Poet helps children gain a flexible attitude toward friendship

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

"With you I'm a piece of gold. Without you I'm a piece of copper." "With you I'm happy hamster on its wheel. Without you I'm just another rodent." "With you I'm a sprint runner running the 5 yard dash in 5.1 seconds. Without you I'm a sprint runner running the 50 yard dash in 11.8 seconds."

Ten-year-old children wrote these short poems to express their thoughts about friendship. They were inspired by someone who feels writing poetry is not remote from life, Dr. Leland Jacobs. "Exploring feelings and attitudes through reading and writing poetry illuminates or brightens life," he says.

Dr. Jacobs, a noted teacher, writer, and poet, has been a good friend to children for many years. Since his retirement from Columbia's Teachers College eight years ago, he has traveled to numerous schools giving children a new appreciation for reading books and writing poetry.

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Dr. Jacobs, often considered "the father of children's literature," knows what an important part friendship plas in a child's life. Defining their feelings about a special friend is one way to recognize and treasure that friendship.

One morning recently, Dr. Jacobs had more in mind than a discussion on light verse and writing simple poems. Without lecturing or talking down to a classroom full of 10-year-olds, he got them to expand their concept of friendship and discover qualities within themselves that attract friends.

Through his skill as a teacher, he motivated the children to think deepl while keeping a ligthearted touch. Through his skill as a poet, he presented hypothetical children who were forgetful, fat, thin, poor, dishonest, daring, and sensitive.

"Would you like to be friends with Sara?" he asked. (Sara was portrayed in a poem as such an expert skater that it would be easy to be jealous of her skill.) Some children decided "yes," others, "no." Dr. Jacobs encouraged them to see that we can benefit from those who excel. "Perhaps you could learn how to skate from Sara. And you wouldn't always be skating together!"

"What about Martin, he always gets his wa?" In this poem the children decided they couldn't be friends with someone who always made the decisions. "On the other hand, can you think of Martin as a leader?" Dr. Jacobs urged.

And so it continued, with case by case descriptions of Neil, who was always late, forgetful Farley, and others. In some instances the children unanimously agreed that character faults could be forgiven and friendships grow. Other times Dr. Jacobs asked them to recognize how they could either help a friend or overlook the minor fault.

It is a source of joy to the whole family when a child has friends to play with and enjoy. But parents do a special service to children when they help them to be open-minded, to forgive other's faults, and not to judge others too quickly. forgive other's faults, and not to judge others too quickly. Overly critical children, as is the case with adults, lose out when they limit themselves to only those with very similar points of view. Dr. Jacobs helps children to see that people are not rigidly the same day to day. Through understanding and forgiveness, old and new friendships can flourish. He and his ideas are a good friend for parents to have, too.

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