Poem In My Pocket

It always surprises me when I hear people tell me that they dislike poetry. Honestly though I have never heard a child say that. It is usually adults. Somewhere along the long and winding road, poetry quietly exits from our lives…poetry that, I am certain, was a companion to us in our younger years.

A few months ago, we at school,  stumbled across an idea that we fell in love with. It’s called ‘Poem In Your Pocket’ and is hosted by the New York city government and it goes something like this – write your own poem or borrow one from your favourite poet; just make sure to carry a poem in your pocket to share with your friends, family, classmates, and colleagues.

What a wildly delightful idea! Instantly we knew this was something we had to do. Poems were already gifts that we gave each other at school, but here was a chance to extend it to ALL in our community, including our parents.

Now, most of us at school aren’t really into organising events. We prefer the non-fussy, spontaneous approach…people coming together, bringing with them their enthusiasm. It has always worked for us and what a fabulous day ‘Poem In Your Pocket’ turned out to be.

Here’s what happened …

All children and adults at school brought a poem along with them in their pockets. As opportunity arose, usually in quiet moments, we read the poems to each other. Older children who were readers, stepped in to help younger children … little groups of 2’s, 3’s and 4’s spontaneously formed in the playground, during lunch time, in the reading corner, on steps, to read poems together.

Sharing in quiet moments

Sharing in quiet moments

The elementary children recited their poems for the school.

Reciting a self written poem, 'The Sun Serpent'

Reciting a self written poem, ‘The Sun Serpent’

The elementary take a bow

The elementary take a bow

When the parents came to pick their children from school, they came with treasure in their pockets. All of us walked out into the street and read to each other.

v sharing

Sharing all around!

sa sharing

m sharing

It was a day filled with delight and wonder!

And if you don’t believe me, here’s testament to what it felt like!

happy compere

Here’s to Opening and Upward
by E. E. Cummings
(poem brought in by one of the parents)
here’s to opening and upward, to leaf and to sap
and to your(in my arms flowering so new)
self whose eyes smell of the sound of rain
and here’s to silent certainly mountains; and to
a disappearing poet of always, snow
and to morning; and to morning’s beautiful friend
twilight(and a first dream called ocean)and
let must or if be damned with whomever’s afraid
down with ought with because with every brain
which thinks it thinks,nor dares to feel(but up
with joy; and up with laughing and drunkenness)
here’s to one undiscoverable guess
of whose mad skill each world of blood is made
(whose fatal songs are moving in the moon

 

Earthworms are Superheroes

earthworm

All too often children get mixed messages about nature.

On one hand adults romanticise nature to children and expound liberally about how important it is to ‘save’ mother earth and we wax lyrical about the beauty of nature. On the other hand we all too often prohibit them from playing in the rain and slush, use the word ‘dirt’ synonymously for ‘soil’ and cringe when we chance upon a ‘bug’ or worm or ‘creepy-crawly’. When a young child instinctively bends down to pick up a tiny creature she comes across we hasten to get it out of their hands!

The fact is children come unconditioned about the creatures they share this planet with and slowly take on the prevailing attitudes of those around them. This is an important evolutionary step. It is how we learn about our world from the experiences of others. We learn what to stay away from and what to seek. In times long past it was the line between life and death itself!

A parent who delights in the simplest things of nature usually has a child who delights in nature too. I have a young friend, just past 3 years who LOVES ‘bugs’. She enjoys looking at them, handling them and talking about them. They make her world interesting and magical. You don’t have to look far to find out where this fascination comes from. You just have to meet her mother!

Upon hearing the word, ‘worms’ most people cringe, right?

Walk into school and you will find an entirely different mind set when it comes to earthworms! They inspire awe and the children are truly fascinated by them. The child who has found an earthworm wriggling about on a cloudy, rainy day, feels s/he has chanced upon true treasure.

The internal anatomy of the earthworm has been sewn onto cloth and made into  soft toys with the shiniest beads used to denote their 5 hearts. Clay models have been fashioned, poems have been written and thick books completed, paying homage to the earthworm.

They are the ‘new’ super heroes at school.

Upon hearing about the great work that earthworms do one child pondered, “Just like earthworms don’t know the important work they do for earth, do we humans also not know some great work that we are doing?”

Earthworms

by Valerie Worth

Garden soil,

Spaded up,

Gleams with

Gravel-glints,

Mica-sparks,

and

Bright wet

Glimpses of

Earthworms

Stirring beneath:

Put on palm,

Still rough

with crumbs,

They roll and

Glisten in the sun

As fresh

As new rubies

Dug out of

Deepest earth.

BOOKS WE LOVE – PART 2

Here are some books loved by our older children aged 5 1/2 years to 9 years. This is certainly not a definitive list, but some random pickings from the ones that the children seem to go back to time and again.

If like me, you enjoy reading ‘children’s’ books, these are delightful. Like CS Lewis said, “No book is really worth reading at age 10 which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at age 50”

Is-a-Blue-Whale-the-Biggest-Thing-There-Is-Wells-Robert-E-9780606142373

IS THE BLUE WHALE THE BIGGEST THING THERE IS ? by ROBERT.E.WELLS

Just when you think of the Blue Whale as BIG, the book takes you on a journey from BIG to STUPENDOUS …  Mount Everest, Earth, our Sun, to Antares – a red giant star, the Milky Way, right to the size of the universe itself. All are depicted as relative sizes and children are absolutely fascinated by the book.

This book is perfect for elementary aged children who are making sense of their world, and indeed the universe, through their imagination. Imagination for the elementary child is akin to touch for the younger, primary child. They want to know about everything that they cannot see but still need concrete clues as aids to their imagination.

The other two books in this series that the children love are:

pygmy

HOW SMALL IS THE PYGMY SHREW?

Takes the reader from a pygmy shrew, to the ladybug, to drops of water, to the protists living in those drops of water, all the way to the parts of an atom. Going from small to tiny to miniscule appeals to the elementary childs imagination.

can_you_count_to_a_google

CAN YOU COUNT TO A GOOGOOL?

Anyone who has worked with an elementary aged child knows that they are enamoured by big numbers. This book gives children an understanding of just how big, the big numbers they like to throw around actually are.

dragons

ERIC CARLE’S DRAGONS DRAGONS AND OTHER CREATURES THAT NEVER WERE by ERIC CARLE

The elementary children LOVE mythology and poetry. Dragons Dragons has both! It is a collection of poems of mythological creatures that features fantastical beasts from all parts of the world – from the Phoenix to the Yeti and the Garuda. The children seem to instinctively know that the book isn’t talking ‘down’ to them and has no flashy, cutesy enticements. It is what it is – excellent poetry, great visuals and a world of fantasy.

ABC3dABC 3D

Pop-Up books have a special place in the hearts of children and this one runs away with the prize. It is intelligent, witty and simply delightful.

I don’t know how to embed a video yet, so follow the link below to see the book in action.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnZr0wiG1Hg

Sidewalk

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by SHEL SILVERSTEIN

Quirky, funny poetry – just up the elementary child’s alley.

totochan

TOTO CHAN – THE LITTLE GIRL IN THE WINDOW by TETSUKO KORONYAGI

Toto Chan’s classroom is a discarded train boogie! Toto Chan herself is whimsical and quirky and children relate to her instantly. They find many similarities between Toto Chan’s school and ours and are always ready for our next story reading session. The nice thing about the book is that each chapter is a little incident complete in itself, and is ideal for read aloud sessions.

all_small_poems1

ALL THE SMALL POEMS AND FOURTEEN MORE by VALERIE WORTH

Valerie Worth is simply brilliant! Her poems encapsulate simplicity at its best! Her poems open our eyes to the beauty in the most ‘ordinary’ of objects.

Custard-and-Company-Poems-Cover

CUSTARD AND COMPANY by OGDEN NASH

An often requested book. The children enjoy these funny poems, much like they enjoy the poems of Shel Silverstein. The two most loved poems in the book are, ‘The Boy Who Laughed At Santa Claus’ and ‘The Tale of Custard the Dragon’

Ionesco - Story Number 2 (Failly)025

STORY NUMBER 2 by EUGENE IONESCO

Having been recently donated to our library by a friend, I was curious as to how the children would react to the book which reverses usual relationships. When we started reading, first there was disbelief, followed by some giggles and then belly-hurting laughter. Needless to say, there is a long list of children who now want to borrow ‘Story Number 2’.

INVITATION by Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer,

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire, For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in! Come in!!

world poetry day

image found here

We read A LOT of poetry at school. Poems are special gifts we give each other. Lillian Moore, Valerie Worth, Shel Silverstein, Edward Lear, Basho are all familiar names – friends that delight and make us ponder.

The 21st of March was World Poetry Day and given our love of poetry, we celebrated it at school.

As any Montessori guide will tell you it’s all about the process and I am particularly glad at how the preparations for the day went.

It was so simple, child-led and has generated so much of enthusiasm.

A few days before the event, I spoke to the children about the World Poetry Day and asked each child to spend some time finding a poem they would like to share with the others.

The next morning and through the day, I saw children in 2’s and 3’s sitting in the library corner. I observed them refer to several books, read a few poems to their friends, ask their opinion and finally choose a poem for themselves.

Here are some of the poems the children chose:

Eagle a poem by the Papago Indians from Animals Animals by Eric Carle

Tiger by Valerie Worth from All The Small Poems And Fourteen More 

Red by Lillian Moore from I Feel The Same Way 

The Unicorn by Rainer Maria Rilke from Dragons Dragons and Other Creatures That Never Were by Eric Carle

The Nicest Pet by Charlotte Pomerantz from Halfway To Your House by Charlotte Pomerantz

Several children decided to copy write and illustrate the poems they had chosen and this spontaneously caught on with all the others. The children had added one more step to the process.

Then they committed the poem to memory. I modeled how to do it and they went to a quiet space, reading and re-reading the poem till they felt they had ‘got it’. This is when they called in a peer, who ‘took up’ the poem for them. It was interesting to hear the conversations at these times – “Oh! you forgot a line – come lets say the poem together and then you can try again” or “I do think you should say this s-l-o-w-l-y”

Once the child was sure of the poem, I invited her and a peer to the amphitheater and demonstrated how to ‘throw’ ones voice so that each person in the audience would be able to hear them. The peer sat at different points in the amphitheater and provided feedback on clarity.

After they were satisfied with the recitation, they returned to class to choose their next work.

Through this entire time, the children were independent, purposeful and enthusiastic. Not once did I have to intervene or re-direct. My only job was to provide  clear guidelines and  structure at each step. The 3 hour work cycle was not broken for practice sessions but rather the entire thing flowed into it like any other work chosen.

On the day, besides the children reciting their poems, some of the teachers joined in too. There was Kannada poetry as well.

While speaking with a parent shortly after World Poetry Day, I learnt that their daughter suggested that for weekend fun they memorize a poem together!

Now I’m sure some of you are asking the question “Why memorize poems at all? What is the point?”

Going by the experience that I have had with children, they delight in poetry.

I think this is step one – read a lot of good quality poetry and let a love of poetry pervade the environment.

After that memorizing a poem one loves, allows a child to experience the poem – the words enter her soul and she makes the poem, hers.

Here’s what Jim Holt wrote in The New York Times about reciting a poem from memory:

It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.

That’s my case for learning poetry by heart. It’s all about pleasure. And it’s a cheap pleasure. Between the covers of any decent anthology you have an entire sea to swim in.

To end here’s an excerpt from ‘Eating Poetry‘ by Mark Strand :

EATING POETRY 

 Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.

There is no happiness like mine.

I have been eating poetry

The Gift of Time

Stillness Sleeper - plaster installation - 80 x 70 x 20 inch by Mirko Sevic

The boy wanted to give a gift to a little 4 year old who was celebrating his birthday at school. We usually gift poems to each other in the elementary and he had been a recipient of such presents.

It was only logical then, for the boy to copy write a poem as a present.

But he disliked writing – it was difficult and held no pleasure for him.

Today though, something stirred inside of him. Maybe his desire to be the bearer of gifts was far greater than his disinclination to write … maybe it was something else …

The boy painstakingly wrote out a poem, but it didn’t stop there. He copy wrote and illustrated poems for the next three hours!

He came in the next day and went straight to work. By the end of our morning work cycle he had reams of paper with poems running through them, like ants on a sidewalk.

The boy did this again on the third day.

 He rummaged through even more poetry books. He marked in the parts of speech in the poems he copy wrote.

He commented on the ‘beautiful language’ made by Valerie Worth in her poem, ‘Tiger’  and finally, he wrote his own poem! …”Cars are like dragons flying through a desert

The boy declared, “You know, I just LOVE poetry’

This coming from someone who evidently disliked our story reading sessions, resisted putting pencil to paper for the simplest of tasks, did not borrow books from our library unless it was suggested and never voluntarily chose work from our language shelves.

How did the shift occur? How did the boy, who a year ago found it formidable to articulate his thoughts in complete sentences, find contact with the words:

TIGER

The tiger
has swallowed
a black sun.

In his cold
cage he
carries it still.

Black flames
flicker through
his fur.

Black rays roar
from the centers
of his eyes.

~ by Valerie Worth

???

And then it struck me – it was the gift of TIME!

Time to interact with others and to talk about things that interested him thereby practicing his oral language skills, time to pursue interests that called to him, time to receive precise help and practice skills and most of all, time to build confidence – now something that was difficult and new was no longer daunting but challenging!

This, my friends, is the poetry of Montessori environments. The child has TIME – a right in a Montessori environment, but a luxury in more mainstream learning environments.

The child is not being hurried along according to an agenda laid down by people who have never heard his name, or falling into a struggle with a harried teacher who needs to get things done. Nor is he learning each day that he is not good enough and cannot do something.

Instead, he follows himself, stays true to who he is and loves what he does!

The boy will be leaving us to join a more mainstream school for the next academic year.

My wish for you my dear boy is that you always hold true that deserts there may be, but dragons can fly through them!