On writing: encouraging children to write creatively
- Written by Sharon Lesley Le Roux, 1 February 2016
In the lead up to the Around DB and Life on Lantau Young Writer’s Competition, Sharon Lesley Le Roux discusses the importance of encouraging children to write creatively.
Almost from the moment we utter our first words, we begin telling stories. As social creatures, we have an inherent need to cast our experiences as narrative in order to connect with one another. From the Prehistoric Age, when our ancestors ground stone into powder, mixed it with animal fat and painted images on cave walls to chronicle their lives, to today’s Information Age, when we tweet, blog, post and line our experiences as they happen, we are constantly sharing ourselves, adding to the collective knowledge of who we are.
As soon as our children are old enough to write, we can encourage them to write their stories.
An act of self-exploration
The act of creative writing is, first and foremost, an act of self-exploration; we only ever write who we are. When creating a character, children turn to their own feelings, beliefs and values – and examine them. They begin to think about a protagonist’s needs, wants, troubles and secrets, and are compelled to consider what it means to be an individual, be it a child or parent, friend or enemy, member of a community, or outcast. Stories with a cast of characters require their authors to be observers of the world, seeing it from different viewpoints, considering what it means to walk in the shoes of others. In doing so, creative writing engenders empathy, known to increase pro-social behaviour.
Creative writing is pleasurable. Second-to-none on the planet in their ability to imagine and fantasise, children love telling stories! When we encourage them to do so, we’re saying it’s ok to spend time in their own heads, that there’s a world to discover in there. Often we don’t know what we’ll find until we begin writing. Having begun, we often find something unexpected, something wondrous and vibrant. The author’s pen is a colourful quill; it uses the full palette of the imagination. And, in a world in which grown-ups get to make the rules and children don’t, story writing gives children a voice, carte blanche to paint new visions of this, our world, their world.
Promoting good mental health
The act of writing creatively as children helps promote good mental health in the years that follow. Our world is busy, fast and noisy. David L. Ulin, author of The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time believes: “Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction. We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise.”
We can argue that story writing is an equally important ‘act of resistance’. Writing a story allows our children time to disengage and slow down. It offers the quiet space necessary to recognise and explore feelings and thoughts that might otherwise remain hidden. Even when what is written isn’t shared – in the privacy of a journal, for example – our children get to express themselves in their own, one-to-one space.
As children, we are happy, enthusiastic and curious. Author Christopher Moore says: “Children see magic because they look for it.” As we grow, however, we are socialised into the busy ways of the modern world, becoming serious, analytical, unimaginative and, at times, stressed. Psychotherapists Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey believe, for good mental health, we need to balance analytical and creative thought. They believe a direct correlation exists between the decline in our mental health and our propensity to use analytical thinking more as we grow older, and our creative thinking less.
Writing a story is an act of creation, one of the things we do best. We’ve evolved further than other species because of our ability to envision that which is not – and create it. We don’t measure progress in terms of the achievements we see, hear, smell, taste and feel around us – an award-winning skyscraper, a top chef’s signature dish – without admiring the creativity of the individuals who bring those things into existence. Creativity is all around us. Before we design and build bridges, hospitals and high-rises, we first visualise them. Before we release the next version of iMac, Tablet and Smartphone, we first innovate.
J.K. Rowling believes: “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” Creative writing encourages visualisation, critical thinking and orderly thought. Children who learn to plot sequences of events in their stories evolve into organised thinkers, and effective communicators. Today’s employers actively encourage employees to be creative thinkers in the workplace: to generate streams of ideas to improve the company product or service; to not only spot problems, but to conceive of, and recommend, solutions.
Creativity and communication
How can we parents encourage our children to write creatively? We can read to them. In doing so, we introduce them to the concept of fiction. By asking them about illustrations – What’s happening? Why, do you think? What’s going to happen next? – we engage them, invite them to imagine. Later, when children are reading for themselves, we can be read to, and ask more questions. We can help our children to see books, not only as forms of entertainment, but as models, examples of storytelling done well.
Children who aren’t writing yet can scrapbook – stick, draw and paint – their experiences and fantasies; things they’ve done; things they’d like to do (if such things were possible). This can later transition into written journals.
Once children are writing, and are able to construct the rudiments of a story, we can help them to brainstorm ideas, asking about the things that fascinate them – what are the best super-powers, mythical creatures, magic spells? – and encouraging them to take an idea and write it.
Later still, we can encourage our children to write with others, and share what they’ve written. In a group environment, children learn from the writing strengths and weaknesses of others, as well as their own. They get to practice their craft regularly, push at their creative boundaries, and receive constructive feedback.
We can encourage them to enter writing competitions. The 2016 Around DB and Life on Lantau Young Writer’s Competition offers our children the voice to express real concerns about things they see happening around them. The experience of competing allows them the opportunity to further develop their expressive talents and strive for personal excellence. Such competitions allow them to contribute, to bring to the mix observations and viewpoints that, without them, might never be realised.
And, we can encourage them to dream, to fantasise. A healthy imagination is an essential human tool; a survival aid, it allows us to visualise and prepare for possible events and outcomes. Children who write what they imagine become organised, critical thinkers, creative inventors and innovators, and confident communicators. Ultimately, creative writing is a journey of self-exploration.
Setting out to write, few children will end up making it their living. They will, however, begin a fascinating journey; a life in which they are constantly learning about, and finding value in, who they are, both as individuals and members of society.
What parents are saying about The Story Studio
“I am delighted that my daughters are not only increasing their vocabulary and stretching their imaginations but that they are happy to do so!” Tracey Cuthbertson, Tong Fuk.
“I love looking at Grace’s stories each week! She has just finished her short story for school and I can already see an improvement in her vocabulary. Not only did she make a plan but she actually used a thesaurus to increase her vocabulary. She wrote down some different descriptive words that she could have on hand to insert as she started writing. She found at least six other ways of saying ‘said’ within her story, which is groundbreaking.” Sally Broadbent, Discovery Bay.
“This workshop is exactly what I had hoped it would be. Sharon has created an environment where the kids feel secure and are given the confidence to explore their ideas freely. The classes are full of laughter! It’s a brilliant balance of the fun of creative writing, whilst instilling correct grammar and punctuation skills. My daughter looks forward to this workshop every week. Her teacher commented on how great her writing has become recently,” Kim Bracken, Mui Wo.
Young Writer’s Competition 2016
Now in its fourth year, the Around DB and Life on Lantau Young Writer’s Competition (YWC) provides secondary school students living and/ or studying in Lantau with the chance to get published. The challenge, this year, is for students to write a nonfiction account of 600 to 700 words highlighting a particular community concern. Stories need to be submitted by March 14. To enter, check the YWC guidelines at www.arounddb.com.