5 Steps To Help Your 5 Year Old Write Their Story

In my daughter’s Kindergarten class last year and her Grade One class this year, there is a fabulous program called Readers/Writers Workshop.  Parent volunteers come into the classroom several times a week to listen to the students read individually and help them record and publish their own stories!  Writing and illustrating stories became one of my daughter’s favourite experiences at school last year and this led to a very fun project we did together at home.

She came to me about March last year with a story idea that just screamed “WRITE ME!” and I suggested we work on it together. Meaning, I said, “Holy smokes, that’s an awesome story!!  We have to write this dooowwwwn!”

“Yeaaaahhhh!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands. “I want to give a copy to each of my friends at my birthday party!”  Great, we have till July then!

We had such a great time doing this together and she is extremely proud of the end result.

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Here are the 5 steps we took from inspiration to publication:

1. Have your child tell you the story from start to finish and record everything they say verbatim.  Ok, you can leave out the ums, likes and other fillers…but don’t add any of your own words or stop them in this process even if you notice things don’t ‘work’ with their story. VERY IMPORTANT!

Then, put it away and leave it alone.  This allows the story to just be, the way it is.  And you will probably find you appreciate the actual story more when you pull it out next rather than be tempted to dive in and ‘correct’ it.

2. Pull it out again after a few days when you and your child have some time together.  Put on your encouraging hat.  Keep it on.  (Hey, I’m just telling you things I had to tell myself!)  Read the story back to your child verbatim and only focus on the actual plot.  Right now you want the story to make sense to the reader.

Does the story go from A to B to C etc in a logical order or does it jump around?  Is there an event missing that ties two scenes together, without which the reader is lost?  Is there something the child mentions about the main character later in the story that conflicts with something earlier in the story? Focus on those things and explain to your child why the two of you need to add sentences or switch things around.  This is an excellent learning opportunity which can then be carried over to your next reading session together (when you can point out how one step follows the other etc).  Use praise where the child has expressed something well and especially remark on the idea of the story since that really is the foundation of any creation.

3. Now that the story flows and the reader has all the information they need to follow along, find the natural breaks which will end up being your page breaks.  You will find them more easily than your child because you have more experience with reading, but include them in the process.  Ask them, “Does it sound like you would turn the page after this sentence or that sentence?”

4. Now you have small paragraphs to work with and polish up.  While grammar is important, remember who the author is.  Their voice needs to be heard so I suggest keeping it at the level of a 5 year old which actually is excellent for story telling, but maybe not for a formal research paper.  I mean, look at my title: 5 Steps to help your 5 year old write THEIR story.  I know there’s no agreement there between the singular 5 year old and the plural THEIR, but we’re just chatting here and when I talk, that’s what I say.

What I’m getting at is there is a time and place for being super strict about grammar – and having fun with your 5 year old is not that time. Unless you want a child who will never want to write another story again.

Keep it to the level you expect them to speak.

You can, however, use this opportunity to teach them how to convey messages in words that they know but maybe didn’t use.  For example, if your child says, “She went to her bed,” you can ask him “How did she go to her bed?  Was it a fast movement or did she go slowly?”  If your child says, “Fast,” you can suggest some words for them to choose from: ran, jumped, leapt, scurried, etc.  If the word is new to them you can explain it (yay, new word learned!) but likely these will be words your child knows but didn’t think to use.

5. When the paragraphs are complete, type them up in a Word doc and print them out.  Cut them and paste each paragraph at the bottom (or top, or alternate…whatever your child wants) and have your child illustrate each paragraph.  Make colour copies and staple each book together for an easy self-publication!

**The VERY IMPORTANT thing to remember here is that your child is the author, not you.  You are the Encourager.  Each role is significant, but the author always gets the final say.

If your child doesn’t want something changed in the flow of the story (even if it makes absolutely no sense):

Who cares?  He’s 5.

If your child wants to say ‘went’ instead of ‘scurried’:

Who cares?  He’s 5.

If your child wants to write about a giant booger that fell out of someone’s nose, into the toilet that then overflowed and flooded the town...

He may well be the next Robert Munsch!

So, have fun and drop me a line if you try this or have any questions!

 

What To Do When Inspiration Seems Faaaarrrr Away? Go Fly A Kite!

How many times have you fallen asleep staring at a blank page or been hypnotized by a flashing cursor on an empty screen and thought, “I don’t know what to write about”?  How often have you sat down at your desk, absolutely determined to write a piece of genius, only to have that genius get stuck somewhere between your brain and your arm?

Good news: That is O.K.

You do not have some sort of writer’s dysfunction (i.e. ‘writer’s block’).  You are not failing at your craft.

You are simply at a different stage in the process.  You’re at the get-off-your-butt-and-meet-your-muse stage.  It happens to every good writer, and that’s why every good writer incorporates this into their regular routine.

American author Anais Nin has said, “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing, but in the midst of living”  (Something to jot down on a Post-It and stick on the edge of your monitor.)

What does that mean to you?  To me that means stepping awaaaaaaay from the computer.  It means a brisk walk in silence.  It means getting into bed before my husband so I can have a dark room to myself in which to breathe.  It means countless things to me and just as many to you, though what’s on my list may not be what’s on your list.  (But I did get 52 ideas down in Tuesday Tasks: 52 Activities Designed for an Entire Year of Creativity that is sure to get you on the right track.)

I know the pressure of wanting to write something amazing.  I did hang up my license in speech-language pathology after several gruelling years of university training and 6 years of practice to pursue this love affair.  I know I have things to say that will spur change in me, in you, and in the world.  And I know you have your story, too.  If you’ve ever had big, fat tears roll down your cheeks on a journey to WhoAmIKidding-ville, know that I have as well.

Here’s what I learned this summer: when the computer makes you feel nauseous, don’t turn it on.  And in doing so, don’t bemoan the fact that you’re not writing.  Go ahead and keep living, or live a little more as the case may be, and find inspiration in this little thing we call Life.

Because here’s the thing: if you don’t experience every juicy detail – the smells, the sounds, the conversation bits, the emotions – you can’t re-create the image on paper for your reader.

Sometimes you just have to take a day at the beach and fly a kite for the first time to really know what it feels like at the end of the string, feeling the tugs and dips of the kite and your heart.  The experience may remind you of a time passed, or have you dreaming about future possibilities.

In any case, it’s so much better than wishing you were at another stage in your writing, when this stage – this here, this now – is ready for you to embrace.

 

So the next time you find yourself pulling your hair out about ‘writer’s block’, just remember, not every stage of a masterpiece involves writing – a fair dose of it is living.

Grab Their Attention By Creating A Scene (In Your Writing!) And Two Exercises To Try

How many times have you picked up a book that just seemed to drag?  And how quickly did you end up putting that book down?! Whether you are writing a piece of fiction that just popped into your head or you are penning your life stories, you want to keep the reader engaged.  A great way to do this is to keep the story moving!

Here’s the inside scoop to ensuring your readers devour your work, and turn the pages so fast they get paper cuts!  (No, I’m kidding – a paper cut should not be wished upon anyone!)

So, how do you keep the story moving?  One way is by creating a scene.

Scene gives you a close up of what’s happening; imagine looking through a camera lens and zooooooom in until you are right in the room with the folks on whom you are eavesdropping.  Scene captures the dialogue, the facial expressions, the gestures, the peeling wallpaper in the kitchen, the sound of the motorcycle through the open window, and the smell of last night’s fish dinner.  It’s a virtual sense-feast.  You can even get so close to the characters that you can hear their thoughts!

Now, be careful.  You don’t want to describe everything to death (a sure way to get a reader to put down your book!)  Consider the background details to be like the fuzzier part of the picture, slightly out of focus, so that the attention remains on the very important interaction happening between the characters.  Don’t lose the story in the red and white checker print of the tablecloth with the orangey stain at the head of the table where Grandpa Joe ate his last meal of chicken parmesan just before his 82nd birthday the year before…yawn.  Who cares?  Unless the story is about how he choked on that piece of chicken, it’s really not adding to the story.  Just the word count.

Even though the background is slightly out of focus, we can 'hear' the traffic in the distance, but the focus is that drippy ice cream cone and my little girl's joy!
Even though the background is slightly out of focus, we can ‘hear’ the traffic in the distance, but the focus is that drippy ice cream cone and my little girl’s joy!

Here’s a little exercise:

Pick up the book you are currently reading, or one you have lying around.  (You do have a book next to you, right?  Remember, the two things a good writer does: write a lot and read a lot.)  Find a page with a scene and see if you can identify how the author draws you in, makes you feel close to the story.

Here’s another little exercise:

Think back on an interaction you had today.  Write a few paragraphs depicting the scene as though you are looking through a lens, shooting a movie.  Write down what you see.

When you are done, leave a comment and let me know how it went!