The Web ROW
“The world’s children are perhaps its most truthful and sensitive observers.”

—Pamela Michael, River of Words co-founder
Contest rules

The River of Words international art and poetry contest is open to any child in the world, from 5 to 19 years of age, who has not yet completed high school.

Category I — Kindergarten-Grade 2
Category II — Grades 3-6
Category III — Grades 7-9
Category IV — Grades 10-12

There is no charge to enter, and students may enter as many times as they like. However, a separate entry form must be completed for each submission.
Students may enter on their own or as part of a group (classroom, Girl Scout troop, 4-H, etc.). All entrants receive acknowledgement in the form of a “Watershed Explorer” certificate.

Teachers or facilitators must send all entries from their classes in one envelope (or several, if needed). Please do not have each student mail his or her entry separately.

Teachers/facilitators must complete a Facilitator Form along with the group entries, as well as a typed list of the names of all entrants in your class. Please keep a copy of this list to refer to when customizing and distributing the Watershed Explorer Certificates for your students.

Every entrant will receive a Watershed Explorer Certificate.

Submissions become property of River of Words. Through submission of poetry or artwork, contestants and their legal guardians grant nonexclusive reproduction and publication rights to the works submitted, which will not be returned. 

Entry forms

Facilitator (must accompany group entries)

Poetry Guidelines

All poems must be original work.

Written poetry must be either typed (preferred) or legibly written in ink (pencil does not photocopy); ASL poetry must be submitted on a DVD.

Poems should not exceed 32 lines in length (written) or 3 minutes (signed).

The student’s name, school, city and state should be on the poem, and a completed Entry Form (individual or group) must be stapled back to back with each poem, with both the poem and entry form facing out. For ASL poetry, please include a brief written summary of the poem’s content. Poems not submitted in this format, or with incomplete or illegible writing will not be judged.

Collaborative poems are accepted, but only one child (chosen as the group representative) will be eligible for any prizes awarded.

We accept poems in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language only.

Artwork guidelines

All artwork must be original work. We do not accept color photocopies.

Artwork may not exceed 11” by 17”— no exceptions.

Acceptable media are paint, pencil, markers, ink, crayon, chalk or pastel (fixed), photography, cloth, collage, woodcuts, linoleum block prints, silk screen, monoprints, lithographs and computer art. Photo entries must be at least 8” x 10”.

All entries must include the student’s name, school, city, and state on the back. Do not use marking pen or anything that will show through. A completed entry form must also be affixed to the back of each piece of artwork. Please attach the entry form with tape or other fixative (if using glue, be careful to use one that will not run through and damage the artwork). Do not use paperclips.

High-quality color reproductions of prize-winning artwork will be provided to their respective creators.

Art entries must be done on paper that will allow for duplication, display, or framing. Please, no notebook or typing paper, and do not mat, mount, laminate, frame, or fold artwork.  Entries must be mailed flat or rolled in a tube—no folding!


All U.S. entries must be postmarked by December 1. International entries must be received in our office by February 1.

We are not responsible for entries that are late or lost in the mail. Entries received after the deadline will be automatically entered in next year’s contest.

Entries may be submitted at any time during the year, but no response will be sent until after the yearly contest deadline.

Teacher of the year

There is no formal nominating procedure, but if there’s a teacher you think we should know about (including yourself!) please let us know.

Winners and prizes

About 100 poems and artworks are selected as finalists each year. All winners receive ribbons, books or art supplies, T-shirts and other prizes.

Eight grand prize winners—four in poetry and four in art, in four age categories—are chosen from the U.S. entries. We also award an International Prize each year to a student from outside the United States. The International Prize may be awarded for either poetry or art.

Winners will be announced in April of each year, and are honored in a mid-April ceremony at the San Francisco Public Library.*  Winners must sign an acceptance form. For a list of winners, please include a self-addressed, stamped (2-ounce postage) envelope when sending in your entry.

Grand prize: Round-trip transportation from the winner’s nearest major airport to Washington, D.C. (or the city where the ceremony is being held) for the winner and one parent or guardian.** The teacher of the year also receives the grand prize.

Prize is not redeemable for cash. Accommodations and some meals will also be provided. Taxes and all other expenses are the responsibility of the winner. Winners must be available for travel sometime in April, May, or June.***

Special prizes: River of Words and The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress honor two students who live in our respective watersheds: River of Words’ Shasta Bioregion Prize and The Library of Congress’s Anacostia Watershed Prize. The winning works may be either poetry or art. In addition, students in 12 Northern California counties are automatically entered in the One Square Block contest, offered jointly by River of Words and the San Francisco Estuary Project .

Note: Many states and regions also award River of Words prizes. Check our Regional Coordinators Directory to see if your area has a coordinator, then check with that person to see if he or she conducts a state or regional River of Words contest.

*River of Words reserves the right not to award a Grand Prize in any category if no entry merits such designation.
**River of Words reserves the right to provide a substitute prize, not including travel, depending on funding.
***International winners may be acknowledged at the Awards Ceremony for the following year’s contest.