I write children’s books, I love stories and I want to share my passion for writing and creating stories. That’s why I set up, Storymakers, my creative writing club.
I’m not a teacher, but does that make a difference?
At the start of a new term or course, when I welcome a group of up to eight children into my studio, most step tentatively inside, a little shy and hardly a word said between them.
Many, but not all, are reluctant writers.
‘He doesn’t like writing, but he’s full of ideas,’ is a phrase I hear all the time. Perhaps a few of the children who come to my classes have agreed to come (under duress). Most, don’t know what to expect.
Within five minutes of us starting, however, I’ve usually managed to get them talking and engaged in the subject. By the end of the hour, I often have trouble getting them to leave!
At the Writer Buds group last week, eight children skated, skied or slid around the room to find some onomatopoeia winter words for a story. They then sat and worked with a partner to create their story, including in them these words. Although the room was buzzing with noise, it was all imaginative, lively discussion, related to the task in hand.
I had feedback from all the parents saying how much their child had enjoyed it. One even said her son had cleared his desk (normally full of toys) to make space for his writing.
My point is, I have enthusiasm for what I do and that’s what I try to bring to all my courses.
I stumbled across a very sad Twitter feed recently from a school librarian who asked how she could help the teachers at her school feel more enthusiastic about writing. In the huge comment thread that followed, it seems this was not an isolated incident.
In schools across the country, teachers are avoiding teaching creative writing because they don’t like doing it themselves.
Of course, there are many schools where this does not happen, but I do often wonder why children don’t seem to enjoy writing anymore.
When I think about the experience of my own three children, they are very different in terms of how they were taught, or are being taught, in junior school. When my eldest, who is now in year nine, was taught to write, the children were encouraged to write without worrying about the spelling or grammar. This was in year one and two, by the way and I remember the teacher saying how the children were encouraged to write down words phonetically and that it didn’t matter if it was spelt wrong because that would be addressed with time.
Fast forward to my youngest, now in year four. When he was in year two, the new SATS were introduced and they tested the life out of those kids for a whole year on grammar and spelling. Is it coincidence that my son is the most reluctant writer out of my three?
My theory, which is just that – a theory and thought of my own – is that children don’t like to write because they are afraid they will get it wrong.
I don’t remember being taught grammar at school, even though it must have happened. The way in which it was taught means I incorporated it into my writing without even knowing how or why I was doing it.
My belief is, if children have to think about each and every element of every sentence they construct, it’s not difficult to see where a reluctance would come from.
I don’t teach spelling and grammar at my creative writing courses. Storymakers is about harnessing ideas and constructing stories. It’s about not being afraid to put your ideas down, even if you make a mistake. With everything you do in life, you only get better at it if you practice. It’s the same with writing. The more you write, the better at it you will be.
So, we can correct mistakes AFTER and you can learn from those mistakes and remember not to do them NEXT TIME. In addition, the grammar techniques learned in school, will start to come into play, the more the child writes and practices. BUT, they don’t get there if they won’t write anything in the first place, which is where I come in.
Writing is a creative art and it’s an amazing achievement when you bring your imagined characters and worlds to light. I want the children who come to Storymakers to see that.
As a writer myself, I want to inspire them.
I may not be a qualified teacher, but I am a mentor and I come with buckets of enthusiasm, a passion for what I do and a genuine desire to change the way children feel about writing.
If you want to find out more, please visit my Storymakers page. Also, you can see what people are saying about my book, The Mystery of the Disappearing Underpants, by checking out the reviews on Amazon, currently on offer at 99p (eBook only).