Games to Teach Kids the Art of Poetic Dusting

When I first decided I was a writer it was in the third grade. Sister Mary Donald taught us Language Composition by drawing sentence diagrams on the chalkboard and making us memorize the 35 prepositions.. About, Above, Across, Around, At… but she also taught us the magic of creating images and emotions through poetry.

I loved words and how I could manipulate them in a way to transpose reality in a line of poetry. Even though my first poems were only in song-song rhymes and very poorly written, I pursued with poetry as a means to escape my world of adolescence. Of frizzy hair and freckles and brown Catholic school uniforms and of the chaos that comes of house with five children.

Poetry helped me to grow, to learn about myself and my world. Poetry helped to move me  as well as stay grounded when I needed to.

When I have a new writing workshop of fresh faced middle schoolers, I like to start with poetry, as well. They kinda freak. Poetry is scary to most. We have this idea that it needs to be high-brow and deeply meaningful and seems like it should only come from well-educated scholars or philosophers. But that’s so not true. First off, Dr. Seuss? Hello? And how about Shel Silverstein?

Silly, made up words that add rhythm to the page can also give different meanings and different points of view. Poetry is all around us: in songs, as symbolism in advertising, in art and on the page.  

How can you add a little dusting of poetry to your child’s world?

Here are some of my favorite poetry games and exercises. They’re fun, easy and impactful. You can practice on your own, but it’s so much more fun to learn and write with your children:

Word War

Poetry begins and thrives on a love of words. But not ordinary everyday words: computer, car, pencil window, latte. Unique and rarely used words: thump, thistle, prickly, ginger, hobble. I play a game with my students to get them warmed up to new words and get them to say the words out loud. It helps to listen to the rhythm and cadence of the spoken words and to link or disconnect meanings.

We go around the circle and each person has to shout out the first word that comes to mind. I will veto their selected word, though if it seems pre-planned or shadows the word the writer next to them just shouted.

For example, if the first writer says kitten, the next writer might shout soft or fluffy or whiskers. Though on their own these words are good warm ups, I’ll veto them because it’s common to think of soft, fluffy or whiskers when someone says kitten. Now, if the next writer shouted “pepperoni” after kitten, I’d be pleased and we’d continue around the circle. Try it! Write down the words that really spark an interest.

Teach your kids how to make poems from their imagination. Play word games for poetic fun.

The Answer Squash (inspired by Susan Wooldridge’s book, Poemcrazy)

This exercise can continue naturally from the word war or stand on its own. It can be a short five minute lesson or one that scales an entire season. Susan Wooldridge likes to name inanimate objects. Giving a smooth, empty gourd a title makes it more interesting, The Answer Squash, for example, came to be when she placed the words Answer Squash on a hollowed out gourd that sits on her shelf. What the heck is an “answer squash?” Maybe it’s like an organic take on the Magic 8 Ball. Maybe it’s just random words strung together and taped to the outside of fall decoration.

Try it:

Find words, whether handwritten from your word war session or cut from magazines, printed from digital pinterest boards, even using the magnetic poetry kits will work here. Tape words to objects around your house, your office, your room. Perhaps on the bathroom mirror you would find “Vanilla sky” Reflection, mirror, glass compared to sky,  compared to the sweet soft flavor of vanilla. How might that connection insight a poem? Maybe “energetic muse” would be attached to running shoes. Running creates or releases restless energy, right? Muse often comes when we get outdoors. Do you see how this works? No real rules! Which is the freedom of poetry, that artistic license, if you will.

Name Poem

A simple poem that your kids have probably already tried in school is the name poem or acrostic poem, Writing down one word or phrase that begins with each letter of their name, but also describes their personality or interests. Here’s an example:

Silly, stretchy, stressed out easily

Animated, animal lover, action movie fanatic

Music maker, mover and a shaker

I Am…

“I Am” is another favorite of mine and pairs wells with the acrostic poem from above. It’s a great insight to your child’s mind and how they think and feel about themselves. Try it:

Collect words from each category and plug them into the template, below, to create beautiful, lyrical poetry:

landscapes: mountains, rivers, meadow, tundra, caverns, etc.

action/movement verbs: twirl, flip, flop, spin, saunter, glide, etc.

colors: acqua, magenta, tree frog green, watermelon flesh, elderberry

nouns: zipper, square, cloud, linen, basketball, custard.

Now, combine, drop them in Mad-Lib style.

So, in this example template:

I am a  (action verb)  (landscape) , (action) (color) (noun).

You might get:

I am a twirling tundra, flipping acqua clouds.

Practice looking for, listening for and reciting words and poetry often. Magic will infuse your world with just a light sprinkle of poetry throughout your day.

And,next time you’re intimidated by someone reciting Whitman from memory, whip out your Energetic Muse running shoes and tell them how you are a twirling tundra.

Have fun with these? Try your luck at a kids-only, free-to- enter writing contest: WriteTheWorld-for Young Writers (new contests, themes and deadlines, monthly!) Be sure to read the Contest Rules..

Mary Jo Campbell lives, writes, reads and breathes in Downers Grove IL. When she’s not coaching the next generation of young writers through in person and online writing workshops, she’s raising a few boys, a few dogs, a husband and the will to keep attending kickboxing classes. You can find her site and sign up for a free 30-page eBook of Story Prompts here.

You are welcome to send your kids creations to us here for our KIDS CORNER as well. 

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