Stirring the Senses – Part 2

Last week, I planned a winter sensory poetry lesson for out 2nd graders.  I decided to start with a slideshow of winter photographs and then brainstorm words that they might use in their poems. My goal was to quickly set them off to write so they’d have plenty of time to compose their poems and share them.

This week, I executed my plan.  As I presented the slideshow, the girls looked intently at the photographs, which were a mix of nature scenes and people and animals in the snow. After watching silently, they shared their ideas as I wrote them down.  We were collecting sensory words from what we had seen in the photos.  The words would act as a jumping off point to create images for their poems.

Before they began to write, they asked some questions.  One girl asked if she could use rhymes and I nodded my head.  She sparked an idea in my head because I don’t normally compose rhyming poems.  Since I always write when the children write, I decided to challenge myself and write a rhyming sensory poem. I think it is an important part of the writing process for children to see adults writing alongside children.  I made sure the girls were all actively thinking and writing, and then I sat down with my own ideas. One student came over to see what I was writing, but I quickly redirected her to her own writing and told her that I would share at the end of class.

As the children wrote, I circled the room looking at their poetry and making observations that I thought would nudge their writing further.

  • That’s an interesting idea! You’re making an acrostic.
  • Wow! You are using such strong verbs.
  • Oh, you are including lots of sound words.
  • Like each child, like each snowflake, each poem was different, exquisite in its creation.  They took their experiences of snow and thought about how it looked, smelled, sounded, tasted, and felt. They thought hard, they experimented with words, and they formed meaning to share with others.  This time to play is necessary and important for writers. It connected what they have been reading, to what they have experienced, to what they have learned about composing a poem.

2nd Grade Poets: Stirring the Senses

My colleague and friend asked me to cover one of her 2nd grade writing classes this coming week. I eagerly accepted. I was given two choices:  monitor the winter writing assessment or teach a lesson on winter sensory poems.  The decision was an easy one for me.  Given the choice, I would pick poetry every single time.  And poetry with 2nd graders? Nothing could bring more joy!

I have been introducing young children to poetry for many decades, so I jumped at the chance to teach again and this time try a new approach.  I spent the weekend thinking about ways to introduce sensory poems, which would engage these small, curious minds.  I know that the best plan of action is to speak briefly, make it visual, and step out of the way.  Though, I often want to explain and read example after example,  I have found that children have poetry squirming inside of them ready to jump out, and all teachers have to do is invite them to think, wonder, play, and create.

To prepare for the lesson, I sat down and thought about how to construct a winter sensory poem.  I summoned my beginner’s mind. I thought about the taste of winter.  Images swelled up inside me, and I quickly wrote the last stanza first. Since there were four lines in the stanza and five senses, I then knew the format of this poem would be five stanza with a total of twenty lines.  I don’t normally write poems thinking of the structure, but this is the way “First Snow” presented itself to me. 

First Snow

At the edge of the woods
Tall trees stand
Ina a swaying silhouette
Bracing winter winds.

Their boughs creak and thrum
Creating a winter rasping rhythm
Birds stay silent on branches
Muffled by their puffed feathers.

The clouds are as gray and thick
As chimney smoke.
The air is frozen-still 
And smells like snow.

Soon snowflakes whirl,
Dancing on noses and fingertips
Before drifting to the ground.
Flake, upon flake, upon flake.

A faint taste of salt
Is on my cold, cracked lips.
I wrap my arms around myself
And dream of the sweetness of spring.

Of course,  I wouldn’t expect children to work in this way.  However, going through the process again like it was my first time, helped me to better understand how to present sensory poetry to the children. And it reminded me that the process of both teaching and writing poetry should not be rigid with formulas and rules. When poetry is presented as play, then children have a much easier time adopting it and making it their own.

My plan was simple.  I will set the mood with a slideshow of winter scenes. Then, we will generate a list of words that express the sights of sounds of winter, which I will write on a chart so the children can reference it during poetry construction. And then, I will invite the children to start writing.  Mid-workshop, I plan to invite students to read their poems in progress.  I think this helps young writers keep the revision process in focus and playful.

As they finish their poems, they will read them to each other, further revise, and finally set their poems down on fresh paper.  Since they are 2nd graders, they will want to illustrate their poems.  Indeed, I anticipate one or two reluctant poets will need to draw first and then create a poem from their image.  As with the first snow of the season, I wait eagerly in anticipation for Tuesday afternoon with our 2nd grade poets.

OLW: Purpose

My One Little Word for 2023 is PURPOSE.  The older I get, the more I don’t want to miss and flit away.  I want to savor every moment.  Whether good or bad, I want to stay in the moment, take in the experience, and discover what it can teach me. My OLW for 2022 was Remember, but when I looked back at last year’s post – it was all about purpose.  I smiled to myself. At least I am consistent.  I realize that purpose is truly important to me, always at the forefront of my mind.

On Purpose

When you do something on purpose, you do it deliberately, with intent.  It can be a positive or negative thing:  He hit his sister on purpose.  She sent her aunt flowers on purpose.  Much of my young adulthood was not spent on purpose.  I was impulsive, reactive, impetuous.  Maybe that’s just the way young adults behave but looking back I realize how much my impulsiveness negatively affected my development.  I was all about DOING and did not plan or think things through very much.  Life happened to me; I didn’t try to create it.  I didn’t think I could.  I was timid, unconfident, with little self-esteem. Thank goodness, I kept growing.  Reflection came and with that much more self-understanding.  I began to slow down, think things through, and act deliberately.  I made less mistakes.  I enjoyed more moments.  I began creating a purposeful path.

With Purpose

When you do something with purpose, you have a goal and determination to reach it.  If you live your life with purpose, you are thoughtful, you execute plans, you reflect on your options. I was fortunate to have a passion which connected directly to my career.  I think I was born a teacher, and I was able to put my passion into action.  Even after more than forty years, I still am  excited by and enthusiastic about teaching and learning.  I have spent some of my best days in the presence of children. Sure, I have had my down days, but for the most part I enjoy teaching and learning.  It is a creative process for me. It nourished me.  It allows me to pursue my other passions: writing and art.  Now that I’m heading towards the end of my career, I am looking towards writing and art to take the helm – to create with purpose, to express myself with words and painting.

Purposeful Path

The way through
The winter woods
Is bleak, gray, lonely
I break through the bracken.
Ice, sticks, stones
Crackle under my feet.
I walk on.

I walk on
Choosing paths
As they split and swerve
Right or left,
Uphill or down.
I keep my pace,
Birds descend from branches.

Birds descend from branches.
Dashes of blue, yellow, brown
Dart from tree to tree.
I am not alone.
They sing to me in the chill air,
They fly above in the clear blue,
Showing me the way.






Persimmons in Winter

Persimmons are a new fruit to me.  I began eating them only two years ago.  They were not widely available in grocery stores.  They are seasonal and show up in the produce aisle for a few short weeks in winter.  They are rare and expensive.  I treat myself anyway much like I treat myself to my childhood favorites – figs and pomegranates.

I have had to learn how to know when they are at their peak ripeness.  I’ve tasted a few before their prime, which left a fuzzy taste on. My tongue.  But their color – their color gives me hope for spring and brightens my mood.

Persimmons first came from Asia.  There are many varieties and colors ranging from yellow to chocolate brown.  The variety I enjoy is Hachiya, which is flame-orange and heart-shaped. Persimmons are now grown all over the world: Asia, Spain, Israel, Azerbaijan, Australia and in Florida and California in the United States.

Every year, I look forward to the winter, to the change of season.  But when the leaves fall, and the trees are bare, and cold sets in,  I begin to feel a distinct loneliness.  Nature had gone to sleep but I’m still wandering in the wilderness.  I just doesn’t seem right to me.  I take precautions for the winter gloom not to settle into my spirit.  Candles, twinkling lights, trips to the garden store to see greenery and bright berries – all these help to lift my mood.  But the persimmon is uniquely responsible for bringing springtime back to me.  I smell, taste, and swallow, and something inside me brightens and grows.

Persimmons in Winter

The winter sky
Holds no color.
Cloudless and icy gray,
It is a blank canvas
For the bare branches
That crisscross and rise up
In the frozen air
Stitching the sky
With sharp lines and angles,
A sketch of the woodlands
In black and white.
There is no sound,
No smell, no color -
The air is empty.
The trees stand in solitude,
Perfect peaceful desolation.

In my black woolen coat
Hat, scarf, and mittens,
I walk the wide expanse of the meadow
Where all traces of green
Have leeched back
Into the soil till spring.
Cold stones and ice clods
Crunch under my feet.
Most animals have gone to hibernate,
Birds dip through the air
In quick silence,
A lone crow calls out
With his broken voice.
This winter loneliness
Seeps into my exposed skin
And settles there.

I walk back home
To find some respite from the cold,
To embrace some color.
A small bowl of persimmons
Sits on my kitchen table.
Their flame-like hue
Draws me close and warms me.
I touch their waxy skins
And immediately feel their warmth.
They are ripe and ready,
I choose one to enjoy.
Peel and cut in thick rounds.
In the center of each
Is an eight-petaled flower.
For this brief moment,
I return to spring.

Crafting Kindness

Kindness Deficit

I have been working with children for over four decades.  During that time, I have witnessed a slow erosion of kindness and amicability.  With the onset of COVID, political division, and lack of public safety, these last few years have produced an atmosphere of intolerance. Everyone is in a rush to get to the finish line, but we are not stopping to see that our friend, neighbor or peer may need our help.  An air of distrust permeates our society. As a result, children are greatly affected by what they see, hear, and feel, even if they cannot yet completely understand it. Instead of fostering a sense of calm collaboration, children are being raised in an era of tension, intolerance, and uncertainty.  As schools keep focused on academic excellence, we are losing sight of general civility.  Teachers often say that they don’t have time for the social-emotional side of learning. However, if we don’t put in the time, if we don’t slow down and focus on how we communicate and treat each other, then all learning suffers. Children need a strong, clear foundation of kindness and consideration, so they can appreciate other points of view and become fully functional, productive citizens. Slowing down, listening to students’ needs and concerns, and building in time for communication can make classrooms a model for a civil society.

Kindness Connection

In the rush to teach more and more content, to cover all the necessary skills, teachers sometimes have difficulty connecting with their students.  They forget to ask, “Who are this unique learners in front of me?” and “What does they need to grow?”  A perceptive teacher not only asks, “What content should I teach them?,” but also, “What do they need for their social-emotional development?”  When teachers show interest in students’ family lives, activities and hobbies, and their unique personalities, a bond is made which helps teachers foster their students’ growth, especially when the student faces an obstacle or setback.  Teacher-student connection is the key to a child’s social-emotional well-being, and in the end, it is this important connection that keeps the child motivated and engaged.  If a student knows her teacher cares, then she will want to do her best and try just a little harder. She is not afraid to take risks, and she sees her teacher as a partner in her success.  They have developed a transactional relationship, and she has become invested in her own learning.

Kindling Kindness

There are many ways to kindle kindness, to make students feel safe and honored.  The techniques used in the Responsive Classroom method are proven and give students the confidence they require to fully participate as active classroom citizens.  Instead of rushing into the day, Responsive Classroom teachers, begin the day with connection. They emphasize both teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships.  From the start, this type of community building, fostered each and every day, affords students a stable base in which to exchange ideas in an open and accepting setting.  From this foundation, children can grow confidently and flourish.  They learn to build strong and trusting friendships. They develop the tools with which to be independent and compassionate community members.  This circle of friendship is recursive; it becomes stronger and stronger with each cycle.  Trust replaces skepticism, cooperation replaces competition, and altruism replaces selfishness.

Friendship Circle Poem & Craft

As often happens, my classroom reflections become an impetus for poetry.  I recently crafted this poem and art project and hope to share them with some of my young learners.

Books about Kindness and Friendship

Websites for Teachers:

Books for Teachers:

Picture Books:

Chapter Books:

Early Chapter Books (ages 6-9):

Chapter Books  (ages 9-12)

Forest Bathing: Autumn Plunge

The last time I was in Vermont, it was summer – July to be exact. Everything was green in the green mountains, and I was in need of some physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. I had read about the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing. I immediately loved the image that came to mind – walking down woodland paths or up steep mountain paths and soaking in all that nature has to offer. My summer Forest Bathing post can be viewed here.

As is our tradition, my husband and I travel up to Vermont in October to witness the leaves changing color in all variations of radiant yellow, orange, russet, red, crimson, and purple. This year was a spectacular display. Whenever we went there was vibrant color – a real-life watercolor – colors blended into each other and the sky was a clear, cloudless blue. I could not wait to get into the woods, to surround myself with color, with the natural signs of the changing seasons. As I walked, I took photos and wrote poetry in my head. This is what my Autumn plunge created.

Forest Bathing

I have taken some time off to be in Vermont.  It is a place my husband and I  have gone for the last thirty years. I need this time to relax, heal, and ease my pain.  I am so grateful for this place.  As soon as I see the Green Mountains in the distance, I breathe deeply and feel something release inside of me.  This may be due to the wide expanse of greenery, the clouds sitting gently on the mountain tops, or the roadside laced with an assortment of wildflowers.  There are acres and acres of distance between neighbors and people still put their wash up on clotheslines.  This is a slow and peaceful place.  My eyes tell my body that I am safe; I can rest now.

I have been reading about a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing. The idea is the connect with nature by walking in the woods.  By bringing all your senses to that place and being mindful, your body begins to heal itself and you feel restored.  I am practicing forest bathing every day while in Vermont.  My body is beginning to ache a little less and my mind is certainly in a better place.  I so needed this respite, and I am grateful that there is such a beautiful place nestled in the mountains.

Flowery Thoughts

These past three weeks, I have had to put my life on pause a bit to deal with pulled muscles in my lower back.  Needless to say, I am trying to develop a better relationship with pain.  My first reaction is panic, which only tightens the muscles more.  So, I breathe deeply, think of beautiful places, and try to compose poetry out of the pain.

I have needed to talk short, slow walks throughout the day to keep the muscles happy.  The more I walked, the better I felt.  Of course, I had to recognize my own limitations and not walk too long, otherwise I would be back in the pain place, and panic would set in once again.

Nature is always good medicine, and I seek to be among trees and flowers as much as I can. Nature makes me more mindful of the short time we have to enjoy this miraculous earth.  It makes me grateful to be among the flowers.  It makes me feel like I am part of something much bigger than myself.

I have what I call the “Emily Dickinson Syndrome.”  I have a habit of writing lines, stanzas, or whole poems on scraps of paper, napkins, old journal pages, or whatever is at hand. Then I forget about them and find them at a later date, often surprised by my own thinking.  I found a stanza today in a 2018 calendar in the June 25th space.  It was like my previous self was sending me a message she did not want me to forget.

The pale ,yellow tulips

On your bedside table

Bow their buttery heads,

Delicate and fragile,

Their blooms fleeting.

My thoughts turn to flowers.  They help me recover and create a more positive approach to pain.  Poetry allows me to recall times when flowers have given me momentary joy.  This settling of spirit is welcome and necessary.