December 2014 - thinking back over a term of after-school poetry…
I’ve just finished a term of after school poetry clubs at two schools: what exceptional fun we had!
Yes, it was work: we were poetry-writing, but no, it was play: it was after school. It was free time: magic time.
Poetry for sheer fun was our purpose: poetry without pressure – a sort of weekly poetry party, if you like. There was no pressure, yet the children came back for more each week – voluntarily, of course – and for more paper usually too! Some club members would follow the approach of the week – whatever the style or focus I chose to introduce; others would go off at a tangent. Some poems turned into pictures, others into stories, or letters home, or dialogues with friends around the table. ‘Alyssa has written nearly all of this’ one child confessed at the bottom of her sheet one time. Fine: they had shared the ideas, and the comradeship too: had made writing a shared entertainment.
Some of my young writers told me they ‘hated literacy’, and even wrote that they hated it, seemingly not connecting, which was interesting. After all, our sessions were far more than straight poetry: they involved singing with guitar or ukulele – whichever I’d snatched up as I left home – and acting out the subjects of our weekly writing themes; it involved passing round pictures, toys and any relevant artefacts I’d been able to dig up. But most importantly, it involved chat, me with them, and them with each other. With a fresh topic each week – dragons, planets, noises, colours, castles, fireworks, Christmas – there was never a shortage of discussion-points, nor of exciting language and imagery to explore together.
All that in 40 minutes? Well, it was a jam-packed 40 minutes, and, I admit, chaotic at times – especially when I mislaid my poetry frame sheets in my search for a board rubber or vice versa, but the odd bump along our roller-coaster ride through worlds and words just seemed to blend in naturally, as the children would probably agree. One thing is certain: their poetry took off – sailed far and high – in those little windows of time. Well done to them all!
Incidentally, it was pleasing to see how the children’s writing developed through the term, not just from the 40-minute club sessions, but from their daily school work, of course. It’s true that I like to think our short, relaxed sessions played a part, and if they did, a crucial part of that little slot, I believe, was probably the reading out routine we’d squeeze in at the end, when they could hear the sound of their own creation, and observe the response of their school friends.
One or two were a little anxious about reading out at first – out at the front in a line, table by table, and I don’t blame them! But a tube of blow-bubbles soon blew away the stage fright, and soon became part of the procedure at each school. Grabbing bubble-blower in one hand and sheet in the other, and with the snap decision as to whether to blow before or after reading, reading out quickly became a key point of the afternoon, and a hilarious one too, more often than not… though I didn’t laugh quite as much as they did when the bubbles ended up in my face!
A few samples of the children’s rich harvest of poetry can be found on the Children’s Poetry page. Please note that most were at the lower end of the 2-6 year range.