“Yes we can.” ~ Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States
Over the past several weeks I have explored various ways to introduce poetry into the kindergarten curriculum. I have selected rhyming books and poems that encourage children to attend not just to the rhythm of language and to rhyming words, but to the beautiful images painted by words that invite them to think, imagine and feel. At the same time, in our class we have been reading a variety of stories throughout Black History Month, to acquaint children with important events and people, and concepts such as fairness and pride. How could all of these threads be connected in a way that would be meaningful for the children? While browsing in the library, I found two books that inspired an idea for a learning experience that would allow the children to understand what we had been learning about history, fairness and pride, through the creation of their own poem.
The two books were Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan and Pass it On: African-American Poetry for Children, selected by Wade Hudson. In the first book Blackbird, whose beautiful black feathers reflect all colours, is much admired by the
other birds. After the birds plead with Blackbird, he paints their feathers with just a touch of black, sharing with them what is special about him, while reminding them that “I’ll be me and you’ll be you.” The story leaves us with the understanding that each of us is unique and we all have our own gift to give. We then read Mari Evans’ moving poem “I Can” which spoke so strongly to the importance of pride – in who we are, where we come from and what we can do. It seemed right to present these two pieces of writing together, and to put the question to the children, “Who are you and what can you do?” I asked each child to tell me their name and think about their special talent, and to write this down. The result was a wonderful poem by four and five year olds: I am… I Can…
Of course words so beautiful deserved to be noticed. In many ways, the value of teaching children about events and how they make people feel (whether sad, angry, happy or proud) lies in helping them to notice what is important, and to care. But this begins with encouraging children to become self aware, to see themselves and to give their own thoughts and experiences a voice. When children begin to grasp important ideas – about history, fairness and pride, and begin to understand the perspectives and experiences of others – this deserves our attention. I feel strongly about this because often when children say, do, and come to understand amazing things, the importance of this is not always acknowledged. In an effort to give children recognition of what they had learned, I decided to create a bulletin board that would let them see their ideas and words represented in a beautiful way.
This was achieved in a few steps, and with much help from the children. First, we painted the background for the bulletin board, using red, yellow and green paint on black paper. In the meantime, I cut out several paper birds, using a variety of colours. Next, each child in the class wrote their contribution to the poem on their own bird. Finally, a marker was used to add details, and just a touch of black to each bird, as Blackbird did. Each line of the poem reads I am ….. and I can… and the children finished the sentence with such ideas as write my name, read, climb on the monkey bars, draw, run fast, sit and listen, and my personal favourite, be an artist. These birds were then displayed on the bulletin board. This was a wonderful and creative project, intended to give children the opportunity to say out loud, “This is who I am and this is what I can do” and to see how having this opportunity can make your spirit soar, and feel the self-assurance and pride of the Beautiful Blackbird.