Writing For Children

Writing For kids

Today’s guest post is from the incredibly talented Allison Tait. Allison is one of those bloggers who shares her knowledge so generously. On her blog Life In The Pink Fibro, she posts fantastic advice on writing for kids, freelance writing and working from home. Allison writes with great wit, so be sure to check out her facebook page as well!

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When writers start talking about the beginning of their writing careers, many of them will have anecdotes about the novel they wrote when they were seven. Or the fact that they were telling stories to their dolls from the age of four.

I don’t remember doing that. Though there is some evidence remaining of my earliest works (namely the Anzacs poem which featured the immortal line ‘many of you lost a leg, just like Jake the Peg’… clearly I needed to listen to that song a little harder), writing was mostly something I did in class at school.

I do remember, however, being an avid reader. Still am. But if I thought about writing, it was a short story or a poem or a secret diary entry.

Today’s kids want to write books. And not just write them, but get them published. I know this because I lead a Writers’ Club at my son’s primary school. From day one, when we started out with ‘what is a character?’, all they wanted to know was when we’d get to writing the books. (FYI, 18 months into our club, we are still not up to writing the books. We have half an hour each week. We are learning to work within time constraints…)

What we do is work on writing. From the beginning, I told them that Writers’ Club is not a place of rules and regulations. I will not correct their grammar or spelling. There is no right way to do things. Writers’ Club is a place to write.

I think this is the biggest gift that you could give any child with a desire to write. To let them know that getting their thoughts down on paper is the first priority. That they can fix the spelling and the commas and the inconsistencies later. My aim is to give them a place to simply let their imaginations run free, to follow their wildest ideas. To show them that writing is not just for the classroom.

Sometimes it works better than other times. One day I set them loose on a story and three of my fourth-grade girls asked if they could write together. I said yes. And so began the epic of ‘Bethany, the saddest girl in the world’. They worked on the story of Bethany for the next three or four weeks, with Bethany’s life becoming progressively more and more soap-opera like.

Eventually I had to ask them why they were being so mean to poor old Bethany. They looked genuinely surprised. “Isn’t this what life is like for grown-ups?” they asked. Note to parents: Desperate Housewives may not be the best viewing material for 10 year old girls.

It’s not easy to find activities for a group of kids ranging in age from 7 to 12. But there are surefire winners:

  • The writing prompt. Give them the opening sentence and see what happens. The most successful we ever used was “There was a knock at the door.” I was bowled over by the variety of characters and scenarios that waited on the other side of that door.
  • If you were a superhero who would you be? Inventing super characters for themselves led us to create super villains the following week and then on to some comic-drawing fun, working on dialogue.
  • Describe your favourite place. We talked about how description is not just what you see, but what you feel, hear, touch, taste and smell as well. We practise ‘five-senses’ description regularly. The best piece of feedback I got from my group was when several of them told me that they’d used my advice in their classwork and had received lavish praise.

Whatever you do, keep it simple. I made the mistake early on of trying to get them to think about characters of the opposite sex. “Imagine,” I said, “that you changed overnight. If you are a boy, you turned into a girl. If you are a girl, you turned into a boy. Now tell me what your day was like.”

Crickets.

They were genuinely bewildered. Half of them suddenly remembered appointments at the other end of the school. The rest sat and doodled and talked about the weekend. Note to self: stick with what they know. For now.

The one thing that stands out about my little group of writers is that few of them are what I would call standout writing talents. Oh, there are one or two who make my heart beat faster with their ideas and their imagination and their oh-so-perfect choice of words, even at such a young age. But for the most part, they are just kids who love reading and writing. Which is half the battle and most definitely to be encouraged.

Who knows, maybe one day when they’ve written the books and they’re famous, they’ll have a little anecdote about Writers’ Club to share. If you ever hear an author talking about Bethany, The Saddest Girl In The World, think of me…

Do your kids like to write? Do you?

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al taitAllison Tait is a freelance writer, author, and blogger. She spends a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter because they are both great places for procrastination inspiration. Her first novel is out with PanMacmillan in 2013. It does not feature anyone named Bethany.

Comments

  1. says

    Yay for kids writing! I’ve been taking my daughter out on “writing dates” since she was around five, I think. We go to a cafe, order a drink and write away in our journals. Now that she is nearly ten, she is such a writer she puts me to shame. I think she’s on chapter ten of her first novel, it’s so brilliant to see her going through the cycles of doubt “Oh it just sounds so silly, Mum” to moments where the muse has struck her “I had no idea this part was going to happen, but I’m so happy with it!” and she doesn’t want me to turn the light out at night. So cute.

    I agree that the focus should always be on the act of writing – I don’t correct her stuff, and when I see that she’s blocked it’s almost always because she’s trying to get it perfect. I tell her not to worry about that at all, that the most important part is just writing it down, you can always go back and fix things up later.

    Good advice for myself as well! :)

  2. says

    I’ve been a writer since I can remember – the poems, the diaries, and now my blog and my job. I’ve also always been a very avid reader. Love, love, love books.

    Some of it must have rubbed off on my son. He’s often writing in his journal and he’s written stories. He was even writing a book with a couple of friends and they were going to sell it on e-bay. Even this morning he talked about wanting to write a book. Go for it – I tell him.

  3. Lisa says

    Thanks for this post Nicole. I am an aspiring freelance writer and I found so much useful information on Allison’s blog.

  4. Tracey says

    I need to do more to get my boys writing. Wish Allison could run a writing club at our school. :)

  5. says

    My youngest has been a wordsmith from a very young age.

    My oldest struggled. Being on the autism spectrum made getting those incredibly fast flashing thoughts on paper perfectly no error or else it was ripped up not good enough hate handwriting stories very difficult.

    After years of Occupational Therapy, speech therapy and brainstorming with his mother, his love of the great imaginarium of his endless worlds finally clicked in Grade 6.

    He went from nothing flowing, stilted words to *BOOM* this:

    http://theinnerechoes.blogspot.com.au/2010/07/shadow-portal.html

    You could almost hear the great grinding crunch as all those years of work clicked. The next bang was my jaw hitting the floor in amazement.

    It was all there, it just needed to find the light.

    Oh, and for many years we took turns at weaving bedtime tales. We each had 1 week to take our story from start to end… I now wish I had recorded some of them.

  6. says

    I think some of my offspring would love Allison’s writing club at school. My little daughter aged 6 is writing a play at the moment, it’s VERY dramatic, and all about a girl who no-one pays attention to. Aha…. ummm… err… but I have to help her spell almost every word and it’s getting painful.

    Son 2 wrote a novel last year, with Orcs and lots of bloodshed, swords, hacking off of heads etc There may be a job for him on the next Game of Thrones! Lovely post Al.

  7. Bachelormum says

    Beautifully encouraging article. It think that reading liberates children in so many ways- they see new worlds, different perspectives, reflect on themselves in those new worlds and therefore explore their own worlds in new ways, and learn how to express themselves more eloquently – in our age of online communication being able to express themselves In written form gives them more opportunities to take part in the wider world conversation … And to be heard, and listened to. Thank you for this piece x

  8. Bachelormum says

    I forgot to mention, I was involved in setting up the nsw Ed depts parent website Schoolatoz.com.au. It has some brilliant writing tips including a piece on gorgeous author Nadia Wheatley and a podcast from Andy griffiths. Your readers might want to check it out some time x

  9. says

    I love hearing about your Writing Group Al. Such a wonderful contribution to the school – sure beats a stint at tuck shop each week! Nugget is totally into the comic at the moment. He draws all manner of stick figures with speech bubbles declaring war on each other. I am going to try a writing prompt for our next at-home lesson on Sunday. Could be a winner! Great post x