I'm a professional nature writer and a long-time enthusiast of River of Words (ROW). In its early years, I worked for International Rivers Network where ROW got its start, and was fortunate to work events in San Francisco and Washington. D.C. when the kids were celebrated and honored for their work. One year, I interviewed all the kids, and their positive and passionate attitudes were awe inspiring. I can easily say that ROW is my favorite kid-friendly environmental and art organization.
The River of Words poetry contest has shown my students that they can be inspired to write about their love for the natural world and be recognized for their efforts. Not only is the potential for publication a powerful incentive for writing, the publications of previous winners provide models to encourage and instruct my students in their own endeavors. When my students began to become winners and travel to Washington DC for the awards ceremony it added another dimension to this potential for recognition. This sense of limitless possibility was not a feeling many of the winning children were used to, one in particular, who was chosen as a grand winner, had been homeless on and off for some time and was amazed at the outside interest and encouragement provided by River of Words. I have countless stories of how participation in the River of Words program have has helped inspire my students, and been an invaluable tool in assisting me to teach writing skills. I have found that writing about the natural world opens up opportunities to work with other disciplines. I decided to work with an after-school environmental club. It was in one of these short workshops that Luis wrote Waterfall Slam the poem that secured him a place as a finalist in the ROW contest. For a fourth grader, it was a major encouragement, he had an article and photo in the newspaper and the experience changed him. He became one the most self-confident writers in the fifth grade. The following year, he was the MC for Poetry night, was referred to the gifted program and went to Middle School as an honor student. I was impressed by the power of success to bring more success. Carlos was a finalist in the River of Words two years in a row. He wrote a poem both in English and Spanish in his fifth grade class. The first year Carlos didn’t want to read his poem in Spanish but he we convinced him to do it anyway. When a family from Puerto Rico came up to him afterward, who had only understood the Spanish version, he was always eager to read his poems in both languages. He was invited back to DC for the third time to read at the National Book Festival. He even signed the beautiful River of Words Book at the book signing with Pamela Michael. I was given the Teacher of the Year award in May of 2009 and it was a great honor. This program has changed lives including mine.
As a teacher and administrator, I find River of Words to be the very best program/contest for elementary school students. It is really the only one I emphasize every year at our school with teachers and kids. It is so important for children to understand their connection to the natural environment because it encourages responsibility, stewardship, and certainly learning. Children naturally seek to know how they fit in to the world. How they belong. Understanding one's watershed and then expressing this understanding and relationship in words and visual arts has brought out some truly amazing and outstanding products. This program has opened the door of poetry to some very unlikely students. We had one National Poetry Winner from our school, a State Art Winner, as well as other students recognized. I always display every entry in our school so all of the participants are recognized. This program is a perfect vehicle for integrating so much of the curriculum...science, art, writing, environmental studies, social studies, and even math!
River of Words is a wonderful organization which recognizes the strong connection kids feel to the natural world and encourages them to express themselves through poetry and art. The results are amazing! Each year the contest produces a wonderful outpouring of inspiration from students all over the world. The resource materials and lesson plans for teachers are first rate. I recommend this program to classroom teachers at every level!
River of Words provides a wealth of curriculum resources to teachers to support environmental education through art and writing. I found out about their amazing resources and student art and poetry contest in 1998 and have been sharing the wealth with my students ever since. River of Words is a trailblazer in Environmental Education. Their international contest is extraordinary in the ways that it touches and inspires students and teachers around the world. Their books are treasures for the classroom and I share them each year with a new group of students to inspire THEIR vision for preserving, conserving and treasuring our natural resources around the world.
The River of Words curriculum is inspirational to students, who get to experience nature in a less structured and more personal way than many lessons, and to teachers who get to be children again and open their eyes to wonder. The entire program makes a huge difference by reminding people of the beauty of nature and the diverse ways in which people experience that beauty.
I'm so inspired by the creative and insighful poetry and art submitted to River of Words, year after year, from children around the world. This small organization does wonders encouraging kids to express their connection with water and nature.
River of Words is the ideal in promoting water education. We used their resources as examples for our local teachers to help them brainstorm ideas of their own and bring the love of water into their classrooms.
Teachers respond to ROW as a way to help them teach environmental education topics and environmental sensitivity in the classroom. ROW gives us an opportunity to combine science with the arts by giving students the chance to express their thoughts and feelings about their watersheds and related science topics. They can increase their sense of place through creating art and poetry of their home. Students respond to ROW because it's FUN and gives them a chance to show their talents and learn more about art and poetry. In this time of reduced school art programs and lack of environmental education, ROW provides a way to allow students to learn and grow in both.