Friday, November 26, 2010

Poetry Friday, Poetry Peek, & Poem #241

This is poem #26 in a Friday series of poems about poems.

Today I am tickled to welcome Reading Specialist Amy Merrill from Calvin Coolidge Elementary School in Binghamton, NY, as she shares her enthusiasm for "Poetry Breaks," nursery rhymes, and...well...everything poetic!

"Poetry Break!!!"

...I announce as I pop into one of the classrooms in my elementary school.  With sign in hand, my bell (or whistle, depending on my mood) and whatever I may decide to bring with me that day, I quickly recite or read a poem.  I often have a prop or puppet to accompany my poem, but sometimes I simply use my voice, gestures, and body language to convey the meaning and mood of the poem that I share.  On special occasions, I may even share a treat or souvenir such as a shell or chocolate kiss.  After I share the poem, students echo me as we recite it together.

Not only do the classroom teachers enjoy this brief "Poetry Break" during their hectic school days, the children absolutely LOVE it and ask me when we pass in the hall (or even outside of school), "When are you bringing another poem?" or "Hey!  You're the Poetry Lady!"  or "I liked the poem about the chocolate kiss!" The point here is that no matter what you share with children, if you are passionate and enthusiastic about it, they will be too.  The love of poetry can be contagious!

What Exactly is a "Poetry Break?"

The concept of a "Poetry Break" was created by one of my most favorite authors and children's librarian, Caroline Feller Bauer.  I first had the great fortune to see her present a fabulous workshop on bringing kids and books together in 1995.  I fell in love with all of her ideas and enthusiasm for celebrating literacy.  One of those ideas was the "Poetry Break" during which everything stops for the sharing of a poem.  I began to bring "Poetry Breaks" into my prekindergarten classroom and continued with them ever since.  Initially, I only did "Poetry Breaks" with my students.  About three years ago, that I decided to take the "Poetry Break" into multiple classrooms.  I asked the teachers if I could pop in on a certain day with a certain time period - they loved the idea, and the rest is  history.

 First and Second Graders' Poetry Break
for the Binghamton School Board of Education
(They recited "Down Down" by Eleanor Farjeon
and "Skeleton Parade" by Jack Prelutsky)

My Personal Virtual Poetry Library

Since I love sharing poems, I decided to create a personal virtual library to share my collection of favorite poems, books, anthologies, websites, ideas, and other resources.  I will continue to add to this library, and it will grow as a continuous, fluid work.  This personal virtual library also allows me to continually share "Poetry Breaks" with students, their families, and colleagues.  Please visit these resources here!

Planting the Seeds of Poetry for Young Children:
Hangin' Loose with Mother Goose

"E.D. Hirsh Jr., in his book, CULTURAL LITERACY: WHAT EVERY AMERICAN NEEDS TO KNOW (Houghton Mifflin, 1987), suggested that there is a body of knowledge that all Americans need to know to function as literate citizens.  The rhymes of Mother Goose have traditionally been part of the heritage of children growing up in America no matter what their ethnic background" (Bauer, 12).

We know that this is not the truth of today's children's heritage.  Nursery rhymes seem to have become an "endangered species".  In her book, THE POETRY BREAK, Caroline Feller Bauer comments on how our society has made the effort to protect endangered animal species.  She points out, "We may have to take organized action to preserve the childhood tradition of nursery rhymes (12).  I believe that today's children (and even many adults) do not know the joys of the traditional Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.  "Children starting school today are more likely to be conversant with the exploits of the current cartoon characters on film and television than with the adventures of Humpty Dumpty" (Bauer, 12).

Let's get started with the effort to preserve the "endangered species" of nursery rhymes. Join with me in the force!  Read and recite those rhymes!

I am currently in my second year of conducting a nursery rhyme version of a "Poetry Break" with kindergartners at Calvin Coolidge Elementary School.  "Nursery Rhyme Time" is a 15-20 minute mini lesson which I teach 1-3 times per week to kindergarten students.  Mother Goose (a stuffed Mother Goose toy) and I bring artifacts, props, and puppets to introduce a new nursery rhyme to a class.  

Mother Goose and I begin by revisiting rhymes we have already learned by inviting a student to "roll a rhyme" on our "Nursery Rhyme Block", select a nursery rhyme puppet from our "Rhyme Box" or a choose a nursery rhyme in some other way.  We then make predictions about our new rhyme of the day by examining artifacts and objects which represent parts of the rhyme.  I then recite the day's rhyme with motions, dramatization and/or props, masks, or puppets.  The children echo me as we recite the rhyme, and finally we recite and dramatize our nursery rhyme together.

Work Cited


Currently a Reading Specialist at Calvin Coolidge Elementary School in Binghamton, NY, Amy Merrill has been teaching for seventeen years.  She has taught prekindergarten and is currently completing her second master's degree in School Library & Information Technology.  A Mother Goose mom, Amy has always integrated nursery rhymes into her the daily lives of her own children, Sienna (10) and Sarah (8).

I eat my peas with honey.
I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on the knife!

 Sienna Eats Her Peas With Honey
Photo by Amy Merrill

Sarah Eats Her Peas with Honey Too
Photo by Amy Merrill

Thank you, Amy, for sharing your enthusiasm, knowledge, and virtual poetry library with us today.  Students and Teachers - if you introduce "Poetry Breaks" in your classroom or school, please write to tell us all about it.  And do stop by Amy's wiki for more poetry resources.

Today is Poetry Friday.  For the complete roundup, please visit Jone at Check it Out where you will find links to all things poetry.  If you are new to Poetry Friday, please know that you are welcome to join us each Friday, posting about poetry and linking in with this community.

(Please click on COMMENTS below to share a thought.)


  1. I love the idea of a poetry break.

    And, of course, nursery rhymes. I'm getting Pocketful of Posies with Sally Mavor's great sewn figure illustrations for my nephew's Christmas. Robert Frost said kids need mother goose if they're ever to understand poetry.

    Happy Thanksgiving weekend, Amy! I'm thankful for you and all you do!

  2. Jeannine, I saw that book at NCTE and fell in love! Our family has Sally's FELT WEE FOLK, a book which teaches you how to make those adorable dolls out of pipe cleaners, embroidery floss, and wool felt. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family too...I'm grateful for you and this wonderful community. A.

  3. "gently / but not yet"---Yes. Perfect.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Amy. I'm thankful I met you!

  4. Dear Poetry and Blogging and Teaching Friend,

    I am thankful you are in my life (and for the times when our lives bring us close enough to squeal and hug and sit on a bench and chat).

    Love the poem. Love the idea that poetry will be there to rescue us when life beats us down.

  5. I'm feeling really inspired. I was talking to my 3rd grader this morning about poetry--especially nursery rhymes and other poems he knows from memory.

    And as for the poem, it is true. Especially:

    "Poem dries
    your salty cheeks
    but not yet."

    Poetry lets you feel—it gives you time and space to feel.

    Thanks for another wonderful post.

  6. Jeannine, Melissa, Mary Lee, and Blythe, How can it be that having met you each in person for brief hours...I feel we've known each other so much longer? 'Guess that's one of the gifts poetry has brought me this year. Thank you to poetry for that.

  7. Good morning, Amy! You're even better in 3D than onscreen--wasn't meeting "on foot" a thrill!

    I echo other visitors: today's offering is one of your best.

    As for Poetry Breaks and nursery rhymes, your guests are spot on--I don't think we're having any trouble preserving the folk and fairy tales that everyone needs to know (I just finished Little Red Hen with first grade and am about to embark on The Gingerbread Man with K), but the nursery rhymes are getting lost. I think I'll look for a printable anthology that I can give my Kindergarteners to keep in their cubbies...

    Let's not forget to talk about that idea for April, and in the meantime, check this out:

  8. Heidi, Thank you! If you find a good printable anthology that you're willing to share, please let me know and I will post it. When my own children were little, I ordered these wonderful wooden blocks with nursery rhymes on them - so that as we built, I would remember to say the rhymes. It's wonderful that Amy got that talk going.
    As for April, I am afraid that I can't commit to a new project as I have a few ideas about what to do with all of these accumulating poems. I do think it's a great idea, just not one I will be able to host this year. Thank you so much for thinking of me.
    I cannot wait to see that film. Wow. A.

  9. Amy,
    Your poem is wonderful! I agree that "Poem knows your secret." I think that's why certain poems touch us when we can't figure out why.

    Poetry breaks sound just great. Thanks for sharing literacy ideas.


  10. Joyce, Thank you...I agree about this mystery! And yes - I love those poetry breaks too. I'm thankful to Amy for writing and am excited to try one! A.