African American Poetry becomes the basis of analysis for enrichment and enlightenment as young children are challenged to look not only for beauty within their own lives but also for the beauty that surrounds them and those individuals whose paths cross theirs on a daily basis. In her book,
No Mirrors in My Nana's House
, Ysaye M. Barnwell gives the reader a picture of beauty as she so eloquently tells a story poetic style as seen through Nana's eyes. There are no mirrors reflecting the unsightly trash in the hallway, the cracks on the walls, and the clothes that do not fit are. Like the rising of the sun, the world becomes a magical place of love and beauty through the eyes of a loved one. Are children able to grasp the meaning of love and compassion in a world where mirrors are found on all of their walls reflecting hate and crime, injustice and injury, competition and revenge? Or can today's child find beauty and magic in the rising of the sun through the eyes of a friend, teacher, family member or perhaps through the eyes of a poet? Can they reflect that beauty from their own soul and help others to see the magic of love and joy in the rising of the sun?
With these thoughts in mind, I will explore strategies in which poetry and the art of puppetry can be integrated into a unit for helping children capture the beauty and magic of feelings and emotions, instilling those positive experiences within their young lives to help them express love on life's pathway. The unit whose primary emphasis is poetry would also integrate various art forms such as literature (African American), writing, song, drama, and crafts.
Why would I choose African American poetry as a basis for my unit of study? In our elementary school at L. W. Beecher, 90 to 95% of the student body is African American with the remaining Hispanic/Latino and Caucasian. I teach first graders in a self-contained classroom with varying abilities in the six-to eight-year-old age range. Along with a need for improved vocabulary, many children exhibit poor self-images and have difficulty conveying their thoughts and feelings. They come from varying social-economic backgrounds, and also have varying academic abilities. Few of them are void of difficulties that seemingly overpower their efforts in the classroom. Few positive role models, conflicting messages via television and various other sources cloud their perceptions for forming meaningful relationships. As a result, beauty is lost through antagonism and anger - it's as though the sun has not risen or on some days becomes stuck on the horizon. It is my contention that memories are made only when one becomes actively involved in creating them. Wouldn't it be sad if all of those memories were filled with sorrow, loneliness, emptiness, anger, fear - it would be as if the sun had never risen, as if the world were void of beauty and love. So many African American poets have written about those very same feelings that our children face in their daily lives, and yet the sun has risen in their lives. It seems that they have taken down so many mirrors and although those problems and difficulties may not have gone away, they have seen beauty in the child's world like the rising of the sun… Can my children grasp this inner beauty that so many African American writers express in their poetry and prose and be able to experience the feelings and emotions in their relationships at school and at home? I want the children in my classroom to be able to draw upon their inner strengths, enhance their academic skills and strengthen their overall social-emotional development.
More specifically, my unit will include activities suitable for children in kindergarten through third grades with an emphasis on literacy for the first grade child. In addition to hearing the poems and stories read in the classroom, the children will do shared readings of the poems, and will read and write their own poetry.