Imagine, if you will, a kids writing club where each and every one of the children present is there under duress. When I started my writing club, I naively anticipated that the attendees would be budding young authors, passionate about the written word, like I was as a kid. In reality, my club is entirely comprised of kids whose parents “made them” attend.
That’s not to say that the kids in my club aren’t extremely creative, imaginative or talented. In fact, they are an incredible bunch of young storytellers with fantastic ideas to share. Unfortunately, for a number of different reasons, these kids are utterly convinced that they “can’t write”, that they “suck at writing” because they have “bad grammar” or “messy printing”. They have associated the creative act of storytelling with the physical act of writing so intensely that they can’t separate the one from the other, and because they struggle with one aspect of writing, they’ve convinced themselves that they aren’t writers.
All of my kids are newcomers, too. Many of them struggle to express themselves in their second or third language – which is entirely normal and understandable! Writing in your native language can be challenging enough! Many of the kids have incredible ideas bubbling and brewing in their minds, but find it difficult to express their ideas in a strange and complicated language (English really is a nasty language to have to learn).
I’ve tried to take all of this into consideration when developing activities for my writing club, activities that are adaptable and can be used by different writers in different ways.
For our spooky October meeting, I developed an activity I creatively called My Monster, which included both a hands-on art component and a writing component.
I’m always looking for ways to re-purpose discarded magazines and books, so for the first part of the program we grabbed our scissors and our glues ticks and created collage monsters! I encouraged the kids to be as wild and as crazy as they wanted to be – a part-hamster part-mountain lion beast that shoots lasers from its eyes and travels with its trusty parrot sidekick who is also telepathic? Sounds great!
After we finished creating our monsters I passed out the writing sheets. The sheets were meant as writing prompts, and kids could use them if they wanted to, but they certainly didn’t have to. Some of the kids in the club are perfectly happy to write paragraph after paragraph in their journals, while others find blank pages pretty intimidating, and prefer to have questions to answer. As I always repeat in writing club – this isn’t school! There is no right way to write in writing club, as long as you’re thinking and creating and having fun.
The kids wrote about their own monsters, coming up with hilarious origin stories and strengths and weaknesses and habitats and diets and more. Alternatively you could have the kids trade monsters with each other, and write about each other’s creations, which could be a real hoot.
Including an artistic component in a writing club can help kids separate storytelling and story creation from the physical act of writing. A story can be created and told without a single word being written on a page! It also gives kids time to think about what they’re going to write, and mentally prepare themselves for the writing portion of the program. I always explain the format of the session right at the very beginning of the program, so the kids know what they’re going to be writing about, and have time to ruminate and ponder while keeping their active hands busy.
Do you run a writing program for young people? What kinds of activities do you like to include? I’d love to hear your ideas!