a peek inside the fishbowl

24 Nov, 2009

Because all the world is a stage

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Stealth poetry|Easy ways to make kids happy|parenting|Yaktivism

You know what I have always found extremely interesting? As parents, we have some say in what kind of kids we raise. It is the ultimate social science experiment! Of course it doesn’t always work out that way. i.e. A professional athlete can drag their kid around to as many practices, sporting events, and triathlons as they want but their kid might still inherently be a bookworm who wants to do nothing but hide in a cocoon.

BUT, we can certainly encourage certain character traits, can’t we? I imagine that much this is done by modelling the kind of behaviour we want to see in our children.

If we want our kids to eat healthy, eat healthy.
If we want our kids to be active, be active.
If we want our kids to be charitable, be charitable.
If we want our kids to be creative, be creative.

We’ve been given a blank slate. The question is, what are we going to write upon it?

A long time ago my friend Marla told me about a neat idea she had about “staging” various toys and books around the house for her daughter to discover. I asked her about it in an email recently (turns out I had slightly misremembered the point of this exercise) but this is what she wrote:

“I came across the idea in some other mommy blog about three and a half years ago. Someone had posted a picture of a kid asleep on a picture book, and made a joke about how a book trap became a nap trap. The idea was to leave a picture book on the floor, and the kid would come across it, become absorbed, and fall asleep, or at least have some quiet time. I tried googling it, but couldn’t find it. So I did that for Josie, but she didn’t fall asleep, ever. But sometimes she’d stop and look and I’d be thrilled . . .

“So, the idea was, to leave a book OPEN around the house, in a quiet place where she might come across it and be absorbed and continue with it . . .

“I kind of do this lately with pens and paper, since that’s the thing these days – art enablers – we have a few places on all floors of the house where Jo can go to just grab what she needs to sketch out an idea without help getting things or having a big production to put away. If homes and rooms are too tidy, and things have to be completely put away all the time, it becomes too much work for her to act on an impulse. She’s not always going to go to her table or one place to act on an idea. So, she has a stack of paper and pens in Steve’s office, and a stack in the kitchen always out, and in the basement on his workbench.

“Conversely, if things are too messy, she naturally follows along with my theory of “The longer it sits there, the more it looks like furniture.” So, for example, with her chalkboard on the wall of the living room (the nicely framed one) – I don’t fear erasing her artwork, to show her that she can always re-create, sometimes with better results. If I leave a picture for too long, it starts to look permanent. If I leave it blank, she can ignore it all too easily too. But, if I start a drawing on the chalkboard, she often continues it. Or, if I write a word or message that she can read, she’ll often illustrate it. If her art supplies are always spread out on her play table, she has no room to do other things, and it just becomes a messy heap to work around. So, keeping a balance of tidy and messy works for us.”

I like this idea! It comes down to making things accessible so kids can take the lead on their own, whether it’s keeping books on a low bookshelf, a bunch of costumes in a tickle trunk, a stack of records near a kiddy-sized record player, or a cup of crayons and a sheaf of blank paper within easy reach. We’ve been doing these things for years, but last week I decided to introduce STEALTH POETRY.

Both girls have developed an ear for words. I think it comes from all the reading we do, and our walks to and from school/the post office/the park when we often find ourselves making up silly songs and rhymes to pass the time. Sarah has written some interesting stuff (remember her Halloween poem?) and a couple of times I’ve seen Emma’s nose buried in a couple of different poetry books, including the Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes and one that contains poems written by young children which I picked up secondhand.

But like all of our books, they get put away and even forgotten. And we aren’t always in the mood to sing a silly song. I wondered how could we make poetry “top of mind” without it turning it into a boring school lesson.

I found a poem online, copied it into Word and made the font really big. And then I stuck it to the back of our front door (it’s metal). And then I waited.

Sure enough, when the girls are getting dressed to go outside they stop and read it. Sarah has said the whole thing out loud in an impromptu recitation a couple of times already. Next time I’ll ask her to slow down and picture herself in the poem while she reads it. Next week I’ll switch it for something else.

I’m not interested in filling up every single one of their peaceful moments with mental stimulation (because it’s just as important to have down time). We aren’t the kind of parents who paint a giant periodic table in the upstairs bathroom or make placemats out of laminated multiplication tables (although on second thought that sounds like a good idea) but I like to think that leaving poetry around the house does something more than just make ‘em learn something.

Maybe pretty words affect our personalities in ways that cannot be calculated.

Here is the poem we’re absorbing right now. Read it out loud to yourself, it’s lovely.

Foreign Lands
by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894 Edinburgh, Scotland)

Up into the cherry tree
Who should climb but little me?
I held the trunk with both my hands
And looked abroad in foreign lands.

I saw the next door garden lie,
Adorned with flowers, before my eye,
And many pleasant places more
That I had never seen before.

I saw the dimpling river pass
And be the sky’s blue looking-glass;
The dusty roads go up and down
With people tramping in to town.

If I could find a higher tree
Farther and farther I should see,
To where the grown-up river slips
Into the sea among the ships,

To where the road on either hand
Lead onward into fairy land,
Where all the children dine at five,
And all the playthings come alive.

21 Responses to "Because all the world is a stage"

1 | Christine LaRocque

November 24th, 2009 at 9:34 am


My goodness, this is very interesting! I need to think about how I can use it to my advantage with my son. He’s a very busy boy with boundless amounts of energy. My husband is very good at managing that enthusiasm, me not soo much. I’m wondering if taking this kind of approach to our day (re: art & books) might help to slow him down, channel his energy and make our day feel less like we were hit by a mack truck. Thanks for this!

2 | Sharee

November 24th, 2009 at 9:42 am


This is such a great post. I’m going to print this out and add it to my Family Programming folder. I keep tips, stories, inspirational messages and how to articles in there for reference and I think this will be on the fridge for a while!

3 | Amy @ Muddy Boots

November 24th, 2009 at 12:04 pm


I love RLS! Liam (6 yrs) has recently memorized “The Moon” just by having it read to him (six times) and then drawing it with me once (drawing a few key words from each line).

When I asked him to try saying it I was SHOCKED when he said it almost without error! It was never a forced let’s-sit-down-and-memorize-this-poem. Just reading it over the course of our school day. I’d read it while he was playing Playmobil (either poems or The Chronicles of Narnia series).

I agree with not filling every crack of the day with learning, but I’m also a huge believer in exposing my kids to beautiful language.

4 | Marinela

November 24th, 2009 at 12:18 pm


I just love this poem,thanks for sharing :)

5 | Marla

November 24th, 2009 at 12:58 pm


I love this, and thanks ;P. We often read poems before bed (they’re easier on a tired mom’s voice, and often less stimulating than stories for peaceful thinking), and RLS is a favourite. But your part of what we emailed about reminds me – in Josie’s room, there is a vintage Red Cross public health poster. We had a bunch of them at the store where I work, and kids used to have them posted in schools all the time, and memorizing poems is a huge part of learning. It reads:

The fox is smart
as everyone knows
checks his path
before he goes

Be like the fox
on road and street
use eyes and ears
before your feet.

And she has that memorized – and as much as she sings songs, and knows seasonal rhymes, I’ve never thought to memorize poetry with her!

I think, given her fascination with mermaids lately, I’ll start her with this:

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
— William Butler Yeats

6 | Marla

November 24th, 2009 at 2:48 pm


I had another idea! I thought about your walk to school, and was reminded: Burma-Shave! I might sneak out one night, and leave a Burma-Shave type poem in chalk on the sidewalk for Josie to find on her way to school!

7 | Wordyrappinghood

November 24th, 2009 at 4:48 pm


I liked this post (like many others). I think it’s important to expose your kids to the things you find important and cherish. I also think it’s important to once in a while, as parents, do something a bit over-the-top that shows your love or admiration for something. Something that your kids will remember long after you’re gone. And say the word “love” when you really love something. e.g. I love that book or I love canoeing or I lsure love my old boots. OK, I’m rambling.

Something about memorizing things struck me the other day. My daughter is a word person (reads way ahead of her age, loves to chat, can recite every word in a poem/song after hearing it a few times, etc). But when it comes to simple additions (4+5) she can’t memorize it. It’s fascinating. I know she’ll get it sooner or later but…maybe I need to write a song for additions. Hmmm? I’ll try that.

8 | mrsgryphon

November 24th, 2009 at 6:59 pm


Wow. I just love reading your blog – you have such a great way of making your home a positive, creative, FUN place to grow up!! My girl (almost 4 years old) has just figured out rhyming, and we’ve been reading silly Shel Silverstein poems at bedtime, so I really love your poetry idea. We also have her craft supplies in an accessible place for her, and this morning she ran off while I was packing for a flight tomorrow. She came back with a picture of herself and one of her Dad that she had drawn – for me to take with me so that I can look at them when I get lonely! I love that she could just go and get her markers and paper and act on that impulse to make a surprise for me. It wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if she’d had to ask me for the supplies and explain what she wanted to do.

Re: the balance of tidy vs. messy – we just cleaned up her playroom the other day, and yesterday and today she’s been playing with toys and games I haven’t seen in months. Note to self: tidy the playroom more often!!

Now, to start setting out books and learning poetry!!

9 | DaniGirl

November 25th, 2009 at 9:30 am


Oh, so much to love in this post! In reverse order — how much do I love Robert Louis Stevenson? I’m not a big fan of poetry writ large, but I had to memorize The Creation of Sam McGee in high school and I can still recall most of it! Something about those internal rhymes moves me deeply.

And! You’re channeling Marla — almost as good as having Marla back blogging again. *wistful sigh*

We actually do a lot of what you mentioned, with books and art supplies lying around in an accessible way because that’s the only way they’ll ever get used. My only complaint with that is that the five pieces of artwork a day only add to the clutter!

I just this week bought a fridge magnet poetry kit (remember those, circa 1995?) that I was going to break out soon. I think the boys are just getting to an age where they can have some fun with it. Well, the big boys, anyway, and the little guy is just about over his eating random stuff phase, which is also convenient.

10 | Annie @ PhD in Parenting

November 25th, 2009 at 11:47 pm


I love the idea of leaving things lying around for them to discover. What a great concept.

A friend of mine did this recently, but not on purpose. She was upstairs doing laundry and her two girls (around 3 years and 18 months) were downstairs. She realized they were being way too quiet and when she went and checked on them, she found out they had come across their Christmas presents and were happily playing with them.

11 | IComLeavWe: Day 5 | PhD in Parenting

November 26th, 2009 at 8:53 am


[…] peek inside the fishbowl: Because all the world is a stage ** this is a fabulous post and probably would have made it as my featured post if I hadn’t […]

12 | ommama

November 26th, 2009 at 10:38 am


Oh, I love this!!

Books are in every room of our house and art supplies and musical instruments have a few different homes as well.

I liked the idea of posting a poem so much that I just copied and pasted that RLS poem into Word to print out and do the same thing! Thanks!

13 | coffeewithjulie

November 26th, 2009 at 11:45 am


Andrea – like the others, I agree that this is such a great post and provides such great, practical ideas! I don’t like the idea of shoving activities/ideas down my children’s throats despite my big desire for them to experience everything life has to offer … this is a more friendly exposure. Thanks for this, Jules

14 | Nicole

November 26th, 2009 at 10:44 pm


This is such a fabulous post!
I LOVE the idea of leaving paper and pens/pencils/crayons in places that they can discover them around the house!
I can’t wait to set a little creativity trap of my own!

15 | Stealth poetry project*: Answer To A Child’s Question >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 6th, 2010 at 9:12 am


[…] when I fastened a poem to the back of our front door? It’s part of my goal to keep poetry in their hearts and […]

16 | How to play with your kids >> a peek inside the fishbowl

February 6th, 2010 at 3:41 pm


[…] 2) As a parent, you have a choice about what kind of person you want to raise. (Well, ok, to a point. Genetics do play a part!) And with little kids it starts with play. I touched on this topic in this past post.) […]

17 | Stealth poetry project: The Story of Fidgety Philip >> a peek inside the fishbowl

March 2nd, 2010 at 8:50 am


[…] This is the stealth poetry project. It was first discussed here. […]

18 | Ron

March 2nd, 2010 at 6:19 pm


this is a really inspirational post… no jokes this time… just a “thanks.”

19 | Gifting books to children >> a peek inside the fishbowl

November 30th, 2010 at 10:34 am


[…] out loud. In fact, I think I will print this out as our next Stealth Poetry Project! (Written about here and […]

20 | Stealth Poetry Project: Fred, the Vegetarian Vampire >> a peek inside the fishbowl

February 23rd, 2011 at 10:05 am


[…] our Stealth poetry project (first written about here) … in which I fastened a poem to the back of our front door in an effort to keep poetry alive […]

21 | Stealth poetry project: Just a Slug >> a peek inside the fishbowl

November 9th, 2011 at 9:39 am


[…] been awhile, but do your remember the Stealth Poetry Project? (It was first discussed here, and you can read past poems […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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