As the NSW school term begins, and we look down the barrel of potentially weeks and weeks of trying to keep kids engaged with and on top of their school work, I know that many parents are tearing their hair out.
With two high school-aged boys, I’m lucky that the school has pivoted very quickly to online learning and they get their lessons served up to them in regular timetable order. Mostly, they get on with it. But I know that many parents, particularly those with kids in primary school, are needing to be much more hands on. Then, outside of lessons, there are a lot of other hours to fill and parents are wracking their brains for ways to keep kids off screens.
So when the wonderful Australian children’s book author Zanni Louise approached me with this guest post idea, I couldn’t get her to write it fast enough. Because, of course, we both believe that creative writing, in all its many forms, is definitely one of the BEST ways for kids to deal with boredom. In fact, boredom is ALMOST ESSENTIAL to drive the kind of creativity that inspires the best stories. (See this post to find out why.)
Zanni is the author of picture books (Archie and The Bear, Errol, Too Busy Sleeping) and children’s fiction series (The Stardust School Of Dance, Tiggy and The Magic Paintbrush). This month, she released the first two titles in a new picture book series about values, called Human Kind. Here, Zanni Louise gives her top tips for getting your kid writing!
5 ideas to help spark your kid’s love of writing
I’ll be honest, I felt like I was in a pickle for the first few weeks of lockdown, between schooling kids and keeping my writing career alight. But as the weeks pass, our family finds its feet more and more, and isolation is becoming easier. One thing I wanted to really indulge during this time, was not just my own writing life, but my kids’ immersion in writing as well. I know they do some creative writing at school, but at school, writing tasks are often stifled by rules. Back in the day, when I used to talk to kids IRL during school visits, kids would tell me the most important things to remember when writing were capital letters and full stops. Some mentioned sizzling starts, which was impressive! While those things ARE important, what’s really important is your writing confidence. So I thought I’d share a few ideas about ways I try and spark that writing fire.
Admittedly, I was one of those kids that kept reams of journals under my bed. Also admittedly, I will never ever return to them for fear of what I might find. But one thing I will say about journalling is that it’s a wonderful place to indulge your writing. NO ONE ELSE READS IT! So your writing is for you alone. When we write without an audience, our natural writing voice emerges. Before my kids embark on the good old home-schooling schedule, we set the timer and the kids journal for 15 minutes. I join in. We write about anything and everything, and I am continually amazed at how much my 7 year-old and my 10 year-old both delight in this part of our daily schedule. If your kids feel daunted by this, give them a theme or topic, like ‘How are you feeling?’ Or ‘Aviation History in the 20th Century’ … I don’t know. Anything! And invite them to draw, because some reluctant writers find their way in through doodles and illustration.
2. Take them outside
Since you now have 100 per cent control of your kids during the school day (um …) you may as well take this writing lesson outside. In schools, my students come outside with me, and sit in teepees and on rugs and they love it. It’s a change of atmosphere, for one, and something about being outside really sparks creativity. Sit under a tree, or in a hammock – in a treehouse if you have one! I personally am looking for any opportunity to get my kids away from screens during their learning hours, so this is a good one. You could even try a nature safari! Get kids to collect five things from the garden, lay them out, and write a story about what they find.
3. Create characters together
We tried a really fun exercise at the dining room table the other day. The writer was blindfolded, and told the illustrator as many details as they could about their character. The details were wacky and insane, and both kids took delight seeing what the illustrator had created from their description. Once we had a pile of characters on the table, we made mini books and each kid created their own story about one or more of the characters. Heaps of fun.
4. Do an online course!
There is SO much out there right now, with authors clawing back some of the income they’ve lost this semester and next, by not being able to get to schools. Talk with your teachers about what’s available. Booking agents like Children’s Bookshop (NSW), Speakers Ink (Queensland) and Booked Out (Victoria) have a list of amazing Australian authors available for Skype or Zoom visits. Many authors are offering free activities right now as well. Check out Lunch Doodles with Mo for starters.
5. Read with your kids
Well, this is an obvious one. But with so much home time on our hands, there is nothing like huddling around the proverbial fire, reading aloud to each other. I will never forget the author Kate Beasley talking about how she, her mum and sister read Harry Potter and other series aloud to each other all through her childhood and teenage years. No wonder she became such an accomplished author! Now, go forth, spark fires, and maybe even write yourself. After all, we might as well make the best of this!
Zanni Louise is the author of 16 books for kids, from picture books to junior fiction series. Her new books HUMAN KIND help kids talk about values and what’s important to them. Find out more about them here. Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher. If you’d love more writing advice for kids, check out my Creative Writing Quest, a 12-module online course with the Australian Writers’ Centre that takes kids, step-by-step, through the process of creative writing – from idea to producing an edited story. All the course details are here.