Category: Writing

Our Inner Poet: Write an Infinity Poem

By Mariah Bruehl,

Our Inner Poet: Write an Infinity Poem

What could be better than good literature, math explorations, and a dose of poetry? Good children’s literature naturally engages students and often initiates meaningful, rich discussions. Literature draws us in and keeps us together around a central theme, but also lets us enter based on our personal experiences and interests. Often, we can touch most, if not all children with a powerful story.

Kate Hosford has done a great job of personalizing abstract concepts in her book Infinity and Me. Her words along with Gabi Swiatkowska’s gorgeous illustrations personalize the concept of infinity. Uma, the main character, questions her friends and family members on how each person imagines infinity. The answers are varied and imaginative but also sweetly personal. Young readers will love to engage with this delightful story about a difficult, but now accessible concept.

After reading and discussing this book with your child, try writing an infinity poem:

  1. Brainstorm ideas about infinity including: (1) feelings, (2) images, (3) activities one might want to do and (4) wonderings or questions.
  2. Write a poem about the concept of infinity together to model writing to complete a sentence starter. Ask for ideas and show how to write these in sentence form.
  3. Using the brainstorming list, have your child or students write a poem of their own.
  4. Share finished poems with pairs or the whole class.

More to Explore…

  1. Draw a picture to share one of the ideas you presented in your poem. Look closely at the illustrations by Gabi Swiakowska for ideas.
  2. Visit Kate Hosford’s website and download the curriculum pack for more engaging activities.



Nurturing Young Authors: Starting a Writer’s Notebook

By Mariah Bruehl,

Playful Learning: Starting a Writer's NotebookBlogPost

We’re so excited about beginning the Starting a Writer’s Notebook online workshop, which marks the beginning of Camp Playful Learning next week! It’s a great opportunity to nurture your child’s writing life during the summer months.

Often as parents we forget to see the forest for the trees when it comes to our children’s writing. It’s normal for us to get caught up in whether they’re writing letters neatly, spelling correctly, and using proper grammar. While these are important skills, they are most effective when utilized to support good writing. They do not make good writing.

Good writing comes from having something to say. Good writing comes from believing in something, wanting to explore something more deeply, or wanting to connect with others about something. Good writing comes from having a strong sense of your own voice and a solid belief in your ability to express your ideas.

A writer’s notebook is a place where children can discover all of those essential elements. When they can write on their own terms, children begin to find their voice and experience writing as it should be—an amazing medium for self-expression.

Starting a Writer’s Notebook

Did you know that almost all of your favorite authors keep a writer’s notebook?  Writing does not need to be an overwhelming process, it can be fun, light, and all about capturing the magical moments in our lives. Keeping a writer’s notebook is where it all begins…

We thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peek into the process!

You can gather materials for your notebook from around the house. Here’s a list of the supplies we use in the video…

Playful Learning: Resources for Starting a Writer's Notebook

1. Post-it Arrow Flags –  Add a fun dimension to capturing memories and writing down thoughts.

2. Japanese Washi Masking Tape –  Fun tapes are a wonderful way to add mementos and for the decorating of your cover or pages.

3. Glassine Wax Paper Bags –  These are great for taping into your notebook to inspire writing about found treasures.

4. Jumbo Paper Clips –  Another great way to capture and save different memories.

5. Sticky Tab Markers –  These come in handy if you want to create different sections in your notebook.

6. Blank Recycled Notebooks – We love using these blank notebooks. They offer a clean slate, so that children can make them their own.

7. Photo Corners – Wonderful for adding and writing about family memories and special events.

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.



For these printables and more, sign up for our weekly newsletter filled with playful activities and resources…

Things to Write About List...  Wonderings Story Paper I


Starts Monday!

Camp Playful Learning: Writer's Notebook

We would love for you to join us…

Dates: June 13th – June 17th

To register, click here.

Going on a Poetry Walk: Exploring List Poems

By Mariah Bruehl,

Going on a Poetry Walk: Exploring List Poems

As spring starts to present its self in all of it’s glory, there is no better time to explore writing poetry with the young authors in your life…

A wonderful way to introduce young poets to the art and craft of poetry is through list poems. They are simple, fun, and even our youngest writers can partake through the simple writing of words or dictation.

Recently in the studio, we started our exploration of list poems by venturing out on a poetry walk. Before we began our journey, I prepared a basket-full of poetry delights: a clip board, printable for writing down observations (see below), colored pencils, magnifying glass, and a dose of list poem inspiration.

Poetry Walk...

When we arrived at the park we found a nice, shady spot under a tree and read through a variety of list poems, which served to get our poetic juices flowing. Next, we started to search for treasured items that would make for a good list poem inspiration. You can see our collection below. Note: it was early spring so there was not a lot of greenery to be found. However, through the art of observation, even the littlest objects can catch your attention!

Going on a Poetry Walk: Exploring List Poems

Next, our aspiring poet chose one item to focus on and used her senses to describe her object using the printable below. Once all of her descriptive words were down, she use her notes from the field to create her list poem. A very satisfying experience indeed!

Exploring List Poems

For these printables and more, sign up for our weekly newsletter filled with playful activities and resources…

Playful Learning: List Away Playful Learning: List Away

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

Me: In Poetry, Song, and Art

By Mariah Bruehl,

MichelleTitleWhen I was a classroom teacher, one of the most relaxing, yet beneficial professional development opportunities I attended was a “Picture Book Read In.” After various speakers, such as a local librarian who had been on the Caldecott committee, teachers had an opportunity to peruse new picture books at their leisure. I was always able to discover new books that sparked new ideas and new lessons.

It seems like there is always a steady stream of amazing books being produced, and this year is certainly no exception. There are many exciting new picture books and three of these that caught my eye are autobiographies or biographies.  Aside from the interesting life stories, these books are especially attractive because they feature outstanding artwork, and they also focus on unique and diverse individuals in the fields of poetry, music, and art.  Picture books easily engage children in non-fiction text, and these books can easily integrate reading, writing, and the arts. The more connections children can make across domains, the more effective learning opportunities become.

Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess is about the life of poet e.e. cummings. My favorite aspect of this book is the creative way the words themselves are incorporated into the illustrations. I love the use of the font style and the way the poems are presented throughout the book. Also, the book includes a nice chronology at the end.

Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews is an autobiography. This book will resonate with children because it takes place in modern times. Troy is 29 years old, and the book covers his accomplishments and musical drive as a young child. The watercolors and collage by Bryan Collier are amazing.

Draw What You See by Kathleen Benson is a biography of Benny Andrews and features his actual paintings as the illustrations. What a better way to introduce his life and his art to students than by using his artwork. The book also ends with an nice timeline, and a listing of each artwork including the title, medium (mostly oil on canvas are featured in this book), and date created.

With each book covering an individual from a different artistic talent, there are so many possibilities for activities after reading and discussing these books, all of which can be adapted for different age levels and abilities.

  • Write an autobiographical poem
  • Compose an autobiographical song
  • Paint a picture of an important moment in your life
  • Create a timeline of your life so far
  • Create an autobiographical collage

I have created a printable booklet to inspire some of the ideas listed above (click on the photo below to download). A quote of e.e. cummings that speaks to me is, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”.  Children thrive on expressing themselves and exploring what it means to be who they are. Poetry, song, and art are wonderful ways to delve into this. The booklet also has a chart to compare and contrast the individuals featured in these three books. An important comprehension skill with non-fiction reading is being able to locate and process factual information. Use of engaging texts, such as these picture books, is an excellent way to introduce and practice this skill in an interesting way for children.

Extending the reading of a book with supplemental experiences enhances children’s’ understanding as well, here are some links to use:

Me: In Poetry, Art, and Song

How To Create An Inspiring Writing Center

By Mariah Bruehl,

How to Create an Inspiring Writing Center

Create it and they will come… It’s almost like magic! If you would like to see your children writing for pleasure in their free time, then create an inviting space with engaging materials. Here are our tried and true favorites for creating a captivating writing center. What I love about these items is that they become household staples. We purchased many of the items on this list when the girls were young and we are still using and loving them!

1. Wall Organizer – This fabric magazine organizer is perfect for displaying a variety of interesting writing papers. We provide lots of interesting options in the workshop. You can also find a nice selection in the printables section of our book.

2. Acrylic Tote – I am a huge fan of creating caddies stocked with inviting supplies like pens, pencils, stamps, stickers, etc. They are easy to move from room to room and are great for taking your writing adventures outside.

3. Prismacolor Colored Pencils – Our all-time favorite colored pencils!

4. Highlighters – An inviting way to make writing fun.

5. Pencils – We are big fans of these triangular pencils, which help with encouraging proper pencil grip.

6. Alphabet Stickers – Fun no matter what age you are!

7. Sentiment Stamps – We love giving handmade cards for every occasion. Having these stamps handy has been very helpful throughout the years.

8. Paper Tray – Another wonderful way for organizing interesting writing papers.

9. Watercolors – It is wonderful to combine art and writing and we love these watercolor paints. These are also perfect for combing with the post cards below.

10. Watercolor Postcards – Embrace the handwritten tradition of corresponding with loved ones with these lovely blank watercolor postcards.

11. Blank Books – The more of these you leave in your writing center, the more books you will see popping up around your house. Try it!

For More Inspiration!

Camp Playful Learning: Writer's Notebook

Throwing Out the Rules: Making Dada Poetry with Kids

By Mariah Bruehl,

Making Dada Poetry with KidsThe Dada art movement existed at the beginning of the 20th century and looked to explore meaning in art.  They were interested in abstract and surreal ideas and challenged the conventional notions of what art means.  So how does this translate to children?


Well, who do you know who likes to challenge ideas?  Who is creative?  Who likes to play?  Of course, your children do.  So why not play with poetry too?  We often think of poetry as grand and untouchable, serious even, but teaching children to be unafraid of poetry, to embrace its possibilities will quickly turn them into poets themselves.


The Dadaists believed in challenging the conventional, they wanted to throw away the old and embrace new possibilities.  An activity some Dadaists tried was simply pulling words out of a hat and turning that into poetry, they wanted to show that it could be simple and meaningful too.


I always loved the idea that words could flow into one another and still make sense, that we can find meaning in all sorts of constructions.  This is an activity I’ve tried with teenagers and young kids alike, they have all loved it and found meaning in their work.  It’s a great way to break down the barriers many people have around poetry and encourage creativity in a new way.


What you’ll need:


Word lists:


Color words (cerise, scarlet, cerulean..)

Verbs  (running, twisting, loving, flying…)

Prepositions (to, from, under, near….)

Articles (the, an, a….)

Nouns (she, cat, leaf, stars, Paris…)

Making Dada Poetry with Kids

The lists above are a good starting point but you’ll soon think of more!  Once your kids get the hang of making their own poetry they will want to start adding the words that they enjoy too.


Cut the words up and mix them together.  You could keep each category separate or mix them all in one big pile, it’s up to you.  Tell each child to pick a certain amount of words (10-20) and them simply place them on a piece of paper in the order the come out in.


I would suggest that you set a limit for the length of each line, 5-8 words should be more than enough.  That way your words will soon build to a stanza or verse.  Once your words are organized you can stick them down, add to them, reuse them…it’s up to you!


If your child doesn’t like the order of the words and wants to rearrange them, that’s ok too!  The point of the exercise is to inspire them and let their creativity take charge.  As long as they are playing with words then the enterprise is a success.


Once your child has completed their poem, encourage them to add images and to play with adding colors to their work.  It will help them to express the thoughts and feelings their poem has brought up for them.  They could cut out images from magazines, draw their own pictures or simply color around the words that attract them the most.


I’m constantly amazed at the powerful impact the simple act of creating poetry can have on the young ones in our lives.  Their capacity to embrace ideas that are different, or seemingly nonsensical, is what makes them natural artists, natural creators.
Don’t forget, this activity is also suitable for grown ups!

Sijo Poetry for Kids

By Mariah Bruehl,

Sijo Poetry for KidsOnce our children and students start to take an interest in writing poetry, we can introduce them to some of the different types of poetry. After exploring the format and syllabic structure of Haiku poem, students may take interest in writing an ancient Korean type of poem called the Sijo poem. Sijo poems also rely on a set number of stressed syllables but are a little longer in length than a Haiku poem. The fun and inviting thing about writing a Sijo poem is that each poem ends with a quirky ending such as a joke or a related twist.


One of the best places to begin exploring Sijo poetry is through Linda Sue Park’s book entitled: Tap Dancing on the Roof. In this small collection of Sijo poems Park explains how to write a Sijo poem and then invites her readers to read her examples. Her first poem: Breakfast, is a three line poem that share many delights we eat at breakfast but ends with a twist about enjoying sleeping in our nice cozy beds instead of breakfast. There are also poems about spring flowers, long division, collecting beach souvenirs and more. This is a perfect introductory collection for getting to know Sijo poetry.


Learning to write a Sijo poem will come naturally to our students’ as children often love sharing a silly, funny or twisted ending. To begin, introduce the structure of the Sijo: three to six lines with fourteen to sixteen stressed syllables for each line. Start with writing a three line Sijo poem with fourteen to sixteen syllables per line.  Brainstorm a list of topic ideas: loose tooth, soccer game, my favorite donut, spring blossoms, etc. Choose a topic and try writing a poem together or separately but remember to share and compare once finished.



Chocolate covered, vanilla crème, delightfully tasty!

What would I do without this morning treat to fill my tummy?


Mom says I will live and to make sure I gobble up my oatmeal.


Talk about editing during the writing process. How many syllables do we have? Should we change this word with a longer or short word? Is the twist funny enough? Does the poem flow well? What other topics should we write about?


Linda Sue Park ends her collection with additional information about Sijo poetry: historical background, further readings and tips for writing your own Sijo poem. I love reading author tips for writing to my students. They often perk up a little more when I tell them the author wants to give them some writing tips. For our older children and students, there is another lovely collection entitled: Sunset in a Spider Web adapted by Virginia Olsen Baron. The Sijo poems in this collection center around the theme of nature; which I think makes this collection perfect for springtime poetry explorations.


Have fun and please share your poems with us!

Book Resources:

Playful Picks: Poetry Anthologies

By Mariah Bruehl,

Playful Picks: Poetry AnthologiesWhen I first started teaching I was terrified of the month of April.  April means poetry in many schools. My exposure to poetry was not too much broader than Shel Silverstein in elementary school and Shakespearean sonnets in high school.  However, I did want to inspire my students to love poetry and knew that I needed to immerse myself in the genre in order to do so.  I began collecting poetry anthologies and made them my own personal reading.  Here are a few that I love.

Playful Picks: Poetry Anthologies

Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies, Selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Paintings by James McMullan

I was fortunate enough to hear Emma Walton Hamilton speak about this book that she curated with her mother.  She shared that in their family poems are often given as gifts.  That is what this whole collection feels like, a gift of words, rhymes, and music.  The collection also includes a CD of poems and the beautiful watercolors of James McMullan.


The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury, Selected by Jack Prelutsky, Illustrated by Meilo So

Published in 1999 this book features over 200 poems written during the 20th century.  Jack Prelutsky, one of the most loved poets in my first grade classroom, selected the poems.


The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry, by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson

After first paging through this collection I returned to the beginning to read the forward by Eric Carle.  Here I learned that Bill Martin Jr. couldn’t read until high school and was taught to read by a teacher using rhythms as his guide.  What an auspicious beginning to a career in education and children’s literature.  The book also features art by many award-winning authors and illustrators, with each poem having its’ own artwork.


Poetry Speaks to Children, Edited by Elise Paschen, Illustrated by Juldy Love, Wendy Rasmussen, and Paula Zinngrabe Wendland

This anthology comes with a CD featuring fifty of the poems from the book, making it a great way for any child to listen and read along.

Poetry Anthologies

A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme, Poems Collected by Heather Thomas

This collection, created for the Waldorf classroom, but appropriate in any, features chapters on the seasons, but so much more.  There are chapters of poetry featuring finger play, riddles, grammar, nature, meditations for teachers, and so much more.  The book is organized in a way that the poems become more developmentally complex the further you go on through the book so parents and teachers of six-year-olds through high school students can all find something appropriate.


Julie Andrews’ Treasury for All Seasons Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year, Selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Paintings by Marjorie Priceman

Like their previous anthology this collection features songs, as well as poems.  The book is organized by month and also by other holiday celebrations such as poems for birthdays, new babies, and rites of passage.


Poetry for Young People: The Seasons, Edited by John N. Serio, Illustrated by Robert Crockett

Part of the Poetry for Young People series this book begins each of its’ four chapters with haikus and then continues with longer poetry formats.  Each of the longer poems also has information about the poet and their inspirations.

Poetry Anthologies

Skip Across the Ocean: Nursery Rhymes From Around the World, Collected by Floella Benjamin, Illustrated by Sheila Moxley

This collection features lullabies, action rhymes, nature poems and more.  It features many cultures and often has the poems written in both English and the native language.


Tomie DePaola’s Mother Goose, Illustrated by Tomie DePaola

The classic Mother Goose rhymes featuring the bright and charming illustrations of Tomie DePaola, a favorite from my childhood.

Poetry Anthologies

National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar!, Edited by J. Patick Lewis

Stunning National Geographic photography and poetry together, need I say more?


Eric Carle’s Animals Animals, by Laura Whipple, Illustrated by Eric Carle

Featuring Eric Carle’s recognizable and iconic collages this book contains long format poems, haikus, and sayings about many species in the animal kingdom.

Poetry Anthologies

Noisy Poems, Collected by Jill Bennett, Illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Every time I read a poem from this book to my class I had their full attention.  Many of the poems inspired a laugh and it was a great teaching tool when introducing onomatopoeia and decoding nonsense words with older readers.

Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems, Edited by Georgia Heard

List poems are so very accessible to all levels of readers and writers, which is what makes this collection so great for the classroom, or for a family, that is exploring poetry.  Georgia Heard whose books on teaching poetry were huge inspirations in my formative years as a teacher edited this collection.


A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems, Selected by Paul B. Janeczko

Concrete poems use not only words, but also shape and design, to express their meaning.  This book is a visual feast and may help “hook” children who are otherwise adverse to poetry.

Two Voice Poetry

By Mariah Bruehl,

Two Voice Poetry

I’ve always felt that poetry is communal.  First of all, it’s accessible to everyone regardless of age, poetic experience, or writing ability.  My six year old can write as profound a poem as anyone.  Secondly, poetry is a genre meant to be shared and enjoyed with others. Poetry creates a sense of community and has the power to evoke emotions and build relationships in a way that ordinary prose simply cannot.

A poem in two voices offers a unique way to showcase two distinct perspectives or to compare and contrast two items, and it lends itself to being read out loud and performed for others.  This type of poetry is usually written in two columns so that one person speaks at a time.  The two voices go back and forth so that it becomes a dialogue or conversation between the two voices.  If the poet wants the voices to come together as one, the words are either written in the center of the page or on the same line in each of the two columns.

Last week I introduced this form of poetry to my second and third graders and handed each pair of students a book with a collection of two-voice poems.  I expected a few moans and groans (which I always seem to get when I ask students to pair up and read something together).  I wasn’t expecting what came next.

For over half an hour, my students devoured these poems.  They took turns reading different parts, they laughed, they questioned, and they passed the books back and forth (all while building their vocabulary, comprehension and fluency). Of course, we then spent another 30 minutes sharing our favorite poems with one another and performing them in front of the group.  Not a bad way to spend the morning.

Our next step will be to write our own two-voice poems.  Want to try it with us?  Here are some easy steps to get you started.

  1.  Choose two items, objects or people that have a relationship.

For example:

– Book characters (Charlotte & Wilbur)

– Family members (brother & sister)

– Animals (cat & dog)

– Seasons (winter & spring)

– Flowers (tulip & daffodil)

– Friends (you & your bestie)

You get the idea, and if you think creatively the possibilities are literally endless.  Use the book list below for even more inspiration!

  1. Brainstorm some words, ideas or phrases for each of the items.  Think about how the items are similar and different from one another.  It might be helpful to use a graphic organizer (two-column chart or Venn diagram) to get your ideas in order, but it’s not necessary!
  1. Begin writing your poem, in two separate columns, so that each item has a distinct voice.  Consider whether or not your two voices will speak together at certain points in your poem.  If so, try writing those lines in the center of the page.
  1. Practice reading your poem.  When you feel ready, perform your poem in front of others!  If you haven’t written your poem with a partner, find a friend who will read the poem with you.  Don’t forget to switch parts every once in a while.  It’s always fun to hear the lines being read in a different voice.

There are also many other concepts that can be taught during this activity:

  • Personification
  • Determining point of view
  • Comparing and contrasting themes, settings, plots, and characters
  • Reading with fluency to support comprehension
  • Using graphic organizers

Here are a few books to enjoy and be inspired by:

*There are six different books in this series including the original Very Short Stories, Tall Tales, Fairy Tales, Fables, Mother Goose Rhymes, and Scary Stories.

Two-voice poems could also be used as a response to another text or written to support an opinion about a topic or text.  I’ve frequently used them at the beginning of the school year when we are first getting to know one another; it’s a perfect medium to begin building community and establishing relationships in the classroom.

I’d love to hear how you use two-voice poems in your homes and classrooms!


*This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links

3 Poetry Apps for Kids

By Mariah Bruehl,

3 Poetry Apps for KidsRather than filling children’s minds with empty screen time, a key to the thoughtful use of technology is integrating it into everyday learning situations in a way that enhances activities. Since poetry is a very thoughtful form of writing, and April just happens to be National Poetry Month, let’s explore some apps that can engage children in poetry through the use of technology. All of these apps are free (hooray!), and each approaches poetry differently. “Appy” Poetry month!

Instant Poetry 2 is an app which enables users to place refrigerator word “magnets” to create poetry. Although the app comes loaded with scenic backgrounds, a perfect way to utilize this app in a thoughtful way is to have children use their device to take their own pictures and find their inspiration in the world around them. Scroll through the word options and make meaning from the random choices. You may be surprised what images spark poetic stimulation, and how the words take the poems in their own direction.

My daughter loves to rhyme, and we play rhyming games frequently. Inevitably we get stumped, especially by her favorite color, not much rhymes with purple. Poetreat is an excellent app for focusing on rhyme and rhyme scheme, it even counts syllables for you! A side bar menu allows users to design their own rhyme pattern and the app offers a list of rhyme suggestions for final words in a line. Try using this app for collaborative poetry with a group of children. Set the rhyme scheme and have one child craft a first line of the poem. Then pass the device to the next child. They can create the second line based on the rhyme options presented by the app. This could lead to a poem that is creative, clever, and perhaps a little bit crazy! Another project with this app is to give children a short list of 5-10 words, perhaps seasonal, dealing with a unit of study, or a child’s current interest, then using the rhyme scheme and rhyme suggestions the child can create a poem on the given topic. Once the poem is written, brainstorm ways to creatively publish the final product.

As a classroom teacher, one thing I loved watching every year was when the English teacher on my team had students recite poetry. In a world of standardized tests, a classical learning experience like this may seem to be a lost art, but there are so many benefits. Children not only are exposed to exquisite words, but they learn to focus on rhythm, tone, meaning, and composure when speaking to an audience. Poems By Heart is the perfect app for memorizing poems. It comes preloaded with poems, and other “volumes” can be purchased. I especially like that you can hear the poem being read, then practice with filling in the blanks of the words. My favorite aspect of this app is that children can record themselves practicing their poetry recitation. There is something very powerful about hearing your own voice and learning from what you hear.

Poetry and technology may seem an odd couple, artistic versus mechanical. But, when thoughtfully combined, technology can allow children to creatively express themselves through poetry.