The holidays are almost upon us, and of course, our thoughts turn to gifts and giving, and giving thanks. For most kids, it’s all about what they’ll be getting under the tree, and not often about what they can give to others. And yet, ask any parent what the most precious gift they ever received from a child was, and they’ll remember a handmade card, a drawing, a letter, or a poem. This season gives you a wonderful opportunity to use poetry to help children create a lasting, memorable gift for the people that they love. I’d like to give you a few pointers for poetry projects that translate well into family gifts.
The Funny Family Event
Every family has an event (and probably many) that they all remember with laughter. Perhaps it was the time that Mom baked a birthday cake, and it flopped. Or maybe a little brother wore his Superman suit to kindergarten for a week. It’s the story that everyone tells over and over again at family gatherings. Ask your class to write a short description of the story, with the names of the people involved, and the basic plot points. This is the starting point for the poem.
When the poems have been written, it follows naturally that they can illustrate the poem with a picture they’ve drawn. But presentation is not only about the written (and drawn) poem; it’s also about memorization, and the opportunity for kids to surprise and delight their families with a performance of their funny poems. That’s bound to brighten up any family gathering, while building self-esteem for the child.
The Personal Tribute
Ask your class the following questions… Who do you want to reward this holiday season? Who in your family is ultra-special to you? Is there someone who did something wonderful for you this year, whom you’d like to thank?
When they’ve decided on the person (or people) that they’d like to focus on, have them write a short description of that person, and their reason for wanting to write them a poem. These could be things like, “My grandma bakes us a cake every Sunday, and she always listens to me when I’m sad.” Some kids find it helpful to put down the thoughts that they want to bring across in bullet point form, so that they can clearly see which ideas to turn into lines.
The Family Parody
Perhaps the easiest – and the funniest – poem that kids can write, is a parody of their entire family. Instead of having to come up with several ideas about a single person, they only have to think of one or two things per person. The poem’s structure could be, for instance, four-line stanzas about each person in the family, ending with a final verse that sums up what makes the family special, whether that’s in a funny or touching way.
Another advantage of this format is that the same poem can be given to every member of the family as a gift. Kids who want to go the extra mile can do a different illustration for each family member, or perhaps frame and package the individual copies differently.
A variation on this theme is the poem topic “Thanksgiving with my family,” or “Christmas with my family”, or any other holiday, of course. The idea is to write a funny (or serious) poem about what it’s like in their home on that day. Who usually spends the day together? Is there an uncle or aunt who always does something funny? Does the dog get super-excited and jump on the guests? Who’s the first one awake on Christmas morning? Do family members fight about who gets to put the star on the tree? Encourage your class to paint a picture with words, that lets others see what it’s like in their home, and what makes a holiday unique and special for their family. Remind them that no-one wants to be reminded of negative things in a ‘gift’ poem, so it’s not the place to say, “Grandpa Joe is a mean old man who shouts all the time”!
It’s important to bring across the fact that you can be funny about your family’s foibles without being cruel, and this is a discussion point that can help kids think about how they are seen by other family members, and how they’d like to be remembered in the future.
Personal, creative poetry written by kids for their families can be one of the most precious gifts anyone could ever receive. Use the magic of poetry this holiday season to bring a little laughter to the traditional family madness!