Each time I start preparing for a creative writing workshop for children, I pray nobody has heard the story of the Library Lion. It’s my star story, and I love it as much as the kids who just lose themselves in the story the first time they hear it. The first time I started telling a bunch of 8-yr-olds the story, I did not even know I could roar like a lion. Now, that I have that skill firmly mastered, I do it quite confidently (but not too frequently), much to the delight of the kids.
Before and after these workshops, I am usually politely cornered by parents who want to know what I hope to achieve by these workshops. My answer to them is always the same, “I want them to never be afraid of a blank page.” It isn’t that the kids have nothing to say, or no imagination to colour their words, but the very act of writing, the very act of creating something other than another ‘composition’ for school, freezes their wild fingers.
Believe me, kids do not really need help with telling stories. They could run away with their imagination while effortlessly pulling along a hundred-tonne freight train, a whole Martian battalion, a million mystical beasts, and their thunderstruck mom. But, what they do need, is the finger on the knot. A spot to focus on so that the roots of the story know where to dig in, and the branches know how far above they have to reach.
A few examples, many well-chosen and well-deserved words of praise, a sheaf of colourful papers, and lots of playful images later, you can let them go. Sometimes, they are as shocked as I am with the brilliant poems and stories they construct. One can never predict how a kid will interpret a particular word or image, or how independent they will be when working with another kid older/younger/as old as them. There are many things I have learned during these creative writing workshops –
1. Some parents will always confuse creative writing with good handwriting.
2. Boys and girls write very good poetry.
3. No matter their age, most kids love listening to stories about bravery, fights, friendship, and grandparents.
4. Most kids love working alone, even if they are paired with their best friend.
5. Initially, kids will hesitate to ask you for the right spelling of words, but if you give it to them without fussing over what they should have known etc., they will ask you for spellings automatically, and won’t even stop writing while they do so, knowing you will save them before you reach that word. Sigh.
6. They prefer stories that make them laugh and move to those that are solemn epics about soldiers who are fighting for the love of a fair princess. (Eeeeyuck, one boy said, when I asked him what he thought about Sinbad).
But, one must not forget that creative writing is improved in conjunction with a better reading habit. Like charity, a good reading habit starts at home. Let kids see you with your nose buried in a book. Tell them what you are reading and what you think about it. Read books with them, and let them choose books from stores and from your personal library. The more a child reads, asks questions, and applies to his/her everyday world, the more creative they can be.