A Sunshine Thought: Nurturing Children to Write Poetry

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Talk to me about the importance of exposing children to creative writing, and I
am compelled to share a story about a young writer I met while teaching a creative writing workshop on poetry at an elementary school. This writer seared into my imagination the importance of children having a pedagogical experience in creative writing. I’ll call the young writer Poetry Poetry. Poetry registers meaningful educational memories for me. The class had written a group haiku. I asked for a volunteer to read the poem. She volunteered. When she finished reading the poem, she said, “I feel like my brain is getting bigger.”

If, indeed, a child’s brain expands as a result of learning how to craft poetry, creative writing, in general, and poetry, more specifically,  must be included in the language arts curriculum.

The importance of teaching creative writing in an educational environment is underscored by the National Endowment for the Arts. In a manual for parents entitled Imagine!: Introducing Your Child to the Arts, the author says:

“A child who becomes a confident and creative writer will reap the benefits in countless ways. In school, children who write well find that they excel in almost every subject. . . Becoming confident writers makes it possible for children to grow into active, critical participants in our culture and society.”

Indeed, writing creatively, and writing poetry, specifically, does help students grow into being confident human beings because the discipline of writing inspires critical thinking; it is a “. . . challenging cognitive task. A poet must first have a basic understanding of a concept or emotion and then transform that understanding into meaningful creative expression by exploring and distilling complex ideas into the brief format of a poem.” This understanding may be literal or visceral. Poems do not evolve in just one way. Ronald L. Cramer says, “[p]oetry is a bridge between the inner and outer worlds of childhood. Writing poetry enables children to transmit their internal experiences to the outer world—to symbolize their experiences in words.” And because children are representative of a myriad of mental, physical, and spiritual experiences, their their poems will evolve in very unique ways. Let me explain.

Once I was teaching a poetry workshop at a middle school with a diverse population. The children were in six grade. I asked the students to write a haiku. During our sharing circle, one young man recited his seventeen syllable poem using the rhythm of a rap poem. One of that young man’s cultural cues was rap music and he brought that into his poetic experience. That’s what happens when one is writing poetry. The whole being of the person is translated into words.

Now about Poetry Poetry. I worked as an artist in resident; I was assigned to facilitate a poetry workshop for one week for children between the ages of seven and eleven. I refer to Poetry as my friend, incidentally, because a good way to engage students in an authentically positive learning relationship is to offer them a student-teacher friendship, where the teacher serves as a friendly facilitator of the learning environment. This non threatening environment where the teacher is not the commander of the ship but the guide encourages students to think freely and spontaneously.

The objective of the residency was for me to guide students in the journal writing process and to introduce them to the art of writing poetry. I chose to teach the students a traditional poetic form, the haiku. It is important to expose young writers to traditional poetic forms such as the haiku, tanka, and sonnet in a creative writing class/workshop. Exposing students to traditional forms introduces them to other cultures. The haiku, for example, is a form introduced to the literary canon by the Japanese. Besides the haiku teaches one “…to do something small in a meaningful way.” In addition, subliminally, an awareness of poetic forms teaches students how to develop strategies for writing all poetry, even poetry traditionally referred to as free verse. When writing the traditional poetic forms, the student must keep within the syllabic or line requirements. For example, a student writing the traditional haiku is urged to keep within the poem’s 5/7/5 structure. This attention to syllabic and line structure fosters a respect, and honor for words as the student must be attentive to the connotative and the denotative meaning of the word as it relates to the overall theme of the poem as well as the word’s syllabic count. Teaching poetic forms, moreover, can also inspire an awareness of how to follow instructions and how to work within the limits of an assignment. This may be helpful when the student is assigned to develop longer writing assignments like essays and research papers. Further, teaching poetic forms can also, to use Poetry’s own words, help students to experience their “brains growing bigger.”

The “brain growing bigger.” Metaphorically speaking, Poetry is right; a child’s brain can grow bigger when exposed to and involved with the arts. Having young writers participate in writing games and exercises is one way of developing creative awareness and a poetic sensibility. Games and exercises assist in teaching young writers focus and discipline. The craft of writing is certainly a discipline. Some may argue that talent can’t be taught; however, it is possible to create an intellectual and visceral understanding of the creative process and to navigate creative genius.
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In addition to helping children grow intellectually and emotionally, creative writing is fun. Children enjoy hearing themselves read from their own work; therefore, after a lesson on creative writing, have a poetry reading and develop a journal with all the students’ poems in it, and I mean all of the students’ poems. The goal is to encourage young people to write. Give them the opportunity to hear the sound of their own voices and visually experience their thoughts on a printed page.

Teaching creative writing is not an extravagance; it is a necessity because as Poetry Poetry reminded me, it is imperative that every student has an opportunity to have a brain that “grows bigger.”

Right now I am experiencing a sunshine moment–One of my purposes is to nurture and encourage young people to write–poetry! YEP!

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