A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend about how to encourage children to write creatively. The topic came up because she was concerned that her seven-year-old son had been put off writing stories at school.
Her SEVEN-YEAR OLD son . . .
I was pretty horrified to hear her say this, not only because at the tender age of seven a child is coming home and declaring that “English is boring” and “I hate writing stories”, but also because I have known this child since he was a baby, and the minute he could string a couple of words together he was telling stories. He has the gift of the gab and a way with words that has always astonished me. At three years old he was already telling long and involved stories which kept me hanging on his every word, wondering what on earth he would come up with next, and making me laugh a lot along the way. So when I heard that this child no longer enjoyed storytelling, I had to ask why.
“He finds it paralyzing to have to remember where to put the finger spaces, full stops and commas,” my friend said. “And he hates the fact that joined-up writing is more highly prized than the content of the story he wants to tell. By the time he has struggled through following all the rules, he has forgotten what he wanted to write in the first place or has lost interest altogether.”
Of course he has!
“Take him to Paperchase, buy him a notebook of his choice and a really nice pen or pencil and tell him, ‘This is your own private writer’s book. It's your space to be you! You can write exactly what you like in it, draw pictures, whatever. I promise no one will correct your spelling or tell you to join up your handwriting or argue over commas. Just go for it.’ And tell him it's what I do and that I wish him good luck with his writing!”
A couple of days later I received the following email, which my friend has agreed I can share with you. I felt a little tearful when I read it.
“Just wanted to say that I gave both my sons a notebook, inspired by what you had said about writing. They both used to write lots of stories, but I realized that they hadn't for a while and that X in particular had been getting upset about how hard he found joined-up writing. When I said to him that he could write whatever he wanted in it, and he didn't have to write neatly or properly he literally danced round the room! He did his disco moves in excitement! That night he wrote two stories, one entitled "My Mum is growing..... round the middle", about a Mum who got too fat (she got obsessed with special offers) and exploded in the Prime Minister's house. The other was about an alien who visited two boys in class to help them with their hard Maths questions, then they let him stay and took him round school. It was quite a revelation, so thanks for the lovely idea. You are now a superhero in the eyes of my 7-year-old nutter!!”
When I asked if I could use this email as the basis for my next blog post, my friend replied:
“Quote away! I have never seen a little boy so chuffed! He did a new disco move as he said "no capital letters" one disco move, "no joined up writing" another disco move "no full stops" another disco move, it was hilarious! Apparently finger spaces are worth having though. He was so excited he told his dad all about it when he got home, saying, ‘It's amazing Daddy! I can write what I like and it doesn't matter if it's messy etc.’ Thanks for inspiring me!”
I feel as though these emails should be included in a manifesto of some kind . . .
Hurrah for notebooks and the space to be me! (And as for that story about the Mum who was obsessed with special offers, I might just ask if I can "borrow" that . . . )
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