Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Creative Parenting: “My Head Is Full of Poems,” by Khadijah Lacina

Khadijah Lacina is a transplant from Wisconsin's Kickapoo Valley, who has lived in Yemen for almost nine years with her husband and eight children.

In this series of articles, she will show you how she stays sane by encouraging and nurturing creativity in herself and her children. Read about her life in Yemen at her blog Yemeni Journey.


So stated my six year old daughter the morning after we began spending an hour or more each evening together, writing, drawing, laughing and sharing. The night before I had taken out two old calenders and shown them two pictures- one of moonlight on a river near my old college campus, and another of a mother and colt outside an old red barn. “Write”, I told them. “Write not only what you see, but write what you feel. Write your heart, and that's a poem.”

I realize that poetry teachers all over the world would shake their head at this definition, but my children, ages 5, 8, 10, 13, 16, and 17 (little Asmaa, who is one, simply colored her poetry onto paper, and my eldest is out of the house already) understood exactly what I meant. I gave them each a special notebook for their creations, and put crayons, markers, colored pencils and pens all in a big joyous heap on the floor for them. “Color your poems- make your words speak with more than one voice.”

it is spring

a new baby colt


a weavy, windy day

early morning

by his mother

big red barn

blue sky above

trees blossom

picture of spring

-Maryam, age 6

The next night I show them a picture of fireworks shouting joyfully into the sky in Colonial Williamsburg. “Don't just be an observer,” I tell them. “Experience it, and make us experience it too.” Sukhailah, my 17 year old, made her poem in the shape of fireworks bursting into the sky, and colored it with bold, bright colors.

colors shoot through midnight sky

red white yellow green

I look out a clear glass window

fireworks in the night

-Mu'aadh, age 8

Here I go, flying high

splashing light into the sky

toss my arms, with a pop and roar

I've never had such fun before

light me, throw me, into the sky

watch me flying! Soaring high!

With an explosion gay and bright

remind you of the long hard fight

between the British and Americans here

in fact, in a spot you'll find quite near

Here I jump to the sky again

me and my friends in groups of ten

-Juwairiyah, age 13

The next night I wanted to try something different. Alongside our poetry pictures, I again put out the fireworks picture and the moon on the water picture, and I told them to color them- not to draw them, but color them- not as they saw them, but as how they felt them. Or, they could write about one of the new pictures I had chosen. I was surprised, as I often am with these children- my eldest daughter colored a beautiful picture, and my six year old went with words again. I had thought it would be the other way around.

Another night I told them to use all their senses to describe something. “Don't rely on the obvious sense,” I told them. “Like taste for an orange, or sight for the moon. We don't experience life with one sense- write life on your paper.”

sunshine taste melts in the air

I gulp it in, laughing, leaping

sunshine fills me

smooth vanilla pudding

forgotten on the counter

happy like a giggle...

-Sukhailah, age 17

And so our nightly ritual continues, as I continue to strive to teach my children to not just live life, but to experience it fully. To help them to see with their hearts as well as their eyes and minds. To know the beauty inherent in every day, as well as in the wild and chaotic universe around them. To respect and honor the world they live in, and to live in it consciously, with all of their senses.

Sound good to you? Come along, and we'll take you for the ride!

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9 Responses »

  1. Wow! What an amazing mom! I wish these ideas could be presented to all children as a teaching tool! Of course we can all do our little part to make that happen, right? What a creative, compassionate awareness we would see blossoming in our culture.
    I especially loved the one the boy wrote with himself as the firework, what fun to "be" a firework!
    Thanks for sharing this, Janet.

  2. Dear Jenny,

    Thanks for your comment on Khadijah's guest post. We're planning to run an every-now-and-again series on "Creative Parenting." Her story is stunning and her parenting inspiring.


  3. Khadijah,
    How lovely to teach your children to "taste life" through multiple senses! I agree that we can sensitize children to be much more aware how life can be experienced than simply by having them absorb television shows. Your post gives excellent strategies to exercise minds in deeper, more colorful sensibilities. They will be all the richer for it! Plus you can take copies of the pictures, put them with their writings and make a nice little gift for some other holiday. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Khadijah, I am in awe!! I have been trying to have children write with all their senses for forty years. I was absolutely blown away with the richness of each of your children's poems. Please tell them for me that I am printing them off so I can carry them with me whereever I go and share them with all my family and friends. I hear your own stong and sensitive voice in theirs. What a gift!! Thurayah

  5. Thank you all for your supportive and encouraging comments. I find that this approach to parenting keeps the whole family (mostly) happy and always changing and growing. I hope you all keep up with this series as it continues. I love doing it, I'm so happy Janet invited me over here to her place to share our story with everyone.

  6. Thanks to everyone for your comments.

    Yes, isn't she something! She is living and loving her beliefs and passing them on.


  7. You had me a the title, "My Head Is Full of Poems". I was better at this when my children were younger. Thank you for this nudge to circle back around to it again, soon.


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