Not bad for a fat girl

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Putting the Joy in Writing Education

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.


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One More Week

welcomebackI have one week left of summer vacation before I head back to school for meetings and planning and classroom setup. One week left to get to the doctor and the dentist. One week left to attend to all the things I was going to do over the summer, but didn’t. One short week.

Maybe instead of focusing on what didn’t get done I should instead take a look at what I have accomplished.


First of all, I managed to have a wonderful vacation that really felt like two vacations, since I was in two separate locations. I spent a good amount of time with my family and I got to see several friends. I walked the beach, I ate s’mores, and I swam in several different pools. I laughed until my cheeks hurt and I explored the area where the Pilgrims landed in the new world. I played mini-golf and I went to the movies and I drank wine and ate salsa with jicima and blueberries. I listened to live music and ate from a food truck and buried my toes in the sand. I saw where the Kennedy’s played football on the lawn and I ate peanut butter cup pancakes and I watched fireworks from the beach. I showed my son my university and goofed off with him in a way that just isn’t possible at home. Maybe that was enough. Maybe I didn’t have to do anything else, but I did.


AibKpyGETI took care of my car, which was an unpleasant task, but what can I do? I need a car. I waited out the air conditioner’s coy way of fooling the repair guys, and restored some cool to our indoor space. I cleared out some items that we no longer need or love and donated them to charity. I also started cooking a little bit more, and began relying on going out a little bit less. Of course that means more trips to the grocery store, more meal prep, and more cleaning up. Oh, and laundry. I must have washed a zillion loads of laundry (that’s a lie… I’m actually boycotting laundry because I’m simply not in the mood for it).

Social Butterfly

If you know me in person and you choked on this heading I apologize. Let me clarify: I was a social butterfly to my way of thinking. I went to a baseball game with my son, I went to a painting party with a couple of friends, and I had a few lunches with friends. It all counts!


I read quite a bit this summer. Some of the books I loved, others I was less enthusiastic about, but I felt good about reading. In reverse order, I read:

The Outsiders by SE Hinton

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

A Dog’s Purpose by W Bruce Cameron

The Noticer by Andy Andrews

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The bolded titles were the ones that really stood out. They were the ones I most hated to put down and the ones that gave me the most to puzzle over. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the others. I did. In fact I enjoyed them all.


Oh yes, I did four weeks of teaching youth, I can’t forget about that. It was an enjoyable four weeks, and I would definitely do it again, should the opportunity arise. Spending my mornings with kids who enjoy creating stories and narratives is a pleasure. Helping them to refine their ideas and turn them into words on a page is remarkable. Being involved in that story telling process is quite an honor.


I admit it, I slept. I slept in, I took naps, and I went to bed when I felt tired. My body thanks me, but I’m a little bit worried about going back to work. No more nap time!

I’m okay with going back to work. A new school year is always exciting for me. I love meeting my new students and helping them to form a cohesive community of learners. We become a family of sorts, and that’s a beautiful thing. I also love seeing my former students, a few months older, a summer wiser, as they enter the fifth grade. The change in some of them is truly remarkable, and it’s so rewarding to watch those kids as they mature.

Yes, I’m about ready to go back, but before I do I’m going to enjoy one last week of r & r, there’s no need to rush it.


One More Day

350-628200-847__1-1Nineteen down, one to go. Days of summer work, that is. Not that it’s difficult work. It isn’t. In fact, it’s very rewarding work that come fairly easily to me, especially since I’m part of a terrific team.

We’ve been running a writing camp for kids at our local university. I did it last summer too, and enjoyed it. It’s fun to be with kids, teaching, in an environment where the strongest “discipline” that you ever dole out is a raised eyebrow, and the kids are all there because they want to be. Oh, and there’s no grading, no worry about common core, and no tests. Cool, huh? The kids think so. I have to agree.

Still, the alarm clock goes off each morning, and there’s a commute to deal with, made longer by summer construction (which is absurd where I live – do it during the cooler months, people!). Then there’s the trek from the parking lot to campus and back. Not so bad in the morning, but grueling in the afternoon heat. beach_cape_cod-thumbAll in all, not a bad gig, but I’m looking forward to a few weeks of NO obligations. What will I do? Read. Write. Sleep. Swim. Visit family and friends. The usual. I can’t wait!

I’m looking forward to days where the biggest decisions I make involve which flavor of fudge to sample and which bathing suit to wear. Should I read another chapter now or wait until tomorrow morning? Do I want to cool off in the ocean or in the pool? It’s a rough life, but someone has to do it. This time, it’s going to be me. One more day. I know it’s going to be a good one.