by Faith Evans, M.Ed.
Imagine your campers gathered in a circle for the beginning of their first day
at camp. You give a warm welcome; make some introductions; sing a few
lively, favorite songs; and before activities begin, you pull a poem from your
pocket to share with everyone. When the day is done, your pocket yields
another poem in celebration of a child’s birthday or a storm that whipped the
trees or a special new friend or the frogs that punctuated the day with their
Why Poetry at Camp?
Campers receive a message in a moment, a flash of understanding, a
validation of their experience, or a new perception when a planned or
spontaneous poem is woven into their everyday experience. Poems provide a
brief but memorable bookend for the camp day. At school, children are
accustomed to ringing bells that mark the day’s beginning and ending . . .
why not the more engaging sounds of a poem, chosen and read (or even
written) by a counselor or a camper? Share poems about camp things
bugs, night, dreams, quarrels, trees, crying, or questions. Daily or weekly
good-byes at camp may be commemorated with more poems.
Poetry at Camp Goes Beyond the Classroom Camp has long offered
activities and experiences introduced in school, but camp gives more indepth
opportunities for campers to connect with their real lives . . . poetry at
camp is a chance to “slip in the back door” with new expressions, ideas,
outlooks, links to experience, and the magic of a well-turned phrase.
Schools struggle to teach the written language, wrestling with the impact of
text messaging, which filters words to the simplest message. Even the
traditional “love note or letter” that offers a teen a chance to express his
feelings, may be text messaged. Poems provide campers with another’s view
of their common experience, spoken in words different from their own.
Poems naturally expand campers’ options for vocabulary and their expression
of daily syntax.
Timing Is Everything
A well-timed poem shared by a camp leader can
send a message to campers that sets a tone. Talk of friends, love, caring,
sharing, nature’s beauty, and other less tangible subjects may be more easily
communicated in a poem rather than the speaker’s less-practiced words. A
well-placed poem may support the camp leader’s request, or reprimand, or
open or close a difficult conversation. Poems of appreciation may be given as
a simple and heart-felt “thank you.” Poetry at camp takes minutes to
prepare, minutes to share, and costs nothing. . . a simple, valuable, and
perhaps, unique addition to your program.
Daily Camp Experiences With Poetry
Staff can begin to collect poems from the children’s section in any library. It is crammed with books of poems,
humorous and serious, about food, family, animals, nature, morals, and
more in so many subjects you will be taxed to choose just a few. Copy
them, and stuff them in your pocket. After a few readings, campers begin to
ask for more!
Give copies to campers and encourage them to read them aloud. Make extra
copies available to start camper collections. Plaster poems on bathroom
doors and bulletin boards, add them to newsletters, and use them as a basis
for camp skits and plays. A budding musician might provide background
music for a fellow camper as she recites her poem. Place books of poems in
the nurse’s station, places where campers wait, and in staff rooms give
them time to read and start their own collections. When you find creative
times and places to present poems, you may be surprised at your own
keenness for finding and sharing them.
Find a Poem for Every Camp Situation . . . .
From the public domain, here are a few poems to pull out of your pocket
during those teachable moments at camp:
Poetry at Play Camp playgrounds teem with rhymes and rhythms, often
passed from one generation to another. One example is Miss Polly Had a
Dolly. Young campers often jump rope longer and better while shouting
breathlessly . . . .
Miss Polly Had a Dolly Miss Polly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick. So she
phoned for the doctor to be quick, quick, quick. The doctor came with his
bag and his hat, And he knocked on the door with a rat-a-tat-tat. He looked
at the dolly and he shook his head. And he said, “Miss Molly, put her straight
to bed.” He wrote on the paper for a pill, pill, pill, “I’ll be back in the
morning with my bill, bill, bill.” – Anonymous
Who goes first? Who get’s the chocolate one? Who’s IT? Camper arguments and decisions may be settled by toning nonsense
rhymes while pointing to one child per word. “Out goes you!” decides the winner or the loser.
Ecka, decka, donie, creak, Ecka, decka, do. Ease, cheese, butter, bread Out
goes you! – Anonymous
A simple poem about the universal experience of stargazing will ring familiar to most, young and old. At camp, campers from
the urban areas may be able to see stars, previously hidden by ambient light
or pollution. Stimulate their imaginations by inviting them to lie on their
backs and title the star groups using their own creative names. Any fear of
darkness may dissipate when campers become immersed, together, in the
beauty of a starry night.
“Starlight Starlight, star bright, First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I
might, Have the wish I wish tonight.” – Anonymous
Teach Environmental Awareness
Written more than a century ago, Christine Rossetti’s poem gives voice to today’s Leave No Trace ethic:
“Hurt No Living Thing Hurt no living thing; Ladybird, nor butterfly, Nor moth
with dusty wing, Nor cricket chirping cheerily, Nor grasshopper so light of
leap, Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat, Nor harmless worms that creep.”
- Christine Rossetti
Active Poetry Poems can stand alone, inspire a good discussion, or be the
basis for activity and further exploration. For example, wrap cookies in copies
of Vachel Lindsay’s poem, The Moon is the North Wind’s Cookie. Invite
campers to write their own poems about the moon, or cookies, while dipping
them in milk.
The Moon Is the North Wind’s Cookie
The moon is the North Wind’s cookie.
He bites it day by day, Until there’s but a rim of scraps That crumble all
away. The South Wind is a baker. He kneads clouds in his den. And bakes
a crisp new moon that greedy North Wind eats again.
Consider creating a “Poetry Trail” where campers read or memorize a poem
at stations across camp, using props and costumes as desired. Other
campers follow a map or hike the trail and stop to hear poems performed by
their friends. For example, next to the water, a camper might share e.e.
cummings’ poem about four girls at the shore:
maggie and milly and molly and may
maggie and milly and molly and may went down to the beach (to play one
day) and maggie discovered a shell that sang so sweetly she couldn’t
remember her troubles, and milly befriended a stranded star whose rays
five languid fingers were; and molly was chased by a horrible thing which
raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and may came home with a smooth
round stone so small as a world and large as alone. for whatever we lose
(like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.”
- e.e. cummings
This “comfort” poem sets the tone for rest or sleep:
“All around me quiet. All around me peaceful. All around me lasting, All
around me home”. – Ute Indian
It’s hard to lose your lover (or your friend) When your heart is full of hope.
But it’s worse to lose your towel When your eyes are full of soap.
Teaching Lessons Weather at camp is always a consideration when it
affects outdoor activities. This tongue twister communicates to campers the
invaluable attitude of perseverance. It’s a good one to memorize and recite
(to expected groans from campers who have heard it before!). Yet, campers
get the message and often join you on the last three lines.
Whether the Weather Whether the weather be fine Or whether the weather
be not Whether the weather be cold Or whether the weather be hot Ð We’ll
weather the weather Whatever the weather Whether we like it or not! -
Find a Place for Poetry
Metaphorically, poetry at camp is like dessert it’s not essential to the
meal, but it adds delicious pleasure, and most poetry consumers feel full and
satisfied. Unlike dessert, not all poetry is sweet, yet, few desserts are
thought provoking. Both poems and desserts may be inspiring, and campers
may look forward to more! Oh, and you can’t gain weight with poetry! So
read poems, recite poems, post poems, write poems, and find a place for
them on your camp program plate. Consider making a commitment to fill
your pockets with poems and share them with campers. Use the magic of a
poem as a springboard, a place from which to plunge into the depths of the
moment, for yourself and for your campers.
- www.PoetryFoundation.orgÐ Features for Children
BOOKS: Anything by Jack Prelutsky, considered the Poet Laureate for Children. Find silly and unpredictable
poems at www.JackPrelutsky.com and in numerous books of poetry compiled by Prelutsky.
- Learn to write poetry with his book, Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme.
- Shel Silverstein Ðread anything by the author, plus classics, Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light
in the Attic. Highly imaginative!
- Poetry Speaks to Children edited by Elise Paschen, with wonderful illustrations, including a CD of
poems read by their authors.
- Poetry by Heart compiled by Liz Attenborough. Find a delightful collection for many ages by well known writers.
- Bugs Poems about Creeping Things by David L. Harrison who “revels in that which most of us
- A Writing Kind of Day by Ralph Fletcher who writes poems about almost anything.
- A Family of Poems compiled by Caroline Kennedy is an anthology of poems that she and her family
cherished . . . a broad selection by famous authors, with memorable illustrations.
Reprinted from the November/December 2008 issue of Camping Magazine by permission of the
American Camp Association¨; copyright 2008 American Camping Association, Inc.¨