How Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Poetry Can Inspire Today’s Children To Write

Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of the most important American poets of the first half of the 20th century. Her poetry is filled with carefully measured rhymes and imaginative themes that can inspire children today to write creatively.

Millay published many books of poetry throughout her life and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1923. Her life was filled with exciting trips and good friends. At the same time, she dealt with serious health problems as an adult and her family had very little money when she was a child. Despite the lack of resources, her mother always encouraged her to write. Her poetry caught the attention of several supporters early in her life who helped her get published. One supporter even paid for her education at Vassar College.

Her poetry reveals her deep passion for life and her imaginative spirit. She wrote about her love of the ocean, romance, and the New England landscape of her childhood. She also wrote poems with magical elements as well as poems where she just lets her imagination about ordinary items run wild.

Some of her poems are accessible to children and are in the book Poetry for Young People – Edna St. Vincent Millay. In this volume, they include part of a longer poem called A Very Little Spinx:

Wonder Where This Horseshoe Went

Wonder where this horseshoe went. 
Up and down, up and down, 
Up and past the monument, 
Maybe into town. 

Wait a minute. “Horseshoe, 
How far have you been? ” 
Says it’s been to Salem 
And halfway to Lynn. 

Wonder who was in the team. 
Wonder what they saw. 
Wonder if they passed a bridge — 
Bridge with a draw. 

Says it went from one bridge 
Straight upon another. 
Says it took a little girl 
Driving with her mother.

I love this imaginative conversation with a horseshoe about its travels. Sharing this with children gives them permission to be imaginative and to write adventures that ordinary items around them might have taken.

Millay kept many journals throughout her life where she would work on her poems. In the Respect Program, all children get to decorate a journal. Each child then uses it create their own poetry and to help them process their own life experiences through writing. Here are some ideas to inspire the children in your life, with a little help from Millay’s poetry.

Activities for Parents and Teachers

In today’s world, a similar theme could be, “I wonder where these tires went.” Write a poem about where a set of tires could have gone. Use your imagination to create any scenario that interests you, just as Millay does with the horseshoe.

Millay was was born in 1892. Talk with children about the fact that many people at that time traveled by horse or a horse and cart. Visit a horse farm and learn about how and why they put horseshoes on horses. While there, give the children a chance to take a riding lesson. Ask the children to write about the experience when they get home.

Questions for Journaling or Discussion

What do you think riding in a horse-drawn carriage would be like?

Where is a place you would like to visit? Write about what you want to do there.

Is there a friend or family member you would like to travel with? What makes them a good travel companion?

Children decorate notebooks in the Respect
Program for writing poetry and journaling

Book Review: Brook & Brax Undercover Ninjas

I am always looking for great books to introduce children to through the Respect Program. In our digital age, getting children to read and discuss great stories with positive messages is more important than ever. I was therefore delighted to read Brook & Brax Undercover Ninjas recently and I want to encourage you to check it out for the children in your life.

The book was written by Antonio Lumley and is ideal for children ages 8-10. The book is 142 pages and has comic book style illustrations at the end of each chapter that summarize the action in that section. Marc Rene does a beautiful job with the illustrations, bringing to life the adventures of Brook and Brax.

The story starts out with an introduction to first graders Brook and Brax, who are best friends. One day they are being bullied by Puke and Lil Dumps. While running away they duck into a store and meet Sensi Iron Post, a wise man who teaches them martial arts.

At first, the two boys think learning martial arts will be easy. However, they soon learn it is a lot of work because “anything as great as being a ninja is not easy to obtain.” We then fast forward five years, all of which they have spent in training. At this point, Sensi Iron Post gives them magical ninja suits to help them to protect those in need. The descriptions of each suit are wonderful.

Once they have their suits to enhance their martial arts skills, they head to school and realize that the students, teachers and principal are in danger. While they have been focusing on their training and classes, they realize that Puke, Lil Dump, and their group of bullies known as the Stank Rebels have taken over most of the school. The Stank Rebels are stealing, taunting, and assaulting adults and students daily and it is up to Brook and Brax to save the day.

One thing that impressed me about this story is that during their battles with Puke, Lil Dump, and the Stank Rebels, the two boys use the minimum force needed in every fight. For example, Book and Brax have ninja suits that can make weapons. At one point, one of the boys makes makes daggers. “Fortunately for the Stank Rebels, these weapons are make of wood instead of metal; therefore, it wouldn’t cut and slice, but it sure would hurt if hit with them.” Deciding to restrain, not destroy, the Stank Rebels is a powerful sign of discipline in both Brook and Brax.

Antonio and his thoughts on bullying are just as interesting as the story. He told me, “I was raised in the inner city of Boston, Massachusetts by my mother in a single parent household. Often times I got bullied as a child by local gangs. So, when Brook & Brax get bullied by Puke, Lil Dumps, and the Stank Rebels, that actually came from my own experiences. Although I did not train in the martial arts, I had to learn on my own how to fight and defend myself or else the cycle would never be broken. I also learned that bullies typically pick on others that they perceive as weak or abnormal, in order to make up for whatever they are lacking mentally, physically, or spiritually. They themselves often come from broken homes and that is one mechanism they use to lash out or find confidence.”

You can definitely see the influence of broken homes in the lives of Puke and Lil Dumps, which also adds an added depth to the story.

Overall, the book is uplifting and entertaining. I hope you will pick up a copy for you and your child to read soon. The story is a great way to remind us all that we can learn to protect ourselves and be supportive of others, especially when we have good friends by our side.

Antonio Lumley and his book Brook & Brax Undercover Ninjas

Why We Must Do More Than Say “Stop Bullying” to Stop Bullying

I was an anti-bullying consultant with a rural school district early in my career. One day I was leading a focus group with 5th and 6th graders about how they felt about the school’s culture and rules. One boy said in frustration, “I know what I’m not supposed to do, I don’t know what I am supposed to do!”

I think about this boy often as I teach children positive social behaviors to replace negative ones. Telling children “bullying is wrong” should be the beginning of an anti-bullying conversation, not the end of it. In the Respect Program we provide a variety of tools to children to help them regulate their emotions, build confidence, and stand up to a bully without becoming mean. This way, when they are thinking about bullying someone or need help dealing with bullying, they know what they are “supposed to do!”

The Respect Program empowers children to stop bullying by:

1) Creating art, acting, and writing so they can find new hobbies that give them confidence. Hobbies are also a great way to make new friends.

2) Participating in role plays where they practice different ways to stand up to a bully without becoming mean.

3) Journaling, pounding on clay, and doing other safe creative activities to deal with their anger and frustration.

4) Thinking about the kind of person they want to be. For example, we discuss the importance of being kind, even when you have nothing to gain, and keeping the promises we make to others.

What are other effective strategies to stop bullying in your school or community organization?

Children in a Respect Program lesson decorating
mugs with anti-bullying/healthy friendship themed art.

Remember We Do Everything Imperfectly

I was thinking about my issues with perfectionism today. I sometimes set an impossible standard for myself and then have to reevaluate what is feasible to do. I also have to often remind myself that we are all imperfect and that that is not only okay but wonderful that this imperfection gives us opportunities to grow, continue to improve, and to support those we love. Here is one of my poems where I played with this idea.

What We Are Is Enough

When we love, we love imperfect people,

Because they are the people available to love

When we help, we reach with imperfect hands

Because they are what we have to reach with

When we receive we take in the pain and joy of the world with an imperfect heart

Because it is the heart we are blessed to have.

By: Amanda Cook

Have a blessedly, lovely, imperfect day!

What can we learn from Robert Louis Stevenson about joy and play?

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing, 

   Up in the air so blue? 

Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing 

   Ever a child can do! 

Up in the air and over the wall, 

   Till I can see so wide, 

Rivers and trees and cattle and all 

   Over the countryside— 

Till I look down on the garden green, 

   Down on the roof so brown— 

Up in the air I go flying again, 

   Up in the air and down!

– Robert Louis Stevenson

Poetry for Young People,  Robert Louis Stevenson is for readers ages eight and up and it is a great introduction to poetry for children because the poems are from the perspective of children.

I love the pure joy the poem’s speaker is sharing in The Swing. We all need fun recreational activities, as seen in this poem, to help us recharge and experience joy and serenity. Robert Louis Stevenson had serious health problems throughout his life, but he didn’t let that stop him from creating beautiful stories and poems that celebrate play and a child’s imagination.

As a young child, I loved to swing and started writing poems. His poetry inspired me and reminded me of the importance of creativity. Today, I think his poems are more important than ever as a window to a world not filled with smart phones and video games. Adults and children still need to enter a world of play separate from technology and his poems can spark conversation and acitivties with children around this subject.

Activities for Parents and Teachers:

Ask children what they like to do for fun.  Then ask them what they like to do for fun that doesn’t involve a phone, computer or any other type of technology.

Ask them to write two sentences or a poem about an activity that they like to do that doesn’t involved technology.

Questions for the Day for Discussion or Journalling:

What are the activities that brought me joy as a child?  

What recreational activities bring me joy today?  Can I do more of them to help me relax and recharge?

Poetry for Young People, Robert Louis Stevenson

What helps give you a new perspective on life when you need it?

Whenever I am overwhelmed by my daily challenges, I can look at pictures of our solar system, nebulas, and galaxies for a reminder of how vast the mysteries of the universe are and how I need to keep things in perspective. 

I also use poetry to think about the seen and unseen world and let my imagination flow. In addition to thinking about the size of the universe, I remember when I was in high school learning about the universe within each of us – tiny organisms that we cannot see without a powerful microscope. To those organisms we are the solar system, nebula or galaxy!

Years after the biology class, I wrote the following:

The Storm

What if, inside the eye of a needle, whole worlds existed?

People in little steel towns with silver soil that could not be cultivated

reaching for strands from the giant worm that periodically blacks out their sky.

What if, inside the binding of a book, a community lived?

People hunting dust mites for food and living in musty darkness, attributing the

movement of the book to an earthquake, living out their lives in the smell of ancient stories.

How would your perceptions change?

Creatures, scientists say, live on people’s eyelashes, and 

when we cry they experience a salty storm.  

They harm no one, and go on with life, content that what they see isn’t what they get,

not knowing the massive giant they rest upon, not knowing what the storms mean.

By: Amanda Cook

Always, I am humbled and amazed at the vastness of the universe and all the life that is around me that I cannot see. No matter what is bothering me today, I need to remember that there is beauty all around us.  

What specific talents and joys help you remember your worth?

There is a charming book I read in programs for children ages 4 – 8 called “I’m Gonna Like Me – Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem.” The book is filled with great illustrations by Laura Cornell and was written beautifully by Jamie Lee Curtis. I particularly like that the speaker loves herself not only for her talents, but also when she makes mistakes.  

The book ends with a question: “I’m gonna like me, I already do, but enough about me, how about you?”

Giving a child a chance to speak up about their abilities, talents and things they enjoy doing is inspiring. I love seeing their faces light up when they share things that mean the world to them.  

So many children, and adults, have been told they don’t matter. When we hear this message over and over again from others, we can start to believe it if we forget to value ourselves. 

Remember, we are all enough and there are things each of us is passionate about that help us grow, contribute to the world in a positive way, and relieve our stress.

We all need to be reminded of the treasurers within each of us to thrive in this world.  One activity I do with children around this issue is to ask them to write on a piece of paper what they love about themselves.  Then they get a wooden box to decorate and I tell them to place the word in the treasure box to remember their amazing talent.  Here is one child’s work from one of my classes:

Have a great day filled with creativity and high self-esteem!

What are the pros and cons of daydreaming?

Daydreaming leads to creative thoughts and great new ideas. I have to admit though that as a child my mind might have wandered a bit too much some days in class. One day in a creative writing class in college I was daydreaming about my daydreaming and began to write this poem. Could the child or children in your life identify with it? Can you?

The Test

“Begin Here.”  She said

   as I looked down to where she was pointing

   on the standardized test in front of me.

Begin Here

   The words echoed in my ear as my mind wandered off to a fair at midnight

   where I would meet up with my friends and then–

“Begin Here.”  She said, this time more sternly.

   while she waved her hands in front of my face

   as I slowly came back to the room and began

filling in the dots with circular black marks.

(But the truth is I am always running off the page)

By: Amanda Cook