Two Tandem Poems with a 3-Year-Old

A few weeks ago the kids and I went to a family poetry workshop with educator and poet Mckendy Fils-Aime. During the workshop, participants paired up with each other to write collaborative poetry.  The ultimate goal was to write a poem from two different perspectives about the same topic. JohnJohn was my partner. We wrote two poems.  They are not quite Whistling Vivaldi, but Molly and Joseph keep asking me to re-read them to them anyway. Can you tell which author created which lines? Also, are we ready for our first poetry slam?


I play on my ninja surfboard.
A giant seagull circles.
I eat a sandwich. It tastes like salami.
The seagull spots my son.
I try to feed the bird some bread.
I start swinging.
I feed him food from my hand and he pokes me with his face.
I freak out, yelling and running and finally…
I feel like I want to pet him.
I knock my son down, tripping, we both fall away from him.



I like to play my iPad in Nana’s basement.
Bellies full, we wash and dry.
Nana calls me for a snack – – flat cake.
We sip our wine.
Sweet and yellow, I want 5 pieces.
I cut up JohnJohn’s pound cake.
I jerk my hand back, hoping he won’t see the first cut.
Why not? (ahhh.  I should have known.)
I finish my wine and cut another slice.


Blogging Makes Finding the Good News Easier

One priority of my job as a parent and especially as a homeschooler (because I monopolize my kids’ time) is to show my kids how the world should be – – or at least what it could be, at its best.  They’ll find out how it is soon enough.

And yet, I repeatedly fall into the trap of reading news in my few spare moments.  I’m talking about mainstream news about the affairs of the world and of the United States, most of which I don’t want to share with my kids.  Most of which I do not want to know myself.

Maybe I should just stick with Captain underpants

Maybe I should just stick with Captain Underpants.

The news is important, no doubt.  But if I really want to lay the world of possibility at my children’s feet then I need to keep abreast of all that potential myself.  After all, what we put into our world limits – – or expands  – – what we get out.

I believe that if we want good things to happen we need to think about them, to look for them, and to work for them.

Thus, it was a very real and quite unexpected gift to find that a Romanian writer, an Indian homemaker, an Aussie poet and a European tour guide blogging about Prague have all connected to my blog.  Once I noticed them, I clicked over to their blogs and their worlds became mine.  And those worlds were full of clever thoughts and good news.

In the 10 minutes of time I had to myself, I got to read this poem, which I later shared with my husband and which allowed us to daydream about our own fun times after this adventure of child rearing wanes.  It is called, Not So Old.  I can taste the cold, bubbly, beer as I toast with my handsome husband some day (even if it is not so soon) as I read:

Europe in the Spring time
a tankard full of beer
riding bikes
and hillside hikes
we’re brimming with good cheer

Cheers to you, Claudie!

I had a good laugh as I read about a newly married Indian woman who fell as she walked with her husband through the lobby of their resort on their honeymoon.  I laughed because my own husband and I have a similar story, one that he loves to tell, and which involves me convulsively laughing at a woman who tripped in front of us.  What can I say?  I’m not mean.  It was a nervous reaction (no matter what my husband says!).

I got to see Prague through the eyes of a local.  One of the reasons we homeschool is so that we have the flexibility to travel.  I am definitely putting Prague on my list of places to go once we’re ready to head to Europe!  And I was able to share a rainbow of colors in Prague with my kids, which they loved. We often play a game to pass the time in the car in which we each try to find one item for every color of the rainbow as fast as we can.  Purple, by the way, is really hard.

I loved this piece, and its emphasis on the importance of making a fool of oneself in order to be successful, for two reasons.  First, it is true.  And second, when I was in college, a professor of whom I was very fond required,  in one of my very favorite classes, that each student make a fool of herself while reciting, by heart, a Shakespearean sonnet.  The whole experience was stressful.  And hard.  And funny.  And liberating.  I want my kids to have that freedom!

I traveled the world in less than 10 minutes, dreaming others’ dreams, which are remarkably like my own, all while in my pajamas.  And that is good, no, great news!  And definitely something worth sharing with my family.

Do you have good news to share?  Please do.  And I’ll share it with my kids.

A Stack of Resources for Storytelling

Yes.  That is a fresh pack of markers.  Jealous???

Yes. That is a fresh pack of markers. Jealous???

One theme of our Winter homeschooling has been storytelling.  Like most kids, my children love to draw.  And they love to tell stories.  They don’t worry about being perfect or even about making sense.  They just have fun.  I’d like to credit our Letter Mondays and Sketch Tuesdays with getting the ball rolling but I am pretty sure that all this fun is just coming naturally to these kids.

The ability to tell a compelling story is a skill I want my kids to have in their toolbox.  Not only will it allow them to entertain others but, more importantly, it will allow them to advocate for themselves or others, which is something I am hopeful that they will always be able to do.  Writing a compelling story takes imagination, discipline, and the education to know proper language and grammar (three more things I want for my kids!).  Some say that storytelling is the ultimate weapon.  If that’s the case, I definitely want my kids to have it.

Here are some of the resources (in no particular order) that we are using to learn about storytelling right now:

1. Animal Party Doodles Place Mats by Author Taro Gomi.  This is a book of placemats that have an unfinished pictures with a prompt to get you talking and writing and storytelling.  We have these at home and in the car.  They are really great for restaurants.

2.  Don’t Forget to Write for the Elementary Grades: 50 Enthralling and Effective Writing Lessons (Ages 5 to 12) by 826 National.  This is a book of creative writing lesson plans that you can modify for whatever level you are teaching at.  The description says it is for ages 5-12 but the lessons are pretty detailed so I would say it will be more fun the older your kids get.  And when I say that, I mean I think it would be good for anyone interested in getting a prompt for writing, even adults!

3. The Second Anti-Coloring Book: Creative Activities for Ages 6 and Up (Anti-Coloring Books) by Striker/Kimmel.  This is in the same vein as the Gomi placemats in #1.  It is a coloring book that has black and white pictures with prompts, such as “Wouldn’t this person look better in a necktie designed by you?”  And then you can color in the picture of the tie.  We usually talk about what we think is happening in the photo too.

4.  Skill Sharpeners Spell & Write Grade 1 by Evan-Moor.  A basic reading, writing, and grammar & punctuation workbook.

5. S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet by Esther HershenHorn and Zachary Pullen.  I think you have to read a lot to become a good writer.  This is our favorite book on stories. It gives a different element of a good story for each letter of the alphabet.  And the explanations are wonderful.  This is one that adults can learn from too.

6. R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet by Judy Young and Victor Juhasz.  This one is like the Writer’s Alphabet, above in #5.  It gets pretty detailed and so is also a really great read for adult writers too!

7.  Draw Then Write, Grades 1-3 by Evan-Moor.  This workbook is really valuable because it has the student draw a picture of something specific, like a lion.  Then, it has the student fill in a few sentences with words from a word bank.  And lastly, (this is my favorite part!), it has the student write about that lion by answering the ever-important questions of “who, what, where, when, and why.” It adds a bit of discipline to the whole storytelling subject, especially for younger kids.

8.  Lined paper for storytelling.  You don’t have to buy lined paper but I do find that my children’s handwriting is better for it.   It helps them focus as they write their words — not just on their subject matter but also their form.

9.  A Sentence a Day by Samantha Prust.  I use this with Molly to practice editing but we don’t do it every day.  It is amazing how much time and attention one sentence can take!  Sometimes less is more.

10.  Washable Markers.  My kids like markers instead of crayons and nothing beats a brand new pack.

11.  Rory’s Story Cubes.  This game is just a bunch of dice with images on them.  We roll them and then each take a turn adding bits to a story using the images.  It is really fun with little kids because they get really silly.

12.  My kids love, love, love this video from Flocabulary:

13.  BrainPOP jr.  If you are looking for an App for an i-device, our favorite for storytelling (and a lot of other subjects too) is BrainPOP jr., which, when searched for “storytelling,” had about 16 short (each about 4 minutes in length) movies about, well, storytelling.  The App is free, as are many of the movies, although it does have two levels of paid subscriptions as well.  I think you can also access it via computer.

14.  Banish Boring Words!  by Scholastic.  A book of fun synonyms.  The book says it is for grades 4-8 but my 6-year-old loves it.

We have recently tried to pull everything together by working on a story for the PBSKIDS GO! Writer’s Contest.  It has been a fun project and I think Molly really learned from the process of editing her work.  It is definitely a fun and worthwhile project.  The deadline is still a couple of weeks away.  Check it out!

And how scary is that blueberry monster in Joseph's latest story?!?

And how scary is that blueberry monster in Joseph’s latest story?!?

Ready to write?  I would love to see what you are working on!  I’d also love to hear what tools you’re using with your kids.  Or for yourself.  And what do you think of ours?

Happy Belated Birthday, Emily Dickinson!

I just realized that Emily Dickinson’s birthday was yesterday.   In her honor I will share two of my favorites written by her.  The first I memorized when my Dad died about a decade ago.  The thought of working so hard to subdue pain (big or small) was something I had long felt comforted by.  Reading and re-reading and then reciting that poem as I grieved my Dad’s passing helped me focus on how silly I was to do that.   Really, can any of us ever neatly and tidily put love away?  It made me realize that I just had to feel that awful, awful, pain.  No amount of lists, tasks, and chores would get rid of it for me.  Once I conceded, everything got easier.

The Bustle in a House

The Bustle in a House

The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted opon Earth –
The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –
The other poem is a whole lot more fun.  I love to imagine just what that “thing with feathers” looks like on any given day.  And I am so glad that it never stops.  No matter what.  Thank you, you beautiful, beautiful, bird.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
And, thank you, Emily Dickinson.  Happy Birthday!

Wendell Berry’s Blue Bathrobe

I was looking for a poem for Letter/Poem Monday and came across an author I hadn’t read in years.  I was looking for a poem about bathrobes because my kids are totally into their bathrobes right now and I thought it would be fun and I am just tickled that I found this again.  We almost used this poem for our wedding.  Maybe I’ll save it for our 50th anniversary!  Enjoy!

The Blue Robe

By Wendell Berry

How joyful to be together, alone
as when we first were joined
in our little house by the river
long ago, except that now we know

each other, as we did not then;
and now instead of two stories fumbling
to meet, we belong to one story
that the two, joining, made. And now

we touch each other with the tenderness
of mortals, who know themselves:
how joyful to feel the heart quake

at the sight of a grandmother,
old friend in the morning light,
beautiful in her blue robe!