"I used to be a baby bear / But now I am a dinosaur": Writing about transformation in a kindergarten classroom


When I was asked to teach creative writing to kindergartners this semester, I had no idea what to expect. Starting with our first class together, it quickly became clear that the students were bright, curious, enthusiastic, kind, energetic, and creative. We experimented with a variety of methods of engaging with and writing poetry, and quickly discovered that the more movement involved in the lessons, the better.

For our final class, I brought in "Reptilian's Lament" by Aimee Nezhukumatathil:

Too cold.
Too tongue.
Too bug-eyed.
Too gill.
Too water.
Too fly.
Too cave.
Too smooth.
Too crawl.
Too fang.
Too spots.
Too claw.
Too stripe.
Too shell.
Too egg.
Too mouth.
Too drone.
Too wet.
Too grub.
Too molt.
Too slime.
Too spawn.
Too nymph.
Too night.

As I projected the first part of the poem onto the board, we collectively came up with movements depicting each line. We shivered, stuck our tongues out as far as we could, swam through slippery water, receded back into our shells, and crawled into our caves. The students were overjoyed as they bemoaned their reptilian lives.

We then returned to our human selves and talked about different aspects of our lives, discussing the ways we used to be and how they compare to what we are now. Filling in the blanks of a graphic organizer, the class created the following poem.

I Used to… But Now

I used to be as little as a kitten
But now I am as big as a rhino.
I used to be as little as a bee
But now I am as big as a high school.
I used to be as little as a baby panda
But now I am as big as a lion.

I used to be a butterfly
But now I am a teacher.
I used to be a zebra
But now I am Superman.
I used to be a ball
But now I am a dog.
I used to be a baby bear
But now I am a dinosaur.

I used to dream of growing up
But now I dream of flying in the sky and touching the clouds.
I used to dream of trees falling down
But now I dream of helping my mom.

In naming their experiences of getting older, of being in school for the first time, of being an older sibling, the students found comparisons in inanimate objects and in cute, cuddly animals and those that induce fear. Perhaps in imagining themselves as reptiles they stretched their minds just as much as trying to make sense of the process of growing up, of learning to read and write, and of watching their bodies and minds grow. My hope is that the time we shared giving voice to their experiences will stay with them as their lives continue to shift and expand, helping them to make sense of it all.