When children discover poetry in themselves, it can be a successful platform for expression, creativity and growth. Poetry’s permission to engage with nonsense, make-believe, invented words, sounds and ideas can catalyze magic. It can be an outlet for expressing emotions, bending rules without consequence, exploring identity, changing names/gender, and learning how to shapeshift. It is maybe here, in poems, that children can find respite from an adult-centric world, and discover authenticity and autonomy--it is maybe here that children can be themselves!
The Poetry Center’s free, monthly Kids Create is a wonderful way to keep kids writing or get them started. There is a story time for ages 0-3; and for kids ages 4-10, there are two separate, hour-long writing workshops.
Reflections from the 4-6-year-old workshop:
At the first Kids Create of this school year, we made Color Poems. We followed a prompt to write anaphora poems and explore thinking about color as description. Although the prompt was structured, this was to direct and not confine. If someone wanted to take it their own way, that was great--I try to make poetry a place where there is very little No. This is to contrast with the world most kids may be growing within, where No is extremely commonplace as new discoveries and boundaries are tested for some of the first times.
Having structure can also feel like a fun puzzle to place words and create meaning within.
The prompt and suggested structure read like this:
1. color is my _______ .
2. one sentence about line #1
3. Repeat line #1
4. And color is _______ .
To prep beforehand, I folded blank paper into little books with the idea that a 3-D format is perhaps more inviting to new writers than a linear blank sheet.
After writing our poems, one line per page, everyone was encouraged to complement their work with illustrations.
Georgie graciously shared her wonderful poem for the blog, and below her poem is a photo of one of the illustrated pages!
Blue is the color of the
sky. Yellow up
The sun is high
I look up
Sky. Yellow up
The sun is high
Blue is The color of the
up The sun is
is up on The high
-Georgie, age 6
For the second Kids Create of this school year, the workshop for 4-6 year olds explored vibration and noise through Sound Poems. This time we worked in reverse: we created illustrations first, and then put words to them.
We quieted down and listened to dramatic spooky music, celebratory of October’s longer nights and seasonal shifts. From there, we opened our blank mini books and made quick drawing expressions inspired by the sounds.
Lastly, we searched for words from these drawings. I encouraged the kids to use sound, noise and onomatopoeia. To finish, everyone created a descriptive title and cover illustration.
Below is new poet Zahra, a few pages from her book, and the text of her completed poem that she generously agreed to share with the blog!
WEE! WEE! WEE!
I encourage everyone to try poetry anywhere you can with kids, and to be open to what you will learn in the process. Try writing on different mediums that aren’t flat paper. If young children aren’t writing words yet, don’t let this stop you! I encounter plenty of published poetry devoid of text words, and many talented poets have translators and transcribers!
Ask young poets for permission to read their completed work back to them. If they say yes, that is a really beautiful opportunity to present their work with unrestrained admiration and supportive enthusiasm. And if not, that can be a really special moment to respect and validate a child’s creative expression and independence.
Challenge yourself to be flexible about what you perceive a finished poem/product to look like, and challenge yourself most importantly to pause before saying No.
Facilitating poetry writing with children can be a wonderful gift, both in children’s growth, exploration, journey for identity and self-- and in yours!
Dominique is an art educator, youth poetry faciliator at Kids Create, Poetry Center volunter, and a poet. They love making music and playing in a band in their free time. They used to work as Restoration Ecologist in Northern CA, and love spending time interacting with plants and nature in the desert. When not out hiking and botanizing, they are dreaming about intergenerational community, growing seeds and resistance.