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.
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!