For the past two weeks I had the pleasure of working with a group of 12 young writers, ages six to thirteen (and a terrific co-instructor), in a summer camp setting. It was a writing camp based on the model of the National Writing Project summer institute for educators. I’ve been involved with the National Writing Project in various capacities for several years now, and I have learned so much as a result.
Here are a few of my observations from our ten day summer writing program:
Kids love to create. They create characters, stories, poems, messes, paintings, collages, leaf rubbings, comics, and memories with gusto and conviction. Yes, they put thought into those things (well, maybe not the messes) but they don’t get paralyzed. When they’re left to their own devices and not overly constrained they tend to just “go for it.” Mistakes be damned!
Kids are compassionate. When they shared their work, which was daily, it was met with respect and understanding that not all authors are at the same level of development, and not all pieces are polished as others. They met each other where they were, and offered respectful feedback to help each other develop as writers. Of course our six year old and thirteen year old writers were producing different kinds of work, but each was validated and appreciated by the others.
Kids need to move. Not just out of their seats, but out of the same four walls. We did a “found writing” scavenger hunt, a nature walk, a writing mini-marathon, and more on the lovely college campus that hosted us. We wrote at Starbucks on campus, we sprawled across the floor of the air-conditioned library, and we found a shaded hide-away beneath a grand staircase, shielded by pomegranate trees.
Kids are open. Each day they sat in a new spot, with different neighbors. Each day they sat where their name tag was set up, just like in an adult writing project. There was no complaining about wanting to sit with a friend. We moved around enough and had enough unstructured time that they knew they would spend time with their besties. They were also open to the activities and exercises we did with them. Our poets wrote narratives, our journalists wrote poetry, and everyone tried their hand at writing collaborative comics.
Kids are determined. Some of the kids came in with writing projects they had already begun, and they continued working on them throughout the camp, during our free writing time. Others weren’t sure what they wanted to work on, but once a particular idea took hold, they ran with it. They focused on their work and made it the best they could. Free writing time was held sacred, and there was no goofing off or fooling around, these kids were writers on a mission.
We utilized music, art, videos (both inspirational and comic), games, guest speakers, and engaging activities to help these writers tap into their potential, and you know what? They loved it. What’s more, they did some really terrific writing. I wish we had more time and flexibility in the traditional school day to allow for an approach more like this one. I think that kids would rise to the challenge and student writing would be improved, as would student attitudes toward writing.