Thank you so much to Gill Pawley from Inkpots for this very helpful guest post on how to support young writers lacking in confidence.
Three weeks ago, I was with a group of Year 5 children (nine and ten-year-olds) and we were talking about going into Brighton (just down the road from us) and what the sounds and smells are like. It was part of a literacy support session and quite out of the blue one of the boys came up with a poem. Line after line came out – and it was a quite wonderful moment. The other children loved it and you could see the pride all over the boy’s face. But when I said he ought to write it down, he froze. Suddenly, it was a rubbish poem, he didn’t want to do anything more with it, and certainly wasn’t going to write anything.
The thing is that this boy is not alone.
I run writing workshops for children age 8 – 11. I visit five schools over the course of a school week running after school clubs and workshops. There are – of course – some children who are wonderful, fluent story writers, who delight in producing long stories and who even make their own books.
But there is a substantial number for whom writing is just plain hard.
These are some of the comments I hear on a regular basis:
- “My handwriting is no good”
- “My ideas are rubbish”
- “I can’t face doing another long story plan”
- “I’m tired”
- “Everybody will laugh at me”
- “I don’t know how to do it”
- “I can’t think of anything to write.”
Parents too express their anxieties. Every term, I hear how frustrating and upsetting it is for some that their bright, imaginative child can come up with the most amazing ideas for stories – but then grind to a halt when it comes to getting something down on paper. It sounds like children can freeze, and become really daunted by the prospect of doing a story.
This can be so upsetting for everyone involved – and the saddest thing is that writing stories should be one of the best parts of childhood, enriching young minds and getting imaginations flowing.
Luckily, there are lots of things that we can do. As adults, it may need a bit of a mindset shift but the major thing is that we really listen to what children are telling us. If like me you love writing, and you have a child who doesn’t, you may feel like a total failure, but I can assure you, you’re not alone! (I’ve been there for a start!)
Writing stories in a traditional way may not work for your child. And why should it? Lots of children prefer drawing, others may enjoy the planning out of a story and do wonderful story plans and these are as creative as the story themselves.. Creative notebooks can help unleash imaginations and give a child some confidence. Encourage taking photos that can go into a notebook, or cuttings from magazines or things like tickets and receipts from a trip or a holiday.
One of the biggest eye openers for me over the last few months is how many children really respond to making comic strips – one group have formed their own comic crew and are absolutely flourishing. Comics are brilliant for those children who really struggle to find the right words for their stories, but they do need planning, story plotting and dialogue so are wonderfully stimulating to put together. I discovered a great blog www.comicsclub.blog – not only do children get valuable feedback and monthly challenges, there are suggestions for adults too about supporting children in making comics. More inspiration can be found at Sarah McIntyre’s website www.jabberworks.com. She also has free activity sheets which are enormous fun.
And fun can be the key. Children very quickly pick up on adult anxieties, so the more fun activities you can introduce, the better. I also don’t think you can give enough praise. A piece of writing may not look very much to us, the spelling and grammar may be all over the place and the story line may be wobbly, but if a child has poured their heart into that story and their imaginations have soared, then that is cause for celebration!
Joining a creative group can help too. Lots of schools run after school clubs for creative activities and some areas have creative writing groups too.
Handwriting can cause a bit of misery for some kids. During my research, I have also recently discovered The National Handwriting Association. If this is something that concerns your family, do hop over and take a look.
I have also put together a more specific information sheet to help support unsure writers; I worked with a deputy headteacher and librarian to pull together some more practical tips to help children find a way around this stumbling block. The free sheet can be downloaded from Inkpots website.
Most of all, I hope that your children discover the sheer pleasure of letting imaginations flow and creating their own wonderful worlds!
*Gill Pawley runs amazing creative writing workshops at Inkpots. She trained as a Publications Editor and has worked for a number of charities, community groups and community interest companies. She started Inkpots four and a half years ago, with a desire to create a calm, creative and warm environment where children thrive and express themselves through words and pictures. (It was also a bit of a fightback after her own kids had gone to university, and then went and got exciting jobs in interesting parts of the world!) Gill is also a mentor with the Juno Project which works with vulnerable young women, supporting them in running their own businesses.
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