Children & Creative Writing
I recently volunteered at the Florida Writers Association Youth Conference in Orlando sponsored by FWA’s Youth Writers Program. The age range of the attendees was from first grade to high school. What an impressive group of intelligent and talented young writers! From poetry to short stories to full length novels, these kids knew how to write! You should encourage your children to write creatively too. Why?
The same benefits an adult receives when he or she takes up creative writing are the same benefits a child will derive as well. The only difference in the quality of writing that results comes from the degree of grammar and vocabulary proficiency that starts the process going. From there, it’s all a matter of perfecting the craft of writing and letting the imagination run loose.
We focus so much on getting our kids to participate in sports – often as a means of tearing them away from hours spent glued to a game console and video screen – that we overlook other opportunities to grow them in other ways. Sport can play a role in developing teamwork and leadership skills, as well as having the obvious benefits to a child’s physical health and well being (concussions notwithstanding). However don’t overlook the tool of encouraging your children to write creatively as a way to get them off the couch and in doing so, gain academic advantage. Besides, it doesn’t cost as much as sports! I haven’t seen a kid wearing a helmet or body pads when they write. And entering a writing contest doesn’t require a cross-country jaunt to participate in a tournament.
So what are the benefits of creative writing for kids?
There’s a lot of reasons to encourage your children to take up creative writing. So let’s explore some of them.
I think the most obvious one is Artistic Self-Expression. Creative writing improves a child’s thought processes by creating a place they can go in their mind that is non-threatening. When I was young, I was the world’s worst artist. My stick figures will never be sold at auction at Christie’s. But I had a big imagination. I was curious. I explored the orchards and vineyards behind my sub-division to collect bugs. I uncovered rocks in streams to find crayfish. If you see your child with similar curiosity, encourage them to write about it. I grew up in the age of early space exploration, the first man on the moon. I started reading science fiction. When I had the opportunity to be in a special creative writing class in Grade 8, I started to write sci-fi and fantasy. What amazing worlds full of fantastic creatures I created on a piece of paper!
We’ve often heard about writers having a ‘voice’. What does that mean? It’s expressing to others how you feel about yourself, your life, your hopes, your dreams, your views on current topics, and on things that stress you out or make you happy. The key is to be honest with yourself and do it without feeling constrained by the opinions of others. When you use your ‘voice’ by writing your ideas down, or by building imaginary characters and fantastic worlds, you Build Self-Confidence. This is another important benefit of learning how to write creatively, especially important to young people as they wrestle with who they are, what society is all about, and how they fit in. Creative writing improves a child’s ability to express their feelings and ideas, and explain and discuss topics. This skill will have a great impact on their future personal and professional success.
Improving Language and Communications Skills might seem an obvious reason to learn how to write well but there’s more to the benefit of creative writing than just better grammar, spelling and vocabulary. A story is a complex thing. A well-written, engaging story that draws readers in and holds their attention requires more than just grammatically correct chapters. Stories are journeys. These journeys require planning. And planning requires structure and organization. Stories involve characters. These characters have personalities, display emotions, and engage in relationships. Writing about a character’s journey requires bringing a keen sense of observation of the world around us to the story. With every story, a writer builds empathy for people. The more a writer observes, and the more he or she writes about what they have observed, the more he or she will understand human foibles and frailties. So as we learn how to communicate what we see, we begin to see and understand even more. More than just the superficiality of first impressions. More than just the airbrushed celebrity photo. More than just the person advertising a product on TV. We see…and then we can write about..humanity.
Encourage your children to write. See if their school offers a creative writing class or has an after school club for creative writing. Have them join the school newspaper or yearbook committee. Find a local young writer’s group like the one sponsored by the Florida Writers Association. And if they’re interested in writing, buy them a book on writing instead of a video game for their birthday. Encourage them to submit to writing contests. Local papers often have them for kids. They could even win scholarship money! Then…most importantly…READ what they write! Provide positive criticism and reinforcement. Even old writers like me know that when you write more, you get better! So encourage them to keep trying until that novel is published!