Hands-On Poetry for Kids!

(I debated with myself whether or not to post this today.  After the horrific and cowardly act of terrorism in Boston, Mass. yesterday, I wondered if the light and breezy topic of kids learning to read and write and enjoy poetry seemed a bit out of place. Only living a couple of hours away, I have numerous friends and family in the Boston area, so the tragedy struck especially lose to home for me.

But then I realized: in times like these, giving your kids as much time as you can give them is one of the most important things you can do.  I hope you find something positive in this post, and that you’ll keep the victims of the Boston bombing in your hearts, thoughts, and prayers. Thank you.)


As you probably know by now, this is National Poetry Month, so I’ve been dedicating each of my blog posts to the craft.  Today I wanted to share three ways that kids (and grown-ups, too, for that matter) can enjoy poetry without necessarily realizing they’re learning!

#1) Play with your food

This is a fun and easy project perfect for family gatherings where there will be several kids around, looking for things to do.  Glazed cookies with words written on them can be combined to form sentences…and the fun & learning comes from both the creating and the playing!

Poem CookiesYou’ll need:

1 box of vanilla wafers
2 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
2 1/2 – 3 Tablespoons water
Food colouring, if desired
Edible marking pens, like FooDoodlers or Wilton FoodWriters

Make a white glaze for the cookies by combining the sugar with 2 1/2 tablespoons of water. If it’s too thick, add a little more until it’s spreading consistency. You don’t want it too thin, though – so be careful. It’s easier to add more water than to add more sugar, so having it a bit on the thick side is preferable – especially if you’re going to add food colouring.

Once the glaze is made, divide it into 2 or 3 bowls, if you plan on colouring it. Add just a little food colouring, as you’ll want to keep the colours light.  Be sure to cover the bowls to keep the glaze from drying out!

Now, frost your vanilla wafers with the glaze and allow to harden (depending on its thickness, this could take 10-15 minutes or more than an hour). Once dry, write words on each of the cookies with the pens!  For the batch of Easter cookies in the photo, I made the nouns pink, verbs yellow, and adjectives blue, just to keep them organized. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to buy the markers, so I used dark food colouring and water with some corn starch to create an edible paint and painted the words on with a fine (clean!) paintbrush.

Kids not only enjoy making these, but they love being able to play with their food…and who can blame them??

#2) Finding found poems

Seuss-cat-hatIf you don’t know what a ‘found poem’ is, that headline’s grammar may seem a bit off. But found poems are a great way to get children to read their books – or read anything, really – in a totally different way.

A found poem is a poem that one ‘finds’ inside another written work – a poem, a story, a news article, even a catalogue or advertisement. You simply scan the words and lines, searching for an element, a phrase, a theme…by which you can tie together other words and phrases within that written work.

In this case, a child can find found poems inside the books they already read and enjoy! Take, for example, the classic “The Cat in the Hat.”  Pulling lines from pages 1, 2, 8, 11, 40, 54, and 58, I came up with this rather dark and not-too-kid-friendly poem:

The sun did not shine.
I sat there with Sally;
Mother, out of the house.
He should not be here.
Run down the hall,
shut the box,
and he was gone.

Sheesh, I think I just spooked myself with that one. But you get the idea. One never knows what kinds of images or connections can be made by tying together words and phrases that at first seem disparate.

Sometimes the poem you create summarizes the main text; other times, you find yourself heading off in a totally different direction, as I just did.  Even for younger kids, simply searching for and combining similar rhyming words helps them recognize sounds and reinforces spelling. And for someone like me who loves word puzzles and wordplay, it’s a fun exercise!

#3) ‘Nothing’ is really something!

This is a good classroom activity; it’s something I often do when speaking to a class about creative writing, and it invariably impresses half the kids and bums out the other half.  It’s a simple way to show that we never do nothing, and it’s interesting to hear what words come up during this conversation…

Very simply, I ask who in the classroom has ever done nothing. Hands go up. I ask specific children, “So, when you were doing nothing, what were you doing?” Answers range from sleeping (which, of course, is something) to watching TV (which is also something) to being dead (which, while morbid, is incorrect; I explain that if you’re dead, you’re decomposing – so you’re still doing something!).

Once the kids get an idea of where this heading, I write down “Nothing” at the top of the blackboard and have them all do the same on a piece of paper.  I ask the children to shout out words that come to mind when they think of ‘nothing,’ and I write 3 or 4 responses below. I then ask them to give me words that come to mind when they think of these words and write down 2 or 3 words for each of the previous words…and then do the same for each of those words.  It only takes 4 levels of words before you have a good 35-40 words on the blackboard.

I then proudly announce that, the next time they tell their teacher they have ‘nothing’ to write about…take a look at their paper!

As I said, some of the kids think the concept of this ‘word-tree’ is cool. But the ones who are used to trying to get out of doing their work don’t seem to like it as much. Go figure!

“Poetry can be fun…really!”

That is the message I try to get across to kids – and adults, for that matter. So many people have the impression stuck in their mind that children’s poetry is simple, repetitive, and boring while adult poetry is all big words, incomplete sentences, and baffling subject matter. That’s not true! There’s so much good poetry out there – and so varied – that one is bound to stumble upon a poem(s) that speaks to them.  It’s just a matter of understanding what poetry is, then finding the type of poetry that you like.

Google your favourite topic and the word ‘poetry’ and you just might be surprised at what pops up. “Pizza” + “poetry” yields 9,570,000 results.  “Baseball” and “poetry” yields 40,300,000 results.  And “Love” + poetry” yields 289,000,000 results – but we could have all guessed that would be off the charts. (Speaking of baseball poetry, be sure to check out Ed Decaria’s work at The Hardball Times – good stuff)

I hope you’ll take some time this April – National Poetry Month! – to read a little poetry, write a little poetry, and enjoy the experience as so many of us do!

Prog poem 2013 graphicRemember, Irene Latham’s 2013 ‘Progressive Poem’ (at Live Your Poem) is now halfway completed! This is a poem that started with one blogger April 1 and is travelling from blog to blog each day, with each blogger adding a new line to the poem. (By the end of the month, we’ll have a completed poem!) Here’s the complete list of all of this year’s participating bloggers, including Yours Truly, so you can follow along:

April Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterJoy AceyMatt Forrest EsenwineJone MacCullochDoraine BennettGayle KrauseJanet FagalJulie LariosCarrie Finison 10  Linda Baie 11  Margaret Simon 12  Linda Kulp 13  Catherine Johnson 14  Heidi Mordhorst 15  Mary Lee Hahn 16  Liz Steinglass 17  Renee LaTulippe 18  Penny Klostermann 19  Irene Latham 20  Buffy Silverman 21  Tabatha Yeatts 22  Laura Shovan 23  Joanna Marple 24  Katya Czaja 25  Diane Mayr 26  Robyn Hood Black 27  Ruth Hersey 28  Laura Purdie Salas 29  Denise Mortensen 30  April Halprin Wayland

3 thoughts on “Hands-On Poetry for Kids!

  1. Janet F.

    The cookie poetry is yummy, and I love the idea of the connections from your tree diagram. I don’t recall googling for topic and poetry before. Amazing amounts for pizza and baseball. Next must check for apple pie and verjuice!
    What happened in Boston is horrific. We live in a hard world, but Fred Rogers is right….look for the helpers. In my classroom I taught the children that I had 3 rules for them and for life. They were called The 3 Keys to Success. One was help everyone. And these rules needed to be followed “every minute of every hour of every day, 24/7.” It is interesting to note that many remember them. I also had Golden Nuggets. Those are the sayings my mom repeated over and over and it finally dawned on me how much they shaped my life, so I tried to gift my students with some Golden Nuggets to consider. Oh would the world be a better place without haters. I pray for Boston and all those affected, especially, obviously the injured and those who perished. I am glad you posted your poetry. I am including you in a flyer I am handing out at the Poetry Olio at IRA in Texas this weekend.


    1. Thank you both for your comments – and thanks also for spreading the news in Texas, Janet!

      I remember all sorts of advice and rules of thumb I learned growing up, which I have passed along to my kids…and although the following one doesn’t necessarily relate directly to the Boston incident, it’s still good advice (I wish I could recall who first said it):

      On choosing your friends: “If a person is nice to you, but not nice to the waiter…they’re not a nice person.”

      Now that’s something everyone can understand, whether you’re a kid or not!


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