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Building Literacy, Healing, Creativity, and Community Through Poetry

Credit: Lighthouse Writer's Workshop

Credit: Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop

Reading, writing, and sharing poems can bring us joy, and nourish and sustain us. April is National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate the power of poems to enrich our lives, explore the human condition, and add a bit of beauty to our days. What’s more, poetry helps children develop the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills that are a key foundation for success in school and in life.

In honor of National Poetry Month, here are three organizations using poetry and writing to teach, heal, and build community – plus three ways you can celebrate poetry at home.

America Scores

This national network of 14 literacy-building programs across the country uses the power of soccer, poetry, and service learning to keep kids engaged in school, build community, and expand early reading and writing skills. Last year, over 8000 students participated in the in-depth programs. Soccer often acts as the hook that gets kids involved – and keeps them healthy – and then, through poetry, students have a chance to express themselves. Service learning projects, like student-led peace walks or planting a community garden, continue to build teamwork and give kids a chance to see the power they have to make a difference.

America Scores Denver

Credit: America Scores Denver

Here’s an excerpt from a poem written by one of America Scores’ Denver participants:

To me reading
is magical fairy dust

Every time I go to the library
I feel like I’m in a jungle
Just filled with books to read

-Jacquelin H., 10 years old

826 National

Co-founded by writer Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari, the 826 centers offer one-on-one tutoring, arts education, and writing programs to kids ages 6 – 18. Last year, the eight 826 centers across the country worked with close to 31,000 students. Young writers can participate in workshops with award-winning authors and have their work published. What’s more, 826 maximizes the exploration and fun that’s one of the best parts of learning and writing – each tutoring center has a retail storefront to inspire students and raise money for programs. If you can’t visit Brooklyn’s Superhero Supply Store or Michigan’s Robot Supply & Repair store in person, visit their websites to pick up a pair of Secret Identity Glasses or a Tin Can Robot.

Credit: 826 National

Credit: 826 National

Here’s a poem from one of 826 Valencia‘s writers.

EVIL
by Siobhan Willing

They say that money is the root of all evil.
I say that it’s jazz.

Lighthouse Writers Workshop

This Denver-based organization served about 1200 students last year. Published writers lead poetry, fiction, and nonfiction workshops in schools, residential treatment centers, and on site at Lighthouse, introducing exercises that spark creativity, build literacy, and give students a chance to express themselves. The work is doing more than strengthening reading and writing skills: it’s changing lives. As one young woman who’s participated in Lighthouse’s Radio Project, Favianna, said, “After my dad died this year, I didn’t know how I could go on. But being a part of the Lighthouse Radio Project and writing about him is what got me through this semester.”

Credit: Lighthouse Writer's Workshop

Credit: Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop

Here’s an excerpt from a poem from one of Lighthouse’s writers:

Boxes

by Yesenia Cabrera

A blank house was surrounded
with bright orange leaves
America
Autumn wasn’t like this back home
My chubby short legs rushed to meet a lady
who said not a word
but smiled and was my mother
Stupid legs
She hugged my sister and walked inside
 
In the dirty crimson house
the same color as the mole
into which I poured a tub of salt
I cried at the plate
My mother always warned me
The moon tired of my whining

Want to continue to celebrate National Poetry Month? Here are a few ways you can do just that.

  • Read aloud a book of poems like Calef Brown’s Polkabats and Octopus Slacks, full of hilarious short pieces that preschool and early elementary school-aged kids love.
  • April 18th is Poem in your Pocket Day. Celebrate by printing out a short poem, slipping it in your pocket, and sharing it with others throughout the day. The Academy of American Poets offers lots of choices, perfectly sized for pockets of course, on their website. Take it a step further by writing out a poem on the ground with sidewalk chalk, on your street or in the park, to surprise passersby with a bit of poetry.
  • Older kids can write their own poems by playing Exquisite Corpse, based on a Surrealist technique. One by one, write down a word or phrase on a piece of paper. Fold the paper to cover the words. Then, pass the paper to the next person to add another word or phrase. Keep passing until you’ve filled the page. Unfold the paper, and read your masterpiece aloud.

 

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