I can’t remember how I first came to read Bequest of Wings: A Family’s Pleasures With Books by Annis Duff. I remember that I checked it out from the library and loved it so much that I wanted a copy of my own. Unfortunately, it had first been published in 1944, and so although the eleventh printing was in 1966, it was still very much out of print when I first discovered it in 1986. However, my sweet husband, tracked down a copy for me and gave it to me as a present. This was much harder to do in the 1980s than it is now, since there was no internet and easy online searches! And more than any child-rearing book that I ever read, this book influenced my parenting and how I raised my children.
In the chapter, “Poetry In The Nursery”, Mrs. Duff writes, “A good anthology of verses for children belongs in every family library, and it makes excellent ‘escape’ reading. Propped up over the ironing-board, or open beside you as you do the household mending, it yields a fine harvest, easily committed to memory, of all sorts of jolly verses–the kind that help with the endless training in habits of cleanliness and good manners, story poems, nonsense rhymes, verses about pets and toys and the life out-of-doors, and quiet bedtime verses. Not all of them will appeal to the children as much as they do to you, but it is fun to have a mental scrapbag of one’s own. It is better to say from memory rather than to read verses.”
And so, our preschool days are filled with lots of poetry and songs, not only because young children love a good, merry verse, but also because it helps them to transition from one activity to another and helps to support and reinforce what we are learning about that week.
I call the children to circle time by singing a gathering song, sung to the same tune as “Baa Baa Black Sheep”
Let’s make a circle,
We’ll join hands and sing.
Let’s make a circle,
Come form a ring.
Then I begin our circle time by going right into a welcoming verse. Many of these verses and songs are traditional ones used in Waldorf schools. For the three/four year-old class it is:
Good morning dear earth,
Good morning dear sun,
Good morning dear rocks
And flowers, every one,
Good morning dear beasties,
And birds in the trees,
Good morning to you,
And good morning to me.
For the four/five year-old class we say two verses, one right after the other:
Morning has come,
Night is away,
Rise with the sun,
And welcome the day.
Down is the earth, up is the sky,
There are my friends and here am I,
In front, behind, my left, my right,
Above, below, I curl up tight,
And stretch my limbs like a shining star,
To earth bring light from realms afar,
And when I stand so straight and true
I bring love to all I do.
Our mealtime prayer is always preceded by this verse:
Earth who gives to us this food,
Sun who makes it ripe and good,
Dear sun above, and earth below,
Our loving thanks, to you we show
And we ask God’s blessing on our food,
On our family, on our friends and on us!
At the close of preschool, we are gathered in a circle and we wish each other a gentle goodby with this verse:
May the sun shine upon you
May all love surround you
May the light that is within you
Guide your way home.
For me, poetry in the classroom has added richness, rhythm and rollicking good fun! As Annis Duff concludes in the chapter, “Poetry In the Nursery”: “If poetry is a part of one’s own inner resources, what could be more natural than to share its ‘merry serviceableness’? Not every child will respond; some may not have the kind of perceptiveness that poetry requires. But I think it a pity to leave out of any child’s experience the chance to discover what delight and comfort it can be.”