poems, and they even include free printable and extension activities. 

For even more resources in Spanish, be sure to check our resource library, where I have even more recommendations of books and music to share with your kids! 

For French Homeschool Students:

Taka’Réciter has a helpfully arranged collection of French poetry for children that is organized by theme: animals, nature, food, etc. I love this as a tool for helping to build French students' vocabulary in a more natural way than simple vocabulary lists. 

Your French homeschool student may also enjoy these popular French children’s poems, which include translations into English.  

For Chinese Homeschool Students: 

Even beginning students will enjoy these popular Chinese poems, which are both transliterated and available in English with brief explanations. Mama Lisa’s blog also provides an extensive list of nursery rhymes in Chinese along with children’s poetry—all translated and transliterated, with explanations and YouTube video performances to accompany theme.  

For German Homeschool Students: 

This site is a (free!) treasure trove of traditional German nursery rhymes, many of which are set to music and all of which include translations and explanations. You can use the German lyrics provided to follow along with the music or to read the rhymes as poetry! 

2. Prepare to make Poetry Teatime a memorable experience (but also don’t go crazy).

Just like Julie says in her video, kids learn better in a warm atmosphere, so it’s worth a bit of extra effort to make this fun—I promise that it will be worth it! If you have a crafty child or a baker-in-training, you can even make your homeschool student the official “host” of the Poetry Teatime and have him or her create the menu and decorations! 

It's easy to incorporate some cultural learning in your Poetry Teatime by connecting your snacks to a culture that speaks the target language. For those studying Spanish, you could serve churros and hot chocolate, just like in Madrid; French students could arrange a spread of strawberries, brie, and baguettes; and Italian learners could enjoy chocolate chip biscotti and espresso (okay, maybe decaf for the little ones). 

By the way, if you want to make this an extension activity, here’s an idea—have your child plan out the menu in the target language, research recipes in his/her chosen language and prepare them on his/her own. You seriously cannot beat cooking for authentic language practice

(You will also see in my example above that this is something that I don’t really do myself. So if you have young ones underfoot and it’s too much to plan one. more. thing….that’s totally okay. Although I do highly recommend checking the Trader Joe’s freezer section to see if you can’t find a special treat there!) 

If you need some more tips for making Poetry Teatime special without stressing yourself out, I love Lynna Sutherland’s article on Poetry Teatime with Multiple Ages.

3. Make Poetry Teatime a genuine learning experience by asking the right questions—or none at all. 

In our family, Poetry Teatime isn’t so much a structured learning activity as a way to get my children used to the poetic use of language—in Spanish and English—and help them learn to enjoy creative wordplay in both languages. That may be your goal as well, and if that’s the case, simply reading poetry aloud in your target language will help you achieve that goal. Remember, just by reading poetry aloud—and having your children read it, if they can—you’re practicing listening skills, pronunciation, and diction in the target language. All good things! 

If you want to extend your children’s learning through your Poetry Teatimes, however, here are some questions that you might consider asking (which build from simple to difficult, in terms of comprehension skills required): 

  • Were there any words that you didn’t recognize?
  • Were there any uses of familiar vocabulary that surprised you?
  • Did you notice any kind of rhyming in the poem?
  • What did you think of the poet’s use of punctuation? 
  • Why do you think the poet chose this title? 
  • Did this poem teach you something about another culture?
  • Does this poem remind you of any others that you know? 
  • How would you translate this poem (or a line of this poem)? 

Remember, though, even if you choose to ask these questions, keep Poetry Teatime short! It doesn’t have to be an hour long to benefit your homeschoolers (although if your kids are into it, by all means, go ahead!). 

And with that, I say, “good luck!” If you decide to host a Foreign Language Poetry Teatime with your kids, I hope that you find these tips useful--and if you have more to share, please let us know in the comments!