Children are natural poets. One of the joys of being a parent is appreciating the poetic remarks that bubble out of children. One father stopped to observe a fuzzy caterpillar with his young son. ''Do you know what it will turn into?'' the father asked. ''Yes,'' replied the four-year-old, ''Colors!''
Spring is a season that invites us to slow down, listen, observe, and feel. And what better way to answer spring's invitation than with children? As adults look ahead for the grand vista, children often see the tiny wonders: an ant carrying many times its own weight, an empty snail shell, a beautiful stone. Walking (or crawling) hand in hand with a child may enable even the most sophisticated adult to rediscover spring's wondrous surprises.
Here are several enjoyable activities that sharpen observation skills, expand vocabulary, and create poetry:
* Notebook and pen in hand, take a walk with one or several children. Go slowly and notice the changes. Begin to describe what you see in short, poetic phrases: grass blades jutting sharply through the ground, little green fingers reaching toward the sun. As the children begin to make similar observations, write them down. At the end of the walk read the phrases as a poem.
* Sit with your child under a tree. Ask him to describe it in a word or phrase. Write down what he says. Move him to another spot, and ask him to describe the tree again. Use unusual positions such as lying on his back looking up at the tree, nose touching the tree trunk, eyes next to new buds. With only minor changes arrange the child's words into a free-verse poem. Read it aloud. (With several children, place them around the tree and ask them to describe it from their special vantage points. Their combined responses form a group poem.)
* Pretend to be as small as an ant. Observe the world from this new perspective. Ask children to describe what they see. How big do twigs and leaves appear? Where might they live? How do they feel about being so tiny? This imagination game may serve as an opportunity to observe nature and use language, or a poem may be written with each line beginning, ''I see. . . .''
* Send the children on a treasure hunt to find natural objects that are brown , green, orange; things that smell good; rough or smooth objects; something left over from last year; objects that are hard or soft, fuzzy or prickly, pretty or ugly. Young children should be sent to hunt for one category at a time.
* Sit by a stream or tree with your child and quietly write poems together. Parents inexperienced in the art needn't worry. Your willingness to try provides a wonderful model.
* Take a camera walk. Photograph favorite discoveries. When an instant camera is used, the pictures can be made into a book when you get back to the house. Mount one picture per sheet of heavy paper or cardboard. Write a description or continuous story under each picture. Tie the pages together with yarn. Be sure to title and date this special book. If film is sent out for developing, create the book at a later date and enjoy the warm feelings as you remember that lovely walk.
Each of these activities can help parents and children experience spring. Yet often the most precious moments occur spontaneously. A walk to a neighbor's is interrupted when a child notices what fun it is to run through the meadow where last year's grasses crackle and crunch under foot. Routine work waits as a family sits close together against the trunk of a tree to feel the sunshine.
One of the finest teachers I have ever known was once asked by serious, intellectual parents what they could do to foster their young child's ability to learn. Her eyes twinkling, she told them: ''Drive to the forest preserve. Find a long, grassy hill, and roll down it together.''