Learning Activity

Transforming Childhood

Art Form
poetry, memoir
Language Arts, Social Studies
Grade levels
2- 8
You will need
writing materials
One hour



Life is a sequence of changes. Each time we reach another stage in our life journey, we Transform.
In this activity, students metaphorically define the stage of life we call Childhood.
Childhood is something we all experience, something we all pass through. Our primary task in childhood is to survive—that is, our job as child is to do whatever seems necessary to get through it.

This exploration of childhood asks the writer to say what childhood is, or was, for the writer.

• Not what childhood generally is.
• Not what childhood should be.

The writer should focus on how the writer experiences, or did experience, childhood. The teacher should give no age limitations—the ending of childhood takes place at different ages for each of us.

For writers in grades 4 and 5, the terms 'child' and 'childhood' are often felt to be pejorative, a put-down. "Kids" is usually acceptable. Emphasize that the term "childhood" is simply descriptive, and that people experience childhood in many different ways.

What will make this writing feel do-able for the whole class is reading aloud several poems from the Student Source Sheet. Choose a variety of patterns or strategies.

The Activity

Discussion Questions to throw out:

•  What is childhood? What could you compare it to, right now, today?
• How do teenagers react to younger kids? How about adults?
• Do parents expect you to be older sometimes than you really are? Younger?
• How do or did you feel about being physically little compared to older people?
• Emphasize that childhood is a different experience for each, that some kids have terrible times, that some have golden times, that most have a mixture of joy and pain, boredom and interest.

The technique is to compare childhood to something else: The result will be a poetic definition of childhood, informed by the emotions the writer feels as he she looks back down the personal timeline.

Areas of Imagery/Comparison:

• Inanimate objects; plants and trees;
• human-made objects such as games, machines,
• things you might find in store windows or on the street;
• toybox contents; trashcan contents, things at a garage sale
• weather phenomena.

See the Source Sheet for examples.


Focusing in, zooming in the camera for details, the more the better.
Present sensory details. Stress looks, textures, fragrances, tastes, what happens around the compared object, and so forth.

Beginnings: Syntactic variations suggested through reading examples.

Emphasize that while writers are welcome to begin a draft with "Childhood is . . . ", they may start any way they like, and, if they have time to revise, may find a more interesting way to begin the piece.

Form, Structure: The piece might have one part, simply a metaphorical definition of childhood. But the writer may want to push it further, into a two or three part piece. Present these as options. Help the writers feel free.

Part One—what childhood was or is—might be followed with a second part—what childhood should have been, using a metaphor somehow linked with the first.

• Part One might focus on how it felt then, and a second part focus on how it feels now, in retrospect.

Part Two, Three: The piece might focus on what is coming up. Fifth and sixth graders have huge changes just ahead. They know that, and are interested in exploring that emotionally. So part one might deal with past, and part two might deal with now or what is just ahead. A third part might deal with adulthood. Or not.

Caution: Some writers will try to 'cover' the whole of human existence—birth to death—in four lines. Suggest that they limit themselves.

Read Examples Aloud

Student Source Sheet Transforming Childhood

is Twins
Banging their heads together.
Their names are Bad and Good.

—Megan, gr. 2

Childhood is like a superball
bouncing up and down.
Sometimes it bounces in closets,
Sometimes in wide open spaces
as free as the breeze,
but when there is no breeze
there is no life.
Sometimes it bounces down steps
and smashes its face—
When that happens, it really hurts.

—Kimberly Benson, gr 4

Childhood is like the lightbulb
underneath the shade.
Sometimes Life turns me on and talks to me,
but lots of times Life dims me down,
and sometimes Life turns me completely
off, and forgets about me.

—Jenny Schneekloth, gr 4


Childhood is a long winding road.
Part of it can be rocky and rough,
hard on your feet.
Yet other parts can be easy,
recently paved, smooth to pass.
You keep on going,
never knowing what surprises lie ahead.
This road that seems endless may in fact be.
All we can do is keep walking.

—David Jarnstrom, gr. 10


Childhood was like the coming up of the yo yo.
Every time I thought I was almost there
the string would get tangled.

By the time I was almost eleven, there were
so many knots, so many pains inside my heart,
like losing my horse, or another good friend.

But to my surprise when I turned eleven
it seemed my string was unwinding.

I can't wait to have a real straight string.
I can't wait to catch my yo yo.

—Erin VanDyke, gr 6

Childhood is our toystore.
We try to load up all that we want,
all the candy and toys and fun.
Yet the bag is never filled
before the store closes,
and we have to go.

—George Atendido, gr 8


Childhood is a cookie
full of chocolate chips,
sitting in a jar,
getting older
and more cumbly.

Soon childhood will end,
with fingertips
full with crumbs,
rich with memories.

—Ben Ivascu, gr 5


Childhood is like a balloon
rising higher and higher,
so high that it can't stand the pressure—
So it pops and falls,
falls fast until it hits the ground.

But childhood will always
be left in all of us,
the balloon always
trying to rise.

—Chris Bennet, gr 7

Childhood is like a piece of paper
that can be blank, that can be full.
When it is full, it can bring back things
that cause great pain.
When it is blank,
it is full of possibilities.

— Megan Edwards, gr 3

A star in the sky

A planet in space

—Shelly Campbell, gr 8

Childhood is like a radio.
You can turn it up,
turn it down, or even
turn it off.
There's rock and roll,
love songs too.
But for some,
it's never plugged in.

—Jason Davis, gr 5


When I was little
Everything was an adventure:

Sticks were guns,
Bows and arrows.

A simple box was a TV,
a Cave or

When I left one room
I entered another world.
A minute was an hour,
you always had too much time.

Blankets were tents,
Trees were mountains.

Now all I see is a stick,
A box,
A room,
A blanket and a tree.

— Jacob Nutting, 8






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