Writing with Purpose: Thank You Box

It is often said that to be an author you should write something every day. However I find it very difficult to produce a comprehensive piece of writing when there’s no purpose. Writing needs direction from the start, a path to follow, a place to arrive at and a means to an end. This could be to write a story, fill out a form, to convey an important message, to provide others with useful information, write a cheque or to record a memory.

For children on the other hand, writing can be like drawing. Their newly found fascination of putting pen to paper is sometimes what drives them to pick up a pen and write as they experiment with forming various shapes and marks to create meaning out of an otherwise blank page.  Others instinctively love to record their thoughts or label their pictures but like adults, many children too have no inclination to write unless it is for a purpose.

So if you’re looking to encourage your child to write remember that first they may need a purpose to write. I put together this writing prompt in the aftermath of the Christmas mayhem, the time when my boys have a long list of thank you letters to compose. I’m not going to lie, I always find this a painful business of constant reminders and impatient hovering but I persist in putting us through the ordeal because I believe appreciation and thankfulness is a lesson worth learning. So this year I’ve attempted to make the whole process somewhat more light-hearted!

First I bought two plain craft boxes in the shape of books and filled them with brightly coloured blank cards and envelopes.

Writing Box 1

I then gave both my children a pack of mixed postage stamps, character and thank you stickers, self-inking stamps, printed paper, a small glue brush and a novelty pen each to make up their own thank you box.

Writing Box Stamps

Writing Box Tools

I then suggested some ideas of how to decorate the boxes and left them to it…

…and perhaps that’s where I made my fatal error!

I’d had an image in my mind of a perfectly covered book box, a kind of decoupage with postage stamps!

Oh silly me! Of course that’s not what we ended up with!

So here are some close ups of the decorating results, no frills, very little sticking and certainly no decoupage in sight! Some might say the quickest route to completion was sought!

Writing Box Decorated

I thought about scrapping this blog but only very fleetingly because I realised that despite my disappointment I’d actually achieved what I’d set out to do and that was to provide my children with a writing box that is personal to them and one they wanted to use. Oblivious to my hidden grimaces they had enjoyed themselves and were very enthusiastic about the results. They were even swapping ideas of what to do on their thank you cards. I couldn’t help but chuckle at my desperation for perfection. All too often I see blogs on children’s craft activities which are enviously beautiful but almost to the point of being too immaculate and in practice are often far too intricate for little fingers to learn. It soon becomes obvious they’ve been designed by an adult and completed by an adult as the realistic results start to emerge once the little ones get their hands on them!

So I guess the lesson I stumbled across today was that encouraging a love of something isn’t about the ideals we strive for, it’s about providing the tools to let our children do it their way!

 

 

 

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Child Authors: Learning from Children

Express Yourself Through Writing

Lately, my eldest has been devouring books like a caterpillar expecting an immanent leaf shortage. So much so that despite his shelves being laden with books his hunger for new, uncharted territory is proving hard to keep up with. With our library being a decent drive away and not wanting to rush out and buy new ones each time, I had a brain wave (they may be scarce but they do happen!). I remembered that my husband had read a fantasy fiction book called Eragon a few years back by the author Christopher Paolini who was fifteen years old when he wrote it. I thought perhaps it would be a good contender to satisfy this insatiable hunger. So we sifted through some old boxes in the garage and managed to find Eragon and Eldest, the first two from a series of four books. Both are fairly hefty books so I gave myself a pat on the back for successfully slowing him down until Christmas!

My eldest and I share his bedtime reading of Eragon and it keeps us both suitably engrossed. Some sentences sound a little over written in places to me but the story line is original and the vocabulary is impressive. It is hard to imagine a fifteen year old wrote such a book. As an older writer I like to think that life experience is my advantage in that it has given me greater empathy and expanded my mind since I was fifteen years old. However being a parent, I can also see many advantages for a child to read a book which is written by a child. So my curiosity has been tweaked.

The age of an author is not something a reader would readily know. It’s not emblazoned across their book cover (thank goodness!). Nor is it normally of particular importance to the reader – if the book is good, the book is good regardless of the author’s age. However, who is it that truly knows what makes a child tick? Who knows what is cool, awesome or totally pants? Who knows the latest hot topic in the playground? It can only be a child of course. They don’t have to rely on memory; they are the ones in the thick of it. They are experiencing childhood right now and by recording such moments their points of view can become an invaluable source of understanding for other children.

An excellent example is Help, Hope and Happiness which was written by Libby Rees when she was nine years old. Having gone through the pain of her parents getting divorced she wrote the book to try and help other children cope with divorce. Similarly nine year old Alec Greven’s idea to write How to Talk to Girls came from his playground observations and desires to help his classmates get credit for their chat up efforts. Jason Gaes wrote My Book for Kids with Cancer when he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma at age seven. It’s a book which continues to help many children of all ages.

Another one I’m particularly interested to get my hands on is The Strand Prophecy written by Brianna and Brittany Winner (otherwise known as the Winner twins). The book tells the tale of Strand the superhero with a troubled past battling to save the world. Though not a self help book the twins wrote this book when they were twelve years old despite both having been diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia. In a past blog on dyslexia (The Dancing Book) I once wrote “if you think differently to the average person, you have the power to achieve more than the average person so how can we teach children with dyslexia to draw out their unique abilities?” What an incredible example these twins are of what can be achieved and overcome. Since publication they have also became co-founders of the non-profit organisation Motivate 2 Learn which aims to promote literacy and inspire children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

Child authors have been getting recognition since way back. One of the most well known being Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl written by Anne as a Jewish teenager in hiding during the war. It was later published in 1947 and gives a true view of what it was like to live in constant fear of being caught whilst simultaneously attempting to maintain a small sense of normality in her childhood.

One of the youngest, if not the youngest writer was American born Dorothy Straight who was just four years old when she wrote How the World Began which was published in 1964. Obviously this and many others are exceptional examples of young writers. After all most four year olds haven’t even mastered writing single letters let alone a whole book! So don’t expect miracles from your tiny tot but if they do love writing let them write and express themselves in their own way. They may surprise you and have something outstanding to say. Something which could one day help many children navigate their way through the confusing path of childhood.