Michelle Taylor on poetry for kids
The title of my book says it all. Poems are a way to escape, to lift you up, to help you see things from a different angle – to fly! They're also a safe and fun place to share our feelings – happiness, sadness, worry, frustration, silliness – as well as a place to experiment with words, ideas and feelings.
I've created some activities to use with children (or maybe even big kids), using poems from my book of poetry 100 Ways To Fly. I had categorised these activities for adults and parents, teachers, and counsellors, therapists or anyone wanting to support wellbeing. (I am also an occupational therapist who has spent many years helping people to improve their health and wellbeing.)
But a lot has changed since I created these activities last year. Now, during this pandemic, all of a sudden you may find yourself in all these roles – parent, teacher, therapist and general creator of wellbeing!
Remember three letters: FFS. No this is not me swearing! It stands for fun, safe and subversive.
If you have a child who doesn't like reading, poetry is perfect because a poem can be read in seconds or minutes! And even avid readers can be tired and disorganised (not to mention parents!) so dipping into a poem in any of the sections of 100 Ways to Fly takes less time and energy and offers choices that not all story books may. And if they're like me, your young person might even like reading from the back of the book first! 'Great Balls of Poetry' is a good section to check out.
Poems are the playground of the writing genres! Many of us grew up thinking that poetry had to be serious, and it's put us and our families off poems all our lives! But the poems you remember and love can equally be those that make you laugh, cringe and imagine.
100 Ways to Fly has lots of these, including a hefty chunk of nonsense poems (more on my favourite sub-genre later). 'Spooky and Sick' and 'How Many Noses in a Nostril' are good sections to check out.
Safe & subversive
Poetry honours honesty and vulnerability. Poems 'get us'. That's why they help us to feel safe and to be a little naughty too. Children can read them alone or with you and understand that they are not the first or the last person to feel misunderstood, or to experience things that may be harder to speak of like disappointment and uncertainty. 'The Time of Our Lives' and 'A Pocket Full of Poems' are good sections to check out.
Activities to support wellbeing
- Start at the end with the author's note
This author's note is a letter for my readers. I invite the child to decide what THEY think of poetry. I also talk about the title and the metaphor of 'flight' as a way to change and re-imagine.
- Read 'A pocket full of poems'
This is the last section in the book and has the subtitle 'Poems to keep in your pocket to feel safe and hopeful'. There are poems here about really regular experiences for young people – disappointment, feeling insignificant, having a head full of worries, trouble getting to sleep, how to stay hopeful, how to feel brave, wondering what makes someone a good friend or am I attractive?
A good way to begin this section is with the first poem called 'Safe Place'. A poem can be a place where someone feels heard and has choice. A poem can be a little touchstone for the young person to literally tuck into their pocket, or possibly to remember by heart and carry with them all their life – so important when they have scary things to deal with.
- Ask questions
'Hope' is a concrete poem in the shape of steps heading upward. Here you can invite someone to respond in a range of ways. How do you stay hopeful? How might poetry help with this? Would you like to write your own concrete poem as a reply? What shape will your poem be? Would you like to draw a reply?
- Do the actions
The section 'Coming to Your Senses' is subtitled 'Poems about the 5 senses (and the other hidden ones)'. It celebrates our senses and our bodies, and shares ideas on how to use sensations to feel better. There are poems about dancing, running, playing instruments, hugging, swinging, eating, playing with animals. If you are working with young and active kids, 'Boom Crash Poem' is lots of fun and you can do the actions and feel better straight away! It uses one of those hidden senses – proprioception – which is a great one for grounding, calming and helping with focus.
- Get a fright
'Fight, Flight, Freeze' is a poem that explains how the body works when it gets a fright. I've even used this with classrooms of children. I'll tell them how I'm afraid of the dark (true!) and talk about the normal ways our bodies respond to danger. I then invite them to share their reactions to things that are worrying, or even write a poem about it.
- Remember that poetry is the great permission giver.
It could be that thing which opens the door to self reflection, self expression, self knowledge, self confidence and self acceptance. It can also help kids to understand and empathise with others.If you're not sure where to begin, let the child tell you. Give them the book and ask which poems interest them – in a good or not so good way. Remember there are many more great ideas in the UQP Teacher's Notes or head to my website.
Make a plane from the poem 'Viewpoints'. This one wins kids over as it talks about their viewpoints versus the adults. And who doesn't love making and flying battalions of planes!
Find wonderful words in a wordsearch from the poem 'I wish for you'.
Make a gift
Use 'I Wish for You' to create a gift poem for someone the kids care about. Choose an item and fill it with words – things that mean something special to that person. Finally, dedicate the poem to them.
Make a mobile
I've recently posted about this fabulous activity where we make a mobile of poems inspired by 100 Ways To Fly. If you'd like to know more or see examples, visit the 'Workshops and talks' tab on my page at Speakers Ink.
Boost your imagination
'The Word Zoo', 'The Time of Our Lives' and 'How Many Noses in a Nostril' are great sections to check out for word play, imagination boosts and musings on being a kid!
I'd love to hear what the poems mean to you or what you create so feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.