Hop, Skip, and a Rhyme: Listening Well and Delighting in the Beauty of Words (with Megan Andrews)

megan andrews center for lit hop skip and a rhyme literary devices how to teach literature how to teach poetry to kids
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Few things communicate “homeschool family” like stacks of read alouds, overflowing shelves, and library cards filled to bursting. Most of the homeschoolers I know love words, but sometimes we are at a loss how to teach our young children how to wisely approach the books and poetry they’re reading. Ought we to set them free with stacks of books and nary a bit of formal literary instruction? Ought we to drill them with stacks of worksheets identifying literary forms? Or might there be a better option all together?

Today’s guest, Megan Andrews from Center for Lit, not only is a lover of words herself, but she also loves to teach the joys of literature to young students. She and I discuss the big questions and ideas we should be communicating to our children as we explore the literary world together. She also gives some specific tips for teaching poetry to our young learners. Plus, you’ll hear all about her new picture book, Hop, Skip, and a Rhyme: Literary Devices for Young Writers. Megan’s ebullient conversation is an absolute delight, so don’t miss today’s episode!

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Who is Megan Andrews?

Megan Andrews is the Principal of the CenterForLit Online Academy, as well as an instructor of the Elementary and Junior High literature and writing classes. She holds a B.A. from Hillsdale College, and currently lives in Spokane, WA in a little apartment just off a park as vast as the Hundred Acre Wood. There, her evening rambles through the maples make every day a writing day and every swing-set a chance for verbal acrobatics.

megan andrews center for lit hop skip and a rhyme literary devices how to teach literature how to teach poetry to kids

Watch my conversation with Megan Andrews

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Amy: Hello everyone. Today, I am joined by Megan Andrews. Megan is the principal of the CenterForLit Online Academy, as well as an instructor of the elementary and junior high literature and writing classes. She holds a BA from Hillsdale College and currently lives in Spokane, Washington, in a little apartment just off a park as vast as the 100-acre wood. There, her evening rambles through the maples make every day a writing day and every swing set a chance for verbal acrobatics. How delightful?

Hop Skip and a Rhyme Megan Andrews Center for Lit literary devices for kids homeschool

Amy: I’m so glad that you are here. I’ve been looking forward to our conversation.

Megan Andrews: Thank you.

Amy: I know that was your official biography.

Megan: Yes.

Amy: You want to tell us a little bit about yourself and your experiences in education as teacher and student?

Megan: Oh, my goodness, of course. I am so excited to be here. I am an English nerd. That’s the most important thing that you should know about me. I have loved English since I was very little and grew up homeschooled, one of six kids out in the country. There was tons of room for the imagination or as Anne Shirley would say, “Scope for the imagination,” out there in the country. I grew up writing little poems and loved poetry classes with my mom, and went on to be an English major at Hillsdale, and found a second love pursuing that as love of teaching specifically.

My love for a language and my love for imagery transferred over into wanting to share that with little kids. I did a teaching apprenticeship and worked with 7th graders and then high schoolers as well, and have since taught kids of all ages. It’s really fun to watch my love of the art turn into a love of the students as well. Now I’m a teacher and couldn’t be happier to be floundering around in words all the time.

Amy: I think it’s so important for students to have a teacher who is passionately delighted about the subject matter that they’re teaching. That love I think is so contagious often, even more than exactly, like specifics of what we’re teaching.

Megan: Yes. Oh, my goodness. I think so, too. I remember, actually, I think my love of English really came from my mom who was so comfortable with the written word and hated math so much. My memory of English classes was just delightful. She would bake cookies. We’d drink coffee and think about words for hours. We’d never want class to end. Math, it was full of tears, mine and hers at the same time.

Amy: I think many homeschoolers can relate to that experience.

Missy Andrews Center for Lit My Divine Comedy interview

Respect and Delight in the Literary Life

Amy: Well, let’s chat a little bit about introducing young learners and young readers specifically to the joys of the literary life here. You are teaching elementary and junior high lit. I would love to hear, what are some of the big ideas, the main questions you’re wanting your students to be thinking about?

Megan: Oh, that’s such a good question. The biggest things that we emphasize at CenterForLit, well, the big idea, really, we borrowed from Mortimer Adler. It’s the idea of writing and reading being participating in a great conversation.

I think that for little kids, in particular, I love to come to a class and emphasize how you’re polite in a conversation.

The first thing that you’re required to do when you come into a conversation with a grownup is listen. You listen respectfully with all of your attention, expecting that he’s got something important to tell you. That he’s speaking to you with a goal in mind. There’s a beating heart of his message that you can understand if you are a patient to listen. Respect and listening well is the first thing that we emphasize.

Then, in addition, I love to draw out delight, as well. That’s the second principle that I love to fill my classes with. Respect for the author, first. Then delight, not only in his art form, how he’s decided to present that beating heart or that theme to you, but in the way that he’s chosen to do it. The word choices and the format and all of the opportunity for you as a student, to copy and emulate and have fun the way that the artist did. Respect and delight are my two themes.

Amy: I recognize that respect, but well, both aspects. Thinking about the respect aspect, I know is something you guys have brought up, on your podcast, which I know everyone should listen to Bibliofiles. It’s awesome.

Megan: Oh, yay.

Amy: You guys talk about love of neighbor as being something that applies to respect that we’re showing towards authors or, even in some of the little bonus episodes, as we think about people in the past in history. I think that’s so important to understand that loving our neighbor doesn’t just mean the people in our living room or the people we know in real life. It can apply outside of that to the people that we’re learning about or reading from in the past, so really important.

Well, can you give maybe an example or two from a children’s book, maybe that we would already be familiar with, maybe some questions, or how you would approach thinking about that book?

Megan: Absolutely. I was just thinking of favorite books that I have had fun teaching and emphasizing this with the students. One of my favorites is Gary Schmidt’s Straw Into Gold. Have you read that one before?

Amy: I have not read that one. I actually read his The Wednesday Wars, several years ago. I think maybe after I heard his interview on the Bibliofiles podcast. I loved that book so much.

Megan: Me, too.

Amy: I came down and handed it to my older children. I’m like, “You must read this book right now and-

Megan: I give you a present.”

Amy: Exactly. They’ve gone on to read many more of his works. I don’t know, that book had such a precious part in my heart. I was like, “I’m afraid to read anything else he’s written in case I don’t like it as much.”

Megan: Oh my goodness. I totally identify with that but don’t be afraid. All of his works are the same in that quality, the feeling of, “Oh my goodness that was beautiful and poignant.” There’s always something really profound that he’s talking about at the heart of his stories.

With Straw into Gold, it’s a fairytale. It’s a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale. A lot of the boys in my class rolled their eyes at the beginning, like, “Oh, I don’t read fairy tales, maybe princesses. I hate this.” The more we study it, the more it’s actually a story about sons and mothers, and the relationship between sons and mothers.

I hate to use the phrase, but it’s a boy book. It’s delightful to hand them that and then walk them through the process of listening closely and being delighted by the world that he’s created. I don’t know, it’s just sumptuous. The setting is so delightful and then the themes really catch at your heart. If you’re a mom, you cry by the end. I’m not even a mom, and I sob at the end of that story. The kids are always look at me like, “What in the world is the matter with you? [laughs] Pull yourself together Ms. Andrews.”

[laughter]

Amy: My kids definitely know mom will cry and/or get goosebumps pretty much with every story. That’s just her thing. It’s okay.

Megan: Absolutely.

Amy: Well, I’m convinced and we’ll add that to my library hold list.

Hop Skip and a Rhyme Megan Andrews Center for Lit literary devices for kids homeschool

Megan: Good.

Amy: Well, do you see any of these kinds of questions or way of approaching literature, either change or develop, as kids hit the middle school, junior high years?

Megan: Yes, absolutely. I would say with little kids, my main thing that I see is that their delight is easy to access. Their imaginations are right on the surface. As long as you can convince them that this book is for them, that the author was thinking about them, they’re ready to enjoy it.

The older you get, the more nuance there is in a work of art in a book for older kids. It’s sometimes harder to convince them that there’s something to enjoy in it.

I’m thinking of short stories that I work with my junior high kids on The Most Dangerous Game or To Build a Fire, Jack London. Those are not as much fun on the surface and, in fact, can be dark and gritty. I think that if they’re trained to listen closely, there is something of merit even there. It feels a little bit like if we go back to the conversation metaphor, some friends you’d want your kid to be a little bit careful of. You want them to have discernment in choosing their friends, but be able to listen closely and identify whether that person has things in common with them.

I think Jack London has some good things to say. I’m not sure I’d want my kid to hang out with him all the time. Maybe not without adult supervision. I think the older the kid gets, the more freedom you can give him to interact with those heavy-hitter artists that they will read frequently in high school and beyond. The difficulty level of the work I would give them would change, but the pattern of our class would stay the same if that makes sense.

Amy: Yes, it definitely. If you’ve set this good foundation of here’s how we approach humbly, ready to listen, understand what the author’s saying, search for things that we can relate to and delight in. If you set that foundation simply when they’re young and their eyes are just wide open, excited, and delighted about all those things, I think it makes it so much easier because they’re already in that habit of approaching words in that way. It makes it easier later on when the content is a little bit more complicated because they’re not having to come up with a new way of approaching literature. It’s the same, only deeper.

Megan: Exactly. My hope is because I’m just thinking about To Build a Fire, some more, it’s not delightful. There’s nothing light and sunny about To Build a Fire.

Amy: It’s cold and dark.

Megan: In fact, it’s cold and dark, exactly. There are things that the readers should still relate to. They should be called to identify still with the main character in deeper ways and maybe more convicting ways. Perhaps their emotional intelligence has grown up enough that they can identify not just sunny happy things, but things that are difficult and hard in themselves as they read along.

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Teaching Poetry in the Younger Years

Amy: Well, how does this relate to our approach to poetry? I can see I think someone listening can say, “Okay, I can see that with stories. That makes sense to me.” How do we take this approach to teaching poetry especially in these younger years?

Megan: Absolutely. I think the poetry is wordplay. At its heart, poetry is all about the sound quality of words meeting with their meaning, words actually almost being personified to communicate even more than just a simple sentence. Literary devices are really at the heart of poetry. There are these tools that a poet uses to dress up his writing and make it speak on many different levels.

I think with little kids, giving them the idea that the poem is a living thing that’s singing to them and it’s got a sound quality that they can appreciate first before they need to dive in and understand the meaning, it is part and parcel with the same idea of discussion, that you’re listening first and looking for things to delight in. The sound of the word itself is the very beginning of a poetry class.

Amy: When we recite poems in our morning time, we’ve been doing poetry with a mixture, a wide range of ages for many years now. It’s really fun how even the younger kids, maybe one of the poems is more complex, and the older children are getting more of the themes and ideas. The younger ones probably don’t have any idea what the poem is talking about, but they still just enjoy saying it because with poetry it’s almost like you can taste it on your tongue as you’re saying some of these lines.

As we say them together, I think that’s really powerful, too, that you’re not just reading and trying to hear it in your own ear, but you’re saying it with other people. I think that makes it more fun for me, and I’m an adult, but definitely for children.

Megan: Or that it’s communal, of course. You feel like you can hear everybody sitting around the table and thinking along with you, which is the same idea as the Great Conversation in literature. You can’t hear everyone reading that book along with you, but with poetry, you can a little bit more, and it’s delightful. You feel like you’re part of something.

Amy: Yes and with poems like The Destruction of Sennacherib where the meter is driving, how many times have children been galloping around the room in time to the poem because it demands you move your body in a certain way?

Megan: I love that.

Amy: I’m not sitting there like, “Well let’s analyze the meter of this poem at this moment when you’re five.”

Megan: How many stresses do you hear? [chuckles]

Amy: Exactly, but the four-year-old, the five-year-old, they just know, and they move their body accordingly so it’s fun.

Megan: Oh, my goodness that’s why A. A. Milne poetry is so fun. Just that happiness, that poem about skipping, that just demands to be skipped around the room, just delightful. The kid doesn’t know what he’s learning then, but he’s getting an introduction to meter and what meter is, and how it drives poem like an engine so delightful.

Jennifer Dow classical education poetry

Will studying literary devices ruin the joy of reading?

Amy: Definitely. Well, what would you say to the person who’s like, “Okay we can just enjoy the poems together and that seems good enough. We don’t need to be talking to children about literary devices. That will just ruin the joy of the reading. We just want them to just organically absorb all of this,” Well, I was obviously, talking about that a little bit. There’s a part of that, that’s true, but how would you respond to that perspective?

Megan: Well, I’ve definitely heard this before and from a variety of sources. My first instinct would be to wonder if that mom if we’re talking to a homeschool mom if she’s overwhelmed and this is one too many. I would say to that homeschool mom, “Do not overload yourself. There’s time for these whenever.” Some of these literary devices, I didn’t learn until college. They improved my understanding and helped me enjoy it more whenever I discovered them.

I think there’s also something to be said for watching a master artist at work in his process. That’s delightful. It’s fun to know, to watch him put things together, and to know how things work the way that they do. I would say to that homeschool mom along with Anne Shirley or Marilla, “How much you miss.” If you don’t know how the poem’s put together, there’s so much enjoyment that you’re missing.

You don’t have to with every poem, of course, sometimes the sound quality alone is enough particularly with little kids. Sometimes you just want to read them some A. A. Milne and not overanalyze. I think there’s always delight examining, “Oh, look we know this literary device. We’ve heard this in another poem.” It increases their understanding of that conversation. I think it’s still fun. Even for littles, I tend to do it.

Amy: I just don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think sometimes we think, “Well, either we’re going to be learning the whys and the wherefores or we’re going to be enjoying the poem itself.” I think they can go beautifully together. You can both enjoy it and not dissect it like you’re in biology lab and just tear it into its pieces and smell like formaldehyde. That sounds terrible.

Megan: That was a deep dive. I loved it.

Amy: We can still learn about how a frog is put together and created these amazing ways that it’s designed perfectly for its environment. Then that makes us appreciate the beauty of the frog more. In a similar way with poetry, understanding how it’s put together can make us appreciate the beauty more.

Megan: Yes, I think so, too, particularly when you are turning your attention from just reading the poem to hoping your student can write one. These literary devices are a great bridge to empower your student and light their imagination on fire again. We recognize this literary device in a Winnie-the-Pooh poem and now I want you to use it. It’s easy to just ask them to do, “All right. Let’s try alliteration. Write me a sentence that has alliteration in it.” If they have a definition of what alliteration is, all of a sudden, they’ve got a reason to be diving into wordplay themselves. It’s helpful as a bridge.

Amy: Definitely. In our current morning time this month, we are reciting I Must go Down to the Sea Again by John Masefield and Crossing the Bar, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. We were actually talking about some of the alliteration in one of the poems. As we were looking at them together, we realized that there was an alliterative phrase that occurred the same phrase in both poems. Oh, our minds were blown.

Megan: That’s so fun.

Amy: It was amazing.

Megan: That’s delightful.

Amy: Exactly, so much fun.

Megan: Look at you go.

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Hop, Skip, and a Rhyme

Amy: Oh, I know that probably another reason that some moms may be hesitant to think about including this and their homeschool day is they don’t know themselves. They’re overwhelmed thinking, “I don’t even know these literary devices. How in the world am I supposed to teach them to my kids?” I know you have a new book coming out.

Megan: I do.

Amy: That help them and bridge that gap. Tell us all about it. I’m so excited.

Megan: Yay. Oh, my goodness. Thank you. Well, I’m excited, too. It’s called Hop, Skip, and Rhyme. The purpose of this little book is to be like a handbook on your shelf as a homeschool mom or as a picture book for your little kid. It could serve both purposes.

Basically what I’ve done is taken some of the most common, the ones that appear the most literary devices, written a little poem about them. The poem is supposed to, first of all, define the literary device for the parent so that they can understand it.

Then it uses that literary device over and over again for the rest of the poem. Then I have a little illustration so that they’re fun to look at and hopefully, keep your kids attention. They’re supposed to define and use as an example. If you wanted to as a teacher, you could take one of these poems and analyze the poem to look for the literary device. It could be a whole lesson in and of itself. That’s my hope. I think there are 15 in the book.

Amy: I love that too because it’s very open-and-go. Someone doesn’t have to have one book, “Okay, here’s alliteration. Now I’ve got to dig out my poetry book off the shelf.”

Megan: To find some example.

Amy: Try to find an example. It’ll be right there, so very easy. Open it up and read and enjoy it together. That’s really exciting.

Megan: That’s my hope. Thank you. I’m really excited about it.

Hop Skip and a Rhyme Megan Andrews Center for Lit literary devices for kids homeschool

Amy: Well, what are the illustrations like? I’m very curious. I’ve seen the cover, but I haven’t yet seen the inside. Although, hopefully, by the time this comes out, I’ll have bought my own copy, but what is it? Is it pen and ink or watercolor or what kind of style?

Megan: There were a couple of different mediums that I used. I am a huge fan of charcoal and chalk together on colored paper because it jumps off the page and is really vibrant. Most of them are charcoal and chalk drawings. Then there are a couple that have color as well. Some pastel and some colored pencil thrown throughout just for a little bursts of color because littles like for it to be colorful. For the most part, charcoal and chalk.

Amy: I’m so excited. That will be fun. I know it’ll be a useful resource for many families.

Megan: I hope so.

What Megan is reading lately

Amy: Well, Megan here at the end, I want to ask you a question I’m asking everyone this season. That’s just what are you personally reading lately?

Megan: Oh, my goodness. What a fun question. My attention is a little scattered these days. I’m reading a lot of different things at different levels. I’m reading Dune because of the fact that the movie just came out, and I’ve never really read a lot of science fiction. It’s like a hole in my own education. I’m about halfway through that. I think it’s a great story, but maybe not my favorite genre. I’m reading that, wouldn’t recommend to little kids, but I’m enjoying it. I am reading a kid’s book though, at the recommendation of my elementary class. It’s called Wildwood. I can’t remember the name of the author right now, but it’s a series. I think there are three books in the series.

It reminds me of CS Lewis’s, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a little bit. It’s like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe meets A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Very fantastical, maybe a little bit darker than Lewis, but so far, beautiful. It’s set in the Pacific Northwest, which I have a soft place in my heart for. The atmosphere is very homey to me. I think it’s set in Portland, and I’m from Washington State so close. I would definitely recommend it so far. I’m only halfway, but I’m loving it. I’m working on those two right now.

Amy: Is that middle-grade fiction?

Megan: Yes, I would say probably junior high. I think some elementary kids; a precocious elementary kid could like it. I think probably 7th Grade is perfect.

Amy: Well, I’ll have to add that to our list. As you can imagine, we’re always trying to find new books to feed the insatiable appetites of some of my young readers.

Megan: Of course, oh my goodness. So far, I would recommend this one.

Amy: Well, I will add that to our holds. Megan, where can people find you all around the Internet?

Megan: Mostly I’m to be found at CenterForLit. We have two different websites. Centerforlit.com is our flagship website, but then we also have a membership society called The Pelican Society. I am throughout The Pelican Society as well. If you want me, I’m at CenterForLit.

Amy: Sounds great. Megan, thank you so much for coming and chatting today and just sharing a little bit of this perspective on teaching literature to our younger children. I’m really excited to be able to share this with Humility and Doxology listeners.

Megan: Thanks for having me, Amy.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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