Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Through the Year

We just finished discussing the teaching of measurement in my Foundations of Math Instruction class. One of the topics we cover is the teaching of time. This includes not only the mechanics of telling time, but also discussions of the calendar. Last year I wrote post entitled Month by Month, in which I highlighted books for teaching about days, weeks and months of the year. Some of the books on this list were books of poetry.

A Child's Calendar, written by John Updike and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, is a Caldecott Honor book in which the poems and pictures are full of life. The illustrations are reflective of the seasonal changes seen in New England, and like the poems, they highlight the weather as well as the activities of childhood throughout the year. Children are the focus of the pages here. Each double-page spread presents a poem and small illustration on one page, with a full page illustration on the facing page. One of my favorite poems is for the month of June. The full page illustration shows two boys tiptoeing through a pond with net and bucket in hand. You can see the frogs hiding in the grass. The illustration on the poem page shows children riding their bikes down a road that is shaded by overhanging trees. Here is the poem.

The sun is rich
  And gladly pays
In golden hours,
  Silver days,

And long green weeks
  The never end.
School's out. The time
  Is ours to spend.

There's Little League,
  Hopscotch, the creek,
And, after supper

The live-long light
  Is like a dream,
And freckles come
  Like flies to cream.
Turtle in July, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, is divided into four seasonal sections, each highlighting the bullhead (catfish). What follows are three poems, each on a different animal. The subjects of the poems range from domestic animals, likes cats and dogs), to the beaver, bear, deer, dragonfly, barn owl, and more. Here is the poem the lends itself to the book's title.
Heavy hot
Heavy hot hangs
But I lie
Nose high
Cool pool
No fool
A turtle in July
Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons, written by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London and illustrated by Thomas Locker, is a collection of poems corresponding to the thirteen moons recognized by some Native American people. It begins with an Abenaki man teaching his grandson that "There are always thirteen (scales) on Old Turtle's back and there are always thirteen moons in each year." Each moon has its own name and its own story. In the authors' note at the end of the book, readers learn that not all Native American people talk about twelve or thirteen moons, largely because they observe the seasonal changes where they live, so places like the far north and desert southwest have very different seasons. They also make it clear that even among Native American nations that speak of moons, they may not all use the same name for that moon. Each of the thirteen moons contains a reference to the Native American nation from which the name and story comes. Here is an excerpt of one of the moon poems.

Moose-Calling Moon
(Ninth Moon - Micmac)

In this season when leaves
begin to turn color,
we go down to the lakes
and with birch-bark horns
make that sound which echoes
through the spruce trees,
the call of a moose
looking for a mate:

This book has been an important one to include when teaching about the calendar, as I want students to understand that there are many ways to view and count the passage of time.

While the selections here focus on collections of poems about the months of the year, I want to also add one book that is a single poem to this list.

Calendar, written by Myra Cohn Livingston and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, is a book based on a poem first in 1959 in a volume entitled Wide Awake and Other Poems. The mixed-media illustrations are vibrant and gorgeous. Each month gets a two-page spread (except December, which gets seven pages so that Santa can slide down the chimney at the end) that highlights and extends the sparse yet luminous lines of poetry. A pigtailed girl is depicted engaged in each monthly activity, such as enjoying a nighttime picnic on the 4th of July, to holding hands with a parent while waiting for the school bus in September.

Here is the beginning of the poem.
January shivers,
February shines,
March blows off
the winter ice,
April makes the
mornings nice,
May is hopscotch lines.
For those of you looking for additional resources for studying the calendar in your classroom, try these sites.
  • Scholastic has some ideas for calendar math activities.
  • At Mrs. Meacham's Classroom Snapshots you can get a range of ideas for a calendar wall, calendar binders and much more.
  • The Center for Innovation in Education has a chapter on opening activities (calendar focus) that you can download.
  • NASA has a calendar lesson that focuses on solar and lunar calendars as well as the day and the month and their relations to the rotation period of the Earth and the orbital period of the Moon.
  • Ask Dr. Math has an FAQ on the calendar and days of the week.
  • Education World has a lesson plan that looks at a variety of calendars, including Gregorian, Jewish, Chinese and more.
  • If you are interested in history, you can learn about calendars through the ages.
  • The Calendar Zone site shares links to a variety of calendars, including cultural, celestial, geographic and more.


  1. I am enjoying all your poetry in the classroom posts. This one in particular I really like. I have read most of these books and they are all great! Thanks for gathering all these great resources and ideas.

  2. Tricia,

    Great post! Here are the titles of three more books with poems for the months:

    - WHEN THE MOON IS FULL: A LUNAR YEAR, written by Penny Pollock and beautifully illustrated by Mary Azarian. Below each poem, the author includes a short note about each month. The back matter includes a section called "Blue Moons and More: Questions and Answers about the Moon." WHEN THE MOON IS FULL would be an excellent book to use in conjunction with THIRTEEN MOONS ON TURTLE'S BACK.

    - ONCE AROUND THE SUN, written by Bobbi Katz and illustrated by LeUyen Pham

    - A YEAR GOES ROUND: POEMS FOR THE MONTHS, written & illustrated by Karen B. Winnick