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At what age would you expect a child to be asked to learn this off by heart?

(97 Posts)
Greythorne Sun 02-Dec-12 11:07:26

...and be asked to recite it in front of the class?

The Hare and the Tortoise

Rushing is useless; one has to leave on time. To such
Truth witness is given by the Tortoise and the Hare.
"Let’s make a bet," the former once said, "that you won’t touch
That line as soon as I." "As soon? Are you all there,
Neighbor?" said the rapid beast.
"You need a purge: four grains at least
Of hellebore, you’re now so far gone."
"All there or not, the bet’s still on."
So it was done; the wagers of the two
Were placed at the finish, in view.
It doesn’t matter what was down at stake,
Nor who was the judge that they got.
Our Hare had, at most, four steps or so to take.
I mean the kind he takes when, on the verge of being caught,
He outruns dogs sent to the calends for their pains,
Making them run all over the plains.
Having, I say, time to spare, sleep, browse around,
Listen to where the wind was bound,
He let the Tortoise leave the starting place
In stately steps, wide-spaced.
Straining, she commenced the race:
Going slow was how she made haste.
He, meanwhile, thought such a win derogatory,
Judged the bet to be devoid of glory,
Believed his honor was all based
On leaving late. He browsed, lolled like a king,
Amused himself with everything
But the bet. When at last he took a look,
Saw that she’d almost arrived at the end of the course,
He shot off like a bolt. But all of the leaps he took
Were in vain; the Tortoise was first perforce.
"Well, now!" she cried out to him. "Was I wrong?
What good is all your speed to you?
The winner is me! And how would you do
If you also carried a house along?"

Greythorne Sun 02-Dec-12 19:14:52

We have spent quite a bit of today on this. 3 bursts of 10 mins, trying to get the first 4 lines learnt.

DD is not impressed.

pointythings Sun 02-Dec-12 19:18:51

Well, DD1 did the whole of 'The Night Before Christmas' when she was not quite 5. She was still at nursery then (I deferred entry to primary until the term she turned 5 due to childcare reasons). She did fine.

But this poem is several levels above, and most of all DD was doing her bit because she wanted to perform.

I think there is an enormous difference between learning essential grammar by rote and learning endless swathes of text. I learned French and German this way, and if you add in a fundamental understanding of how a language works (knowing what verbs, adverbs, adjectives, clauses etc. are) plus punctuation, you're actually equipped to learn pretty much any language. It certainly enabled me to learn Arabic in my 20s.

Learning poetry off by heart on the heart hand strikes me as mostly useless - OK, it trains memory, but that's about it. It certainly doesn't train anyone to appreciate the beauty of poetry - they could do that just as well by studying a poem, understanding it, and then reading it out loud - with the understanding adding expression.

I am very glad my DDs are not in the French system, I would not be happy about this and I'd be just as stuck with it as the OP is.

lljkk Sun 02-Dec-12 19:53:24

I would be impressed if 11yo DD could memorise that poem.
I'd faint with shock if my 8yo could learn it all.

Greythorne Sun 02-Dec-12 20:01:09

My French DH keeps saying to me, "it doesn't matter if she doesn't understand it, she just has to learn to say it" which makes me feel worse, not better.

DeWe Sun 02-Dec-12 20:05:24

Yes, OP, I agree about the language, I hadn't thought of it that way.

They'll learn it phonetically without any knowledge of the meaning, which seems pointless.

CecilyP Sun 02-Dec-12 20:10:49

In your translation, I would say that it is full of vocabulary that I wouldn't expect a 5 year old to know - I mean, who takes a 'purge' in this day and age? So if it is similar in French, I would expect it to be very hard to learn - and that is without even considering the length of the piece.

NonnoMum Sun 02-Dec-12 20:17:50

Yup - French system seems crap to me...

CecilyP Sun 02-Dec-12 20:19:46

OP, what would happen if you refused?

Rosa Sun 02-Dec-12 20:33:09

Mine is in year 1 But in Italy so 6/7. . They have short poetry /ryhmes. But. O way anything like this. I would also prefer my child to understand what they are learning.

Greythorne Sun 02-Dec-12 21:17:42

Rosa - how do they learn verb conjugation in Italy?

rhetorician Sun 02-Dec-12 21:39:47

italian verbs are hard, as I recall

winnybella Sun 02-Dec-12 21:51:49


Wait, is she in a local primaire? How odd. DS is in CM2 and just had to learn Eluard's 'Liberte', which is long but fairly simple. He never had to memorize a poem of that length or that vocab complexity. In CP they were doing short, simple ones.

It's way too much for a 5yo, imo.

OwedToAutumn Sun 02-Dec-12 21:57:17

Can you get a recording of it, and play it every time you are in the car?

My DC learned TS Elliot's cat poems like that. (Inadvertently, they were listening to the poems for pleasure, not with the object of learning them off by heart.)

LynetteScavo Sun 02-Dec-12 22:02:06

Weirdly, my 7yo, who can hardly read and write could memorise it, if we worked long and hard enough on it.

My eldest DS could have (if he'd wanted to at 5/6, but he is very able at recalling what he has read) DS2 would be hard pushed at 9yo.

SavoirFaire Sun 02-Dec-12 22:12:38

Just a tip about memorizing poetry. Try starting from the END, not the beginning (alongside a lot of reading the whole thing through, without trying to learn it on those read throughs). This way, when they come to recite, they are most confident about the latter parts and get more confident as they go rather than starting to panic as they forget the end bits.

SE13Mummy Sun 02-Dec-12 22:50:40

I would think that most of my Y4 class would manage it, as would DD1 (aged 7) but that is because they are used to learning things off by heart in Literacy. Lots of schools will use Pie Corbett's method which involves children learning a text before using it as a scaffold to write their own - that's a massive simplification of what the process entails but it starts with the children hearing the text told/recited to them followed by the creation of a graphic text/story map (very bad drawings/symbols to represent key words in a sentence/phrase). The children then use the text map to read the text and actions are added to further aid recall. Have a look at this school's website for an example of a text map.

It's a great way of teaching sentence structures and language patterns and is particularly effective with children who are struggling with English grammar. Although it feels rather alien to children on the first occasion that this method is used, they soon get to grips with it and end up with a whole range of texts that they know off by heart.

My class have recently been learning one entitled 'How a jellyfish stings' and it starts like this...

Jellyfish are invertebrates. This means they do not have backbones. They have circular bodies without a head and tentacles that hang down into the water.

They live in water and swim or drift with the currents of the sea. They are found throughout the world though they prefer warmer water.

Jellyfish attack their food using their tentacles which are covered with tiny stinging threads known as nematocysts. If any creature touches one of these nematocysts it will explode outwards etc. etc. etc.

Perhaps helping your DD to devise symbols with which to rewrite the poem will help her to recall it? The actions may also be worth exploring, if only because it's active (and can be fun!) which may appeal to her. When I use this method with my classes we often play 'tennis' with a text - batting the words to each other e.g.
me: How
child: a
me: jellyfish
child: stings
me: jellyfish
child: are
me: invertebrates

Good luck!

jamaisjedors Wed 05-Dec-12 09:30:58

How's she getting on?

DS1 (8) just tried to learn Away in a Manger today and found the words really hard!

Elibean Wed 05-Dec-12 11:09:51

Yikes shock

Have you tried singing it?

jamaisjedors Wed 05-Dec-12 12:15:53

Away in a manger or the OP's original poem grin?

CecilyP Wed 05-Dec-12 12:57:05

Away in a Manger, I think.

Not sure what tune you would set OP's poem to.

picketywick Wed 05-Dec-12 13:01:06

It seems pointless to me. Is it a Gove idea?

ShaynePunim Wed 05-Dec-12 13:35:10

I was brought up (abroad) having to learn by rote from a very early age. My children (in the UK) as far as I know have never had to learn anything by rote except for school plays, and I wish they had.

It's great for exercising your memory.

Frankly it's not that difficult. I'm sure it would be easier for your child if you didn't give her the vibe that you think this is too much, or out of order, or that the whole educational system you've put her in is so shit.

As for the level of vocabulary, a challenge is good. I feel sorry for these kids who are only ever given stuff to read or to study that adults feel are 'right for their level'.

At 5, St Augustine was already studying Latin and Greek. Why do we insist that our children should be treated like idiots?

Greythorne Wed 05-Dec-12 13:50:04


I think you have got me quite, quite wrong.

I am neither anti-education or anti French system, but thanks for comparing my DD to Saint Augustine. That's a first.

Greythorne Wed 05-Dec-12 13:51:15


After an intensive weekend of practising, we are halfway through. And I say "we are halfway through" deliberately, because it really is both of us!

Cahoootz Wed 05-Dec-12 14:12:10

I guessed a French School as soon as I saw the OP. That poem is really long and difficult. My DC's were educated overseas in a traditional style school but were never asked to do something like that. My DC's happily memorised entire episodes of SpongeBob confused wink

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