Arthur Burrell reminds us that recitation is “The Children’s Art.” Have you observed a young child telling a story to a playmate or recounting the day’s events to Dad at dinner? They are usually full of expression and feeling. Compare that to a child reading aloud. The reading is often monotonous and lacks any expression. How can we help our children recapture this art when they recite, or read aloud, to others? Let’s explore why we should help our children learn this art.
Why children should learn the art of recitation
They learn to communicate with clarity.
Listening to good communicators is a pleasure. They speak clearly with well-chosen words. Their delivery style adds to the meaning of their words.
They become comfortable speaking in front of people.
There are many opportunities throughout life to speak in front of others. Some examples include a toast at a wedding, a eulogy at a funeral, presenting an idea to colleagues or friends, a profession that relies heavily on public speaking, or more importantly (in my opinion) reading aloud to children.
They have the opportunity to influence others.
Good communicators are often given additional platforms for speaking. These may include invitations to speak to groups of peers or adults and opportunities to share the Gospel.
Four steps to learn the art of recitation
A child should “speak beautiful thoughts so beautifully, with such delicate rendering of each nuance of meaning, that he becomes to the listener the interpreter of the author’s thoughts.” (Charlotte Mason) How does the child do this? He should do it on his own. He cannot imitate your example, but must find his own voice. When children imitate, they lose the emotion and feeling they have within themselves to recite and “learn to be nervous, monotonous, bumpy, and careless.” (Arthur Burrell) The following four steps provide a framework for learning to recite a piece bit by bit.
1. Choose a piece to recite
First choose a piece to recite. Parents provide options from which the child may choose. Be sure the options provided are within the child’s developmental ability and understanding. Some suggestions include scriptures, hymns, poetry, nursery rhymes, speeches, famous documents, and moving passages from worthy books or books they have read. Arthur Burrell has a great list of suggestions.
2. Read the piece
Instruct your child to read the chosen piece aloud. Discuss it, if necessary. The piece does not need to be learned in a day. Allow the child to practice reading the piece once or twice a week for ten minutes over a few weeks, or longer if necessary, until he can recite the piece beautifully and with expression. Incorporate elements of delivery as discussed below.
3. Practice delivery
Your child should stand while reciting to ensure full use of the diaphragm and lungs. If your child has difficulty pronouncing words in the passage, work with him to compose a list of like-sounding words that he can practice reading out loud.
Next, encourage your child to read through the piece and think about how he should use his tone of voice to communicate the author’s intent. He should also consider where a pause would be effective.
Some pieces lend themselves well to movement, such as raising an arm in salute or pretending to look through a spyglass. Movement should be minimal.
Tone of voice and movement should reinforce the message, not detract from it.
Once learned, record the piece in a notebook or print a copy to include in a notebook and practice it periodically.
Helpful resources for learning the art of recitation and public speaking
- “Recitation: The Children’s Art” by Arthur Burrell
- A Guide to Storytelling by Arthur Burrell (out-of-print)
- “The Art of Public Speaking: Lessons from the Greatest Speeches in History” by Professor John R. Hale (from The Great Courses)
- “The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals” by Professor Hannah B. Harvey (from The Great Courses)
Key points about recitation to discuss with your child
- Talk to your child about why he is learning to recite:
- To communicate clearly by speaking beautifully and with expression
- To be comfortable speaking before others
- To influence others
- Speak clearly with careful pronunciation.
- Do not speak too fast.
- Use intentional inflections in your voice with a volume appropriate for the room.
- Pause where appropriate.
- Emphasize a point with facial expressions.
- Make eye contact with the audience.
- Incorporate movement. Do not stand completely still, but do not move excessively.
- Read or memorize the piece. Memorization is not required.
This video is a great way to discuss these points with your children and allow them to see how to recite a poem well.