Creating Beautiful Words for Your Children

Author: Kristen Lunceford  |  | @kristenlunceford

Ms. Svoboda’s impact on me in 8th grade was colossal. There’s just no other word for it. She helped me believe that I could be a writer, that I had gifts to offer the world, and that my life could be extraordinary. Her influence on me was so profound that I hung her parting words to our class on every bedroom and dorm room wall I occupied between 1995 and 2004:

As you leave Jr. High, I challenge you to SEIZE THE DAY!

You must make your life worth living. It doesn’t just happen. It is not so much about what you do as it is about who you are and how you live. If you go through life simply surviving, where is the joy and what is the point? We each must find the verse that we will contribute and speak it will all the power and grace of Shakespeare. Our part will be measured into the entire script and we will be extraordinary.

Do not allow yourselves to become animals: surviving through the day, accepting what you are told, bowing to the television god. Instead, read and write poetry. Ask questions. Listen. Learn. Love. Laugh. Always laugh. Cry. Feel. What a great opportunity! To live! To really live and change lives. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t wish away your trials. Seize each moment. Take charge of it and learn from it. 

I am sure that as your English teacher I am supposed to hope that you all move on to high school with a firm grasp on essays and deep literature. It is not that I don’t hope that to be true, it is instead that I desire more for you. That in my class maybe you learned to appreciate your life. To acknowledge beauty. To desire to know more. I hope that you leave with hope. Hope in your futures and faith in your dreams…

Enough said. The schpiel is finished as is the year. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives. You have been truly extraordinary.

I’m thinking about Ms. Svoboda today because it’s the end of another school year and Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go! has made its way to the front of every store. The first time I heard the story was when Ms. Svoboda read it to our class the last week of school. I was so moved by it that I begged my mom to buy me my own copy for Ms. Svoboda to sign before I headed to high school. I then spent my summer committing her note—and every word of the book—to memory.


Because this whimsical little book—and Ms. Svoboda’s words—has been a banner over me all these years, when my kids entered kindergarten, I bought each of them a copy that I secretly fill at the end of each school year with notes from their teachers and other important mentors. My plan is to keep the books hidden from my kids until their high school graduation parties, at which point I will pull each of them aside privately to crack open a tangible reminder of the people who contributed something of value to their growing up.

That, I hope, will be extraordinary.


If you want to do something similar for your tribe, here are my tips for getting started and staying the course:

1. Be choosy.

You likely don’t have the sentimental attachment to Oh, The Places You’ll Go! that I do, and that’s fine. Choose a book that matters to you. Just make sure there’s plenty of space available for 15-20 people to write in. You can also buy different titles for each of your kids, but only if that sounds fun to you.

2. Start whenever.

If your kids are already well into their school years and you wish you had heard about this sooner, take a breath. There’s no right way to do this. Start any time. Your kids will appreciate any notes you gather, even if they don’t trail all the way back to kindergarten. Remember, as Myquillyn Smith says, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”

3. Pay attention.

Keep your ears open throughout the year for any administrators or specialists your kids routinely rave about, and have them sign the book, too. When your kids reach middle and high school, pay extra close attention to which teachers they seem to be connecting with so that you can be selective with who reach out to for a signature. You aren’t going to want to include all of their teachers. Trust me.    

4. Have a system.

Two weeks before the last day of school, send an email to the teachers letting them know you’ll be leaving a book for them in the office and why. (I can send you my boilerplate email if you drop a note in the comments). Ask them to either pass the book onto the next teacher who needs to sign it, or tell them to leave it for you in the office when they’re finished.

Before dropping it off, slip the book into a manila envelope and write the teacher’s name on it. This helps preserve the book and also keeps it concealed from your kids if you ever need to fetch it from the office right before picking them up.

5. Celebrate.

No matter what challenges the school year brought, or what relational storms you and your kids weathered along the way, the level truth is that you are doing it. You are helping your kids grow into themselves, lean into their gifts, and be image bearers in a world that needs their light. It’s easy to lose sight of this in the ruff and tumble of K-12, but these notes from their teachers? They’ll refocus your eyes. So look long and hard at them, and then let out a cheer.

(Oh, and be sure to snap a photo to show their grandparents. I promise they’ll be as blessed and buoyed by the words about your kiddos as you are.)

6. Hide it.

Finally, hide the book somewhere your kiddo will never look but in a place you’ll remember to find it next year.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)