CREATIVE WRITING BEFORE READING
Literacy is encouraged, supported and promoted extensively in our society. A child’s access to reading is widely accepted as a critically important step in childhood development. By being engaged in a literary world children develop their confidence, self-identity, problem-solving skills, ability to communicate, imagination, desire to learn and explore and even gain tools to navigate their own emotional development.
When children engage in creative writing, their relationship with literacy and books becomes so much richer and more personal. The tools and lessons that they learn through literacy are experienced on an entirely different level when they realize ownership over a written product. Also by writing, kids are motivated to want to read even more. This is true for kids even before they know how to form letters or how to read.
However, the social emphasis on reading has not resulted in an equally strong emphasis on kid’s creative writing. Generally, people write for an audience. Children are not different. And yet, there are few venues for children to publish or stage their written work. Children are inherently taught that writing is for adults, these mysterious beings who create the stories that are read to them at bedtime. They themselves are removed from the experience of thinking, acting or being like an author. Likely they have never even met an author, or understood them as a real person. As a result, the benefit of creating that personal relationship with literacy is one step further from being actualized.
There are challenges to raising children who write. Often the transcription demands of creative writing can make the process overwhelming for the children and the adults. Some imaginative children have a difficulty managing all of the tangents and ideas that are sparked from a story that they have started. And yet, by creating an environment that encourages writing even the youngest children will start to envision themselves as authors and position themselves as an active participant in the literary world.
What kind of environment encourages kids to engage in writing and how can parents and caregivers foster it?
- Design a space to create. This could be a table with bookmaking tools: pens, colouring tools, paper and a stapler. The child should understand that this is a bookmaking area, and is available whenever they want to ‘write’.
- Provide an opportunity for sharing. Even before a child knows how to form letters or even identifiable pictures, children can be shown that their ‘writing’ is worth sharing. Allowing children to engage in ‘mock writing’ and encouraging them to ‘read’ their story once it is complete will help them to identify themselves as real writers.
- Encourage independent creation time. While asking questions about the story can be very helpful, and encouraging the child to be intentional about what they are creating, children should be given time to immerse themselves in their creation without too much interference. Once they have had time to developed their idea sitting down and helping with the transcription can be great one-on-one time.
- Be open to the final product. Often the ‘work’ a child produces will look like a pile of scribbles to the adult eye. Parents and caregivers can look at colour choice, lines used for facial expressions and subject matter to understand what feeling and idea their child is trying to communicate. Sometimes they will need a nudge to put a little more effort in, and sometimes they just need an enthusiastic response to what they have imagined. A valid response is ‘that is a great tiger for a four-year old’.
- Read like an author. Even when we read to our children we can help them see themselves as writers. For example, when reading a picture book about trains the reader could mention: “Isn’t that neat how the author writes the sounds that the train is making. You can really hear the train coming. I bet you could do that in your stories”.