Writing poetry with children

Horses go galloping

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to write about galloping. What keeps replaying in my head is the phrase “The horses go galloping, galloping, galloping” interspersed with the lines from “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, a poem I learned at school.

The Highwayman came riding, riding, riding,

The Highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

tomas_arad_heart

Learning poems at school was a joy. I love poetry and, in younger years, used to read a lot of it, less currently. Perhaps I should say I loved poetry, but that would unfair, just as it would be unfair to say that I no longer love an old friend that I haven’t seen for years, for at the moment we meet up again the connection is just as strong as ever, the ties never broken.

Oftentimes when I read Charli’s challenges I know how I will respond immediately. Other times I need to massage the idea until I hit just the right spot. This time the horse has bolted and the paddock is left empty without a horse in sight. All I’m left with are my thoughts of poetry.

Fortunately, as an early childhood teacher with a love of picture books, recent years haven’t been completely devoid of the poetic form. While not necessarily written in what might be considered “poetic language”, many are written in rhythmic rhyming verse. Others contain verses within the story, such as the refrain in The Gingerbread Man or the song in Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.

The gingerbread man

A title recently added to my list of favourites, through repeated readings and recitations by my grandchildren, is Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Australian author Aaron Blabey. Its rhythm, rhyme and sense of fun is an absolute joy. We laughed together at every reading by G1, and every recitation by G2. It begs to be read and re-read, recited and recited again. Sadly, I got to read it aloud only once, and even then not all the way through! “Hey,” I protested in vain. “I like to read picture books too!

piranhas don't eat bananas

Of course there are also many books of poems and rhymes written for children, including Nursery Rhymes, though many of those weren’t written with children in mind. There are also some that fit into a horsey theme such as

In addition to reading poems and stories to my class I also enjoyed writing poems with them. At this early childhood stage the poems would be more rhythmical verse, sometimes rhyming and sometimes not, with only the hint of an introduction to poetic language.  I have previously written about writing our versions of I Love the Mountains, a traditional camping song.

I have also written some resources for supporting teachers when Writing Christmas poems with early childhood students. These are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store and soon to be included in readilearn resources. With easy-to-follow structures, writing these poems give children immediate boosts to their writing confidence.

I had been thinking for a while that I should write some new versions suited to other times of the year, but hadn’t prioritised it. However, when I read Rowena Dreamer’s post Mr’s Poem: Through My Window on her blog beyondtheflow, another idea sprang to mind. Rowena discussed the writing of a poem “Through my window” that had been set as homework for her son.  I immediately thought of the sound poems that I had taught my students and wondered if the structure could be adapted for sight poems.

The structure of a sound poem

This is what I came up with:

I saw as I looked through my window

You’ll notice that I haven’t exactly maintained the structure. This is what happens, particularly when young children are writing their versions. It is to be expected and accepted. The purpose of the structure is to support, not restrict.

I then wondered if it could be used with the other senses and, at the same time, realised that four verses, four senses, would just about reach the target of Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about galloping. With no other ideas galloping into view, how could I resist giving it a go?

Disappointingly, I found the structure less accommodating for smell and taste, and had difficulty in conjuring different words to use for each. For example, I wanted to smell and taste the freshness of bread and the sweetness of apples. I had thought touch would be more difficult but have realised that’s not the case. The repetition of the word “felt” for both touch and emotion is perhaps not ideal though.

I would love to say more here about the necessity for teachers to experiment before setting tasks for children, and of the value of learning from the process rather than the product, but I think I’ve probably said enough in this post.  I will just share what I’ve written which, though responding to Charli’s challenge, doesn’t actually fit the criteria of flash fiction. However, if you’d be kind enough, I’d still love to know what you think.

Market Day

I heard

as I sat curled with a book

the thundering of hooves

the snorting of nostrils

the jangle of stirrups.

I felt anxious.

I saw

as I looked through the window

the horse at the gate

the rider on the path

the bag in his hand.

I felt excited.

I smelled

As I opened the bag

The freshness of bread

The sweetness of apples

The promise of coffee.

I felt famished.

I felt

As I savoured my lunch

The crunchiness of crusts

The crispness of apple

The warming of coffee.

I felt satisfied.

Yum! Fresh produce.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

38 thoughts on “Writing poetry with children

  1. Sarah Brentyn

    You know I love picture books, too. A lot of them are poetic (and quite a few for younger children are basically poems). Very cool post and flash. I like your set-up for a poem with all the senses. I am NOT a poet by any stretch but did create and teach a poetry workshop and it was an amazing experience. My students were a tad older than yours but it was still wonderful teaching them and they were “children”, still. ❤

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    1. Sarah Brentyn

      Okay. Here we go. (Poetry isn’t in our genes, mind you.) 🙂

      I felt
      As I sat on the lawn
      The softness of grass
      The cool wind on my shoulders
      The warm sun on my face
      I felt calm
      ~ My 11-yr-old

      I smelled
      As I sat in the meadow
      The sweet fragrance of flowers
      The sharp scent of grass
      The tangy aroma of lemon tarts in my picnic basket
      I felt relaxed and connected to nature
      ~ My 9-yr-old

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      1. Norah Post author

        Those are gorgeous Sarah. Please congratulate your boys for me. The pictures they have created are vivid and I feel as if I am there with them – ready to dig into those lemon tarts – yum!
        Thank you for sharing this writing experience with your young poets. I am very touched. xx

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    2. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing, Sarah. Yes, many picture books are definitely poetic. I would have loved to learn poetry writing from you. I’m sure your students loved it too! 🙂

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  2. Sherri

    Love You Forever…makes me cry every time… I love your flash poem Norah. It seems the stable wasn’t empty after all, since not only did you come up with this unique and deligthful response to Charli’s ‘galloping’ prompt, but you also got a delicious, healthy snack at the end of it! I don’t write poetry very often, but when I do it is usually dark and of deep expression. And strangely, I’ve never felt stirred to write one for a 99 word flash fiction. I love the way your mind works Norah 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Sherri. I’m pleased you enjoyed the poem. I don’t do dark for children. If I was doing it for me it would probably be as dark as a night sky with full cloud cover and a storm brewing!
      As far as the way my mind works – can you follow it? I sometimes can’t. 🙂

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      1. Sherri

        Ha…now that’s dark, and I can relate!! But yes, good point Norah, no dark poems for children. Your model is a wonderful way to encourage children to write poetry, to think about just the right words they want to use and when. A fantastic learning resource. And I can follow your mind perfectly well…you provoke my thinking, in the best possible way through your wonderfully written posts and the questions you raise. That’s a gift! 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you, Sherri. It gives me great pleasure knowing that enjoy reading my posts and that they give you something to think about. I am always thinking. I can’t imagine a life without it. 🙂

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  3. Bec

    I really enjoyed your FF – it gave such a great sense of atmosphere! I also enjoyed learning about your approach to teaching poetry (and it seemed so familiar – was I a student of this approach?). I also very much appreciated your explanation that the students’ work can change, and that the structure is to support but not restrict.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m sure you wrote a number of poems using that structure Bec. I’m pretty sure we wrote a few when we had that writer’s club. Remember? As well as other times. I’m pleased you enjoyed the reminder. The purpose of education is to draw out what is within the child, not pound in something from the outside – hence support rather than restrict. Better to let the new ideas flow!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much, Jules. Yes I have seen some of the adult’s fun. It does look like a great poetic structure to use with children. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

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  4. roweeee

    Great post, Norah. I must admit I found galloping a challenge myself and it was just that I heard that little boy on the train calling out as we went in the tunnel that paved the way forward. I actually had a friend whose son ran down the front of church and grabbed the bottle of communion wine or something similar at his Christening.
    Thank you for sharing the format for the sound poem. I’ll have to try that with the kids.
    I’ll have to share your post with my son’s English teacher to show her how far that task is spreading. I strongly believe in giving praise where praise is due.
    Some of the things you mentioned here reminded me of a meditation I have done with a Lindt Ball. It’s a way of doing Mindfulness but it’s very sensual and you close your eyes and really take your time with it savouring every moment. It’s so good. You’ll notice on my blog I’ve been thinking about chocolate for the last two days. I popped into a chocolate shop I went to growing up yesterday and asked them if they were interested in some photos I’ve taken in their old store 10 years ago. Turned out that they had no photos of the shop at all and were really pleased and gave me a few packets of samplers. Well, when I went back and looked at those photos again, I find that my son was sucking on a chocolate inside the shop and the lady had given him a couple of chocolates. I wasn’t allowed to eat outside in my school uniform and I remember the shop being one of those look but don’t touch places so I could see that Mister had touched her heart in some way. I must admit he looked very cute but he was a handful. Very active.
    I had a wonderful day working on that.
    Hope you’ve had a great week. I know I’m going to miss Summer and the heat at some point but I’m a bit over it at the moment. I could dive into an ice box! mind you, it’s now dark when I wake up which isn’t so good.
    Take care!
    xx Rowena

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for the richness of your comment, Rowena. My time has been curtailed this week and I haven’t as yet read all the posts you mention. Hopefully I’ll get to some of them soon.
      I think that is a lovely thing to show the teacher how far her influence has spread. We don’t always get to know the effect of the ripples we begin. As you say, it’s nice to give credit where credit is due. 🙂
      I like the sound of Lindt ball meditation. Or maybe I just like the sound of Lindt balls! They are certainly something to savour. Ooh! What a sensational poem you could write about that!
      That chocolate shop sounds amazing and I’m sure the owners appreciated the gift of your photos. I’m not surprised cute little Mister was spoiled with a gift of chocolate! Have you been thinking of chocolate because Easter is coming? I’ll have to pop over and have a look.
      Today is a little cooler, but so is my pool. There may not be many more weeks of swimming left. I’ll miss it, but then I can look forward to it again.
      Enjoy the week. Will catch up soon.

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  5. Sacha Black

    Cooooool styling of poem, love how you captured the senses. I am going to have to try and remember this for a couple of years time. I was never much of a fan of poetry at school. The odd piece, sonnets, Shakespeare, but mostly I liked longer stories. Not a surprise tho really given my current loves! Anyway, beautiful poem and wonderful idea for teaching

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Sacha. I’m pleased you liked the poem. I’m sorry you didn’t like poetry at school. I think that dislike was sometimes encouraged by the poor choice of poems for children and the way they often had to be interrogated, rather than appreciated. Fortunately for me, I loved thinking about their meaning and contributing my thoughts to the discussion. I was always called upon to say what I thought. While I never liked be asked for an answer, I always loved sharing my ideas. As you say, though, even as children we know our preferences. But I think it’s important to have exposure to a range so you have an educated choice.

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  6. Silver Screenings

    Thank you for posting this. I facilitate a writers’ group for kids aged 9-14, and some of the younger ones really love to write poetry. Poetry is my weak spot, especially for that age group, and I LOVE what you’ve posted here. I can’t wait to share this with them next week. I’m excited to see what they’ll create. Thanks again!

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    1. roweeee

      I thought you might find our family discussion about Haiku of interest. While I write a lot of poetry, I haven’t really explored Haiku at all, although I did meet an internationally-acclaimed Haiku writer last year, who spurred me on. After I threw my hat in the ring, the family thought it was too disconnected and had quite a bit of fun at my expense. They ended up having quite a lot of fun with it and my son came up with something quite profound in his efforts to be funny. He’s a reluctant reader and an even more reluctant writer but really likes his English teacher this year and seems like a new boy. I’ve also posted his poems on my blog, which has really encouraged him. It’s one thing for Mum to tell you it’s good but quite another when someone else does. He asks me how many likes he’s got. I’m really stoked to see this development in him. Here’s the link: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/haiku-mash/
      xx Rowena

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  7. Lisa Reiter

    What a truly delightful post and jam packed with wondrous nuggets Norah! Full of your usual galloping enthusiasm!
    I really love your analogy for the love of poetry as like that of an old friend – it never goes away even if you don’t visit very often. You quote a couple of my favourite poems and I enjoy your flash – all the more for reading it out loud which is I feel how much poetry should be performed and might have been intended. As a teen I used to stand at my bedroom window casting Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ into a warm summer night! Never did think our neighbours might hear and think me a nutter!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Lisa. I appreciate your enthusiasm. I really enjoyed reading Poe. I’d love to have heard you reciting “the Raven” into the night. I never would have thought you a nutter! 🙂

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  8. Pingback: Galloping Stories « Carrot Ranch Communications

  9. Charli Mills

    Norah, you are so clever and creative! I think you say it best with this: “The purpose of the structure is to support, not restrict.” That’s the heart of the constraint — to support a creative idea. I like the poetic structure and how I could sense it unfold and now I wish I could hear a rider come galloping, galloping, galloping with a midnight snack!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Charli. You are very kind. I do enjoy having fun with stuff like this. It’s interesting to try out something new. I was surprised with what I found about smell and taste, and then to discover that touch was actually easier was surprising again. I’m pleased I hadn’t asked children to write about the other senses without having tried it myself. I think tactile poems would be fun:
      the roughness of bark
      the smoothness of leaves
      the softness of petal
      The textures of spring!
      Which has just given me another idea of how these poems could be used! Thanks Charli. I might need that rider with the midnight snack myself! 🙂

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  10. stuckinscared

    This was interesting, Norah. I love poetry… writing my own is (for me) the most cathartic writing form. I also love reading the poetry of others… not least your little gem above! But, I must admit I’ve never thought much about how-to’s, or form. I just read, and enjoy. I did once research Haiku with a mind to have a go myself, but after having a go found it wasn’t for me… I wasn’t very good at it. I found it way too restrictive.

    I loved the flow of market day… x

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your supportive comment on my humble attempt at poetry. You are a poet indeed. Your gift with words is amazing. The pictures you create and the emotions you evoke take a lot of skill. You write from the heart. I think it is wonderful that you have found a medium which suits your expressive needs so well. I know I am not the only reader to appreciate it. Thank you for sharing so much love and compassion through your heartfelt words. xo

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  11. jennypellett

    I love poetry, both for my own pleasure and as a tool for getting young people engaged with language. Reluctant readers can often be encouraged by the layout of a poem (not so much overwhelming text on the page!) and the rhythms can be an aid to understanding. I try to introduce humorous verse such as Spike Milligan or Roger McGough to get them started. When they’re older, a wonderful poem to read in class and find the sound of a train moving along the tracks is Night Mail by W H Auden 😊

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts about and love of poetry, Jenny. There’s another thing we have in common. Though I have learned some poems, thanks to you. I knew of Spike Milligan, but not of Roger McGough. And I can’t believe I didn’t know Night Mail. What fun that would be to read or recite. The rhythm is very well matched to that of the train isn’t it? Your mention of humorous poems made me think of Michael Rosen. His poems are delightful. And there was a great series of Australian books of short humorous poems starting with Far Out Brussel Sprout. The children loved the wackiness of them!
      Thanks for letting me know about these new, to me, resources.

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  12. thecontentedcrafter

    One of my favourite poems of all time – still! The Highwayman. I learnt it and I taught it on. The strong rhythmic beat makes it so easy for children to appreciate how poetry works and then the technicalities all come later. Geoff’s comment made me smile, because of course 10 year olds are still living in that strong rhythm and simply can’t conceive of a poem not rhyming. 🙂 Love your piece Norah – I was salivating 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Ha! We have found another thing we have in common – a love of poetry. We are making new discoveries all the time. It is wonderful. 🙂
      And back to Geoff’s comment. We start off with the strength of rhythm and rhyme, and then progress to free verse! It all has its own wonderful magic to offer.
      Thanks for enjoying my “poem”, sans rhyme.

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  13. Annecdotist

    Wonderful, Norah! I don’t think it’s only children who could benefit from your advice on writing poetry!
    Smell and taste can be the more difficult senses to evoke, especially as there is an overlap between them. I’m sure Charli will tell you you’ve valiantly satisfied the demands of the prompt.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Anne. Another one galloping in, quick off the mark. I’ve already told Charli that I didn’t meet muster this week, but I appreciate your recognition of my efforts just the same. 🙂

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  14. TanGental

    Well you know me a sucker for any poetry. The refrain is lovely as is the concept. I have a fuzzy memory of a teacher, probably in year 5 trying to get us to understand poetry didn’t have to rhyme. And his laughte when he realised how sceptical we all were. Maybe an early lesson in seeing you might disagree with a teacher? Not something 10 year olds did back then.

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    1. Norah Post author

      You were quick off the mark, Geoff! Thank you. 🙂
      Words of support from a “real” poet are much appreciated also. I’m pleased the shortsightedness of your year 5 teacher didn’t turn you off poetry. The world is richer for it.
      And you’re right. A 10 year old couldn’t possibly disagree with a teacher … once upon a time.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂

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