ONLINE CLASS: Nerissa Nields Creative Writing and Songwriting Zoom Groups for Teens

Perfect for the creative teen or tween who wants to write or is already writing. These exciting online classes with Nerissa Nields begin on Tuesday, March 24, goes to June 16, 2020. The 4pm class is for all genres, including graphic novels, fan fiction, poetry, etc. The 7pm class has a strong focus on songwriting. Nerissa has six years of experience teaching writing at preparatory schools, as well as 15 years of teaching these creative writing workshops out of her studio. $265 for 12-week course.

Zoom Youth Writing Groups

Each week, Nerissa will give assignments, tailoring each assignment to the student’s interest and genre. For example, if the student wants to write songs, she will give a song prompt or topic. If the student is writing a novel, she will guide them to craft an outline, then submit chapters. If the student is writing a film, they will storyboard, then write scenes. Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Nature Writing Opportunities this Summer

Intergenerational Nature Writing This Summer

Writing intersects with the natural world in many ways. Genres of nature writing include science writing, environmentally inspired literature, and works of environmental advocacy. Walks and hikes through the woods and mountains, journeys through rivers and streams, can inspire all types of artwork from poetry about the beauty of the natural world to imploring essays on our responsibility to preserve it.

And because of the natural beauty of our region, Western Massachusetts has a rich literary history. Famous authors such as Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes all share ties to the Berkshire area. In addition, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, William Cullen Bryant, W.E.B. Du Bois- all hold historic ties to Western Massachusetts.

Those interested in learning about literary history should check out our post: 10 Resources for Literary Learning in Western MA. Others may want to follow in the footsteps of these authors, many of whom drew upon the natural surroundings of the Pioneer Valley in their writing.

Here are several upcoming community-based opportunities that support your interests:  Read the rest of this entry »

10 Resources for Literary Learning in Western MA

Readers Rejoice! Community-Based Educational Resources for Literary Learning Abound

Luckily for literature lovers, western Massachusetts is a treasure trove of opportunities to engage in community-based learning about literature, literary history, and the process of creating writing that is inspired by a local community or the local landscape. Made up of landmarks, historic homes, museums, trails, and real-life human beings, western Massachusetts’ connections to the world of literature are strong.


Berkshire Gardens- The Mount, Edith Wharton's Home, Lenox, MA; photo credit David Dashiell- FlowersHome to beautiful hills and winding rivers (with quaint towns nestled amongst them), Massachusetts’ Berkshire region has been a favorite locale for artists and authors alike for centuries. Among the most notable literary greats to call the Berkshires home is Edith Wharton, whose self-designed home The Mount now serves both as a monument to Wharton’s career and as a year-round cultural center. Located in Lenox, The Mount offers opportunities to learn about Wharton’s remarkable literary achievements (40+ books in 40 years and a Pulitzer Prize), experience art and cultural events, and to learn about life in the early 1900’s.

Arrowhead, PittsfieldIn nearby Pittsfield, Herman Melville’s Arrowhead offers opportunities to learn about the author’s American Renaissance career. Made up of Melville’s historic home, beautiful grounds, and a working farm, Arrowhead offers opportunities to learn not only about Melville’s life and significant works, but the lives of all those living in the Berkshires during the 19th century.

Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry of Science Contest

Chemists Celebrate Earth Day 2015 Illustrated Poem Contest

Combining science with writing and visual creativity is such a refreshing way to approach a complex topic. American Chemical Society is now seizing the day and holding an innovative poetry competition for kids that will drive them to explore different avenues in science.

Calling all young, creative-minded budding scientists! The Connecticut Valley Local Section of the American Chemical Society invites youth ages 5-18 years old to participate in the Chemists Celebrate Earth Day 2015 Illustrated Poem Contest! An annual event combining science with writing and visual artistry, the poetry contest encourages young writers to process their knowledge related to a scientific topic in a very non-traditional way. Unlike most science-based writing, writing created for the Illustrated Poem Contest won’t be centered around the task of explaining a concept or theory. Instead, entries in the contest will combine creative writing skills and scientific understanding to create a piece that is both beautiful and informative. Read the rest of this entry »

Write Your Way Through Long November Nights

Western Mass Offers Writing Outlets for a Creative Hibernation

In a nutshell…National Novel Writing Month

November in New England brings shorter days, colder temperatures, and barer trees. For some, it signifies the seasons’ slow transition into winter, and marks the time when we begin to hibernate indoors, nestled in sweaters and clutching mugs of tea and bowls of soup. If you’ve got a good indoor project to work on, all of this hunkering down may not be a bad thing – even for families.

This November, early hibernators can make good use of their indoor time by participating in one of two fantastic writing projects that will be taking place! Offering opportunities for writers of all ages to craft either a new novel or a collection of poems, these writing opportunities come at a perfect time of year. We’re all preparing to head indoors for a while anyway, so why not begin a long-term indoor project at the same time! Read the rest of this entry »

What to Play? Make Your Own Toys!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Getting back to creative basics, and making your own toys!

DIY toys stimulates creative free play. Make this cup & ball with materials you have at home! (Photo credit: Carrie St. John)

While looking for some DIY toys and games for my summer campers to make or design and to inspire play, I found a great book at Gabriel Books in Northampton, MA. John has amazing finds in his $1 box on the sidewalk. I am guessing these are the books he considers duds. Not his best sellers. They take up valuable shelf space. I frequently find good things in that box. I have never had it in me to be a tag sale person or thrift shop hunter but I love to stop and check on old books. This find, Easy-to-Make Old-Fashioned Toys by Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr., is dated in style and illustrations. It was published in 1979. I was 8 years old. I am dated, too. Read the rest of this entry »

What to Play? Summer is Time to Absorb the World

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Stories and Reading and Writing and Drawing

The flood of articles is out for the end of the school year. Summer reading. The percentage of material lost over the school vacation. Summer classes. Summer learning activities. Educational trips. I ask, “Is there a play solution to all these things we, as parents, are told to worry about during July and August?” Absolutely.

I believe summer vacation is vacation. A break from the routine of school. Time to be a kid. Time to explore your favorite things.

I have an avid reader. Books are the favorite free time activity at our house. The trick is to keep up with her. Library visits. Bookstore finds. Recommendations from friends.  Read the rest of this entry »

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program

National Novel Writing Month happens every November! It’s a fun, seat-of-your-pants writing event where the challenge is to complete an entire novel in just 30 days. For one month, you get to lock away your inner editor, let your imagination take over, and just create!

Have you ever wanted to write a novel? Take on the challenge as a family with NaNoWriMo! NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – is an annual event where writers challenge themselves to create a novel within only 30 days! Technically beginning at the first of the month and ending at midnight on the 30th, NaNoWriMo is a fun exercise in creativity where writers get to turn off their inner editor, skip endless revising, and just write straight through an entire story!

Of course, novel writing is an activity best suited for older skilled writers, but NaNoWriMo is something that writers of all ages can participate in! And even though November has already started, there’s still plenty of time to participate. Younger writers for whom an entire novel may not be a reasonable goal can determine for themselves what their writing goal should be (instead of the adult goal of 50,000), in terms of number of words (Not sure how many words to write? The NaNoWriMo website offers a special Word Count Generator tool to users who have signed up for the challenge.), And of course, you’re welcome to surpass your word count goal or keep working on your story once the month is over – just work to meet your goal by November 30th, and everything past that is extra! Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Autumn

Fall Changes—Poems for Outside & In

Fall is a great time for poetry. The season is bursting with vivid sights, sounds and smells. It’s wonderful to be outside, taking in the warm autumn colors that surround us and that late-day, slanting light that makes everything look like it’s dipped in honey.

The next time you’re enjoying the out-of-doors, bring this poem by Lilian Moore along. It’s an easy one for little kids to remember, and is fun for saying aloud and making into a game, because the poem breaks down the experience of crunching through dry leaves so     that     we     can     feel     every step.

Try saying it with your child as you walk, using the line breaks as a guide to where you should slow down and speed up.

New Sounds

by Lilian Moore

New sounds to
walk on

in hoarse
under bare trees.

Indoors, many of us are also making transitions, starting school or other new routines, taking stock of the year ahead. When it’s time to pull out the sweaters and long pants, there might be some surprises…

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Belle of Amherst

The Bee of Amherst

Emily Dickinson is one of our best-known poets, and many of us can probably conjure up a few of her most quoted lines. But while we know she’s important, I’m willing to bet that most of us also find her poems somewhat difficult. They’re so compact, so very personal, full of references that are difficult to grasp from our modern perspective.

As a result, when we’re first introduced to her work, sometimes the poems that are selected—because they seem more accessible—are also kind of…greeting card sweet (Please, no hate mail!). This is a shame, because when we take the time to read more of Dickinson’s work, we find an incredibly inventive, smart and passionate poet. She can even be quite funny. Hey, I named this column after her—so you know I’m a fan.

Therefore, on behalf of the Belle of Amherst, I offer a poem of hers that I think is a winner for families on all counts: it’s very accessible, but not at the expense of smart. It’s fun to say out loud, and not as twisty in its rhythms as some of her work. It is sweet, but not syrupy—more like refreshing, ice-cold, home-made lemonade on a hot summer day…

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Story of Summer with E. E. Cummings

Take a Poem to the Beach

To kick off the summer, here’s a poem by E.E. Cummings. Cummings is known for his inventiveness—his play with language and form. That playfulness is usually most obvious in the capitalization (or lack of) and punctuation (seemingly random) in his poems, and kids love to see a grown-up breaking those rules.


maggie and milly and molly and may
by E. E. Cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

[From “The Complete Poems: 1904-1962” by E. E. Cummings, Edited by George J. Firmage.]


In this poem the sense of play is also present in the parenthetical asides; they create an extra intimacy—I feel like the poet is speaking just to me, letting me into his confidence. Sort of like when you watch an episode of The Office (or a Shakespeare play), and the actors break out of character and speak directly to the camera/audience…

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: A Writing Challenge for Families

Big Ideas (in the Ordinary)

This month I invite you to take all of those lost imaginative ideas and share them by writing with your child! In fact, you could try a writing game where you just put a bunch of ordinary stuff from your house on a table, then challenge each other to write a poem that has all the stuff on the table in it… and, if you like, feel free to post your family’s writing here in the comments. I would love to see what you come up with!

I’ve noticed that often when we try to write, we get stuck because we think we need to write about “big” subjects. So we sit and chew on our pencil and stare into space and decide our lives just aren’t exciting enough for Art with a capital A. It’s really a shame, because lots of interesting, imaginative writing gets lost this way.

The poem I’ve chosen for this month’s column, “Today,” by Frank O’Hara, is a great antidote to this kind of inhibition. O’Hara was immersed in the New York art scene, and his poems reflect the exciting changes that were happening in the visual arts of the 1950’s. They’re colorful, irreverent, noisy, seemingly casual but secretly well-crafted.

But what I appreciate most about this poem (and others by O’Hara) is that it shows us that anything can be in art, and art can be about anything. Just by writing about it, by putting the ordinary stuff of our lives into a poem it becomes changed and celebrated. It becomes interesting.

Read the rest of this entry »

Language Play: Supporting the Creativity of Writing

Writing Skills: Putting Language Down on Paper

home work routineI’m not an expert on writing skills, but I often find myself working with children who have difficulty getting ideas on paper. I start by reviewing the variety of skills and processes involved in writing. First, a writer must gather ideas, take notes from readings, and make choices about which ideas are important enough to include in the writing. Then they need to organize these ideas into a hierarchy of main ideas and details. Next, each main idea must be formulated into a topic sentence. The details also need to be written as sentences within the same paragraph to support the topic sentence. In order to make choices on how to formulate sentences, the writer needs to be aware of who their audience is and how best to communicate to that audience.

An essay should include an introduction, a body of supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. So the writer needs to understand what these elements are and what is expected to be included for each of them. How much to explain to the reader (not too much or too little), is also important to consider. And then they need to connect one idea to another idea, or one paragraph to another paragraph, so that the ideas flow. After all that, there’s editing for punctuation, spelling, and clarity of ideas. It’s easy to see that writing is an exercise in multi-tasking. And, of course, many of us are not very good at multi-tasking!

If a child is having trouble getting ideas on paper, it could be because of a breakdown in any of these steps and processes. Often several processes are a problem. I first try to see what is easy for them and what is hard. To figure this out, I always try to help them separate these tasks into discrete steps. In this way, I can discover where the writing process breaks down. For some students, this helps immediately. If students attend to one process at a time, it really simplifies things! Lots of students try to edit while they write, and may get so lost thinking about spelling, that they lose their ideas. I try to discourage multi-tasking. I use checklists, visual organizers, and programs and apps that encourage brainstorming their ideas. This is the creative part of writing!

One program I’ve used for years (now an iPad app) is Inspiration Maps by Inspiration Software, Inc. It helps kids brainstorm ideas first as a visual map, then lets them organize their ideas into a hierarchy of main-idea bubbles and supporting-idea bubbles (by the connection arrows). I always check if they have an introduction bubble and a conclusion bubble. After the map is complete, with a press of a button, it changes into an outline. From the outline, it is easy to see the topics for paragraphs and the supporting details for each topic. You can tweak the order of the outline if you need to. Now to expand the outline into sentences! And voilà! An essay!

Most kids just want to get the assignment done. They need to be taught that writing involves drafts and revisions; it’s usually not a one shot deal. The sooner they understand this, the better. I tell them that the authors never get their book published after only one draft. Good writers need editors to suggest improvements. Eventually, a writer internalizes good editing skills and can read their work aloud to edit it, but it never hurts to find another pair of eyes after they’ve done their own revisions. I often ask students to read their work aloud so they get used to editing their own work. Then they can ask someone to edit.

Some kids can get lost in the minutiae of the editing. That’s why I don’t let them derail into editing till the bitter end. For these kids, it’s essential to separate each process. If they get lost, I ask them general questions such as, “Would a reader understand the writing?”‘ If so, then they are probably done with the draft. If the child repeatedly erases their writing, I may limit the number of times they can erase in order to move the process forward.

I recently found two great apps that teach kids all of this as sequential pre-writing lessons. They teach writing vocabulary and include many quizzes, word puzzles, flash cards, and graphic organizers. Most of all, they show that writing is complex, and that we need all the help we can get to become good writers. Check them out!

I think they are set up to be used as lessons in the classroom. So let your kid’s teachers know about these apps and those Hilltown Families’ events you’ve gone to, in case they want to use this for teaching writing!


Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at

[Photo credit: (ccl) woodleywonderworks]

One Clover & A Bee: Making a Fist

Behind All Our Questions: Yet Another Reason Poems Are Good For Us

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always know what I’m feeling. Or I have a general idea, but I’m not sure I understand it, or know what to do about it, or if there is anything to do about it.

I think for our kids, especially as they grow older, this is a fairly constant condition:  they’re trying to figure stuff out, and sometimes that stuff is pretty intense or complicated. And it doesn’t always help to have someone asking you what’s wrong because you don’t know what’s wrong and even if you do, you’re not sure you can put it into words or tell anyone.

Enter poetry.

Poetry doesn’t—shouldn’t, in my opinion—lecture, but it does have a way of reflecting the world back to us that reveals its/our deeper truth—whether that truth is beauty, joy, ugliness, grief or a confusing combination of all of the above!

I think the key to that mirror trick has to do with imagery: powerful poetry has a specificity about its imagery that goes right to the heart of things. It’s not easy to explain why an image can transport us this way, but somehow it does, and when that happens, when we can see and feel something so clearly, we feel seen as well. And understood, and hopefully, comforted.

So, this month I offer a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye for the older set. The Borges quote is a little heavy (and you should feel free to omit it), but I would say that most kids 11 and up can totally handle this poem, and that it will mean more and more to them as they get older.  Shihab Nye has written and edited many poetry books for children, and I love how she never underestimates their emotional intelligence.

I think this is a great poem to talk about with your child, a way to get at some of those big questions and strong feelings that can be so hard to untangle. Notice the key images here: those palm trees, the split melon, and finally, that small hand, clenching and unclenching.

Making a Fist
    We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
—Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Making a Fist” from Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry.


Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Randen Pederson]

Poetry by A.A. Milne for Sick Kids & Their Grown-ups!

Phtheezles May Even Ensue

This month I offer up a poem by A.A. Milne, of Pooh fame, that’s about being sick (or pretending to be), which a lot us can probably relate to right now. It’s also terrifically fun to say out loud.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine are especially prone to what I call “repetition and variation” finding a word or a sound that feels good to say, and then repeating that word, and endless variations of that word, until I think my head will explode.

But this kind of word play is exactly what kids need to develop their cognitive and creative chops, so I try to wait until the riff—because that’s what it is, right?—has run its course before I request, oh-so-politely, that we enjoy a little silence, too.

It’s a long poem, and may have to be learned in parts, but I bet your kids will be pretty good at getting it down. And if somebody in your house is stuck in bed with the flu, maybe reading this to them will provide a little distraction: “Sneezles” by A.A. Milne Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: A Poem for Parents

Other Bells We Would Ring: A Poem for Parents

As I write this the rain is bucketing down out of a sky so gray it feels as if even the weather is conspiring to press home the weight of darkness that this month has ushered in.

So much grief is around us, and the idea of bringing forth light seems a fool’s task. Yet the wheel is turning, and I don’t know about you, but as we move toward ringing in the New Year, everything feels tenuous and precious. I want badly to remember my best, compassionate self, to move toward kindness, and yes, real change.

With this in mind, I decided that this month’s poem should be for parents. The poem I chose does look squarely into the face of darkness, but it also calls forth possibility, a different “bell.”

When you read the poem, I hope you’ll feel free to replace the word “Father” with anything right for you. I think the poem invites us to do that, to imagine whatever we think of when we call on the unknown. For Patchen, writing on the eve of World War II, it’s the idea of “Father,” for us it can be whatever rings true.

At the New Year
By Kenneth Patchen

In the shape of this night, in the still fall
of snow, Father

In all that is cold and tiny, these little birds
and children

In everything that moves tonight, the trolleys
and the lovers, Father

In the great hush of country, in the ugly noise
of our cities

In this deep throw of stars, in those trenches
where the dead are, Father

In all the wide land waiting, and in the liners
out on the black water

In all that has been said bravely, in all that is
mean anywhere in the world, Father

In all that is good and lovely, in every house
where sham and hatred are

In the name of those who wait, in the sound
of angry voices, Father

Before the bells ring, before this little point in time
has rushed us on

Before this clean moment has gone, before this night
turns to face tomorrow, Father

There is this high singing in the air
Forever this sorrowful human face in eternity’s window
And there are other bells that we would ring, Father
Other bells that we would ring.

From Collected Poems, 1939.

I am imagining what that would sound like right now, all of us bringing forth a different kind of music. I wish peace to you and yours in 2013.


Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) David Boocock]

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