Why Creative Writing is Magic For Kids

The Universe According To Me
How Creative Writing Cracks the Minds and Worlds of Kids Wide Open
By Christian Nardi

It all started a couple of years ago with an email from Nikki Loftin’s publicist asking if Bee Hive would be interested in the middle-grade author extraordinaire doing a creative writing workshop at the store. “Of course!” was the only optional answer. Thankfully. Because that workshop opened up a whole new world – not just to the fourteen boys and girls that showed up that day – but to Bee Hive welcoming a different kind of creative awesomeness into the store, that since then, has become a permanent part of the Bee Hive culture. We’ve had tales of super power-induced pets, time travel adventures, magical neighbors, food that flies, invisible friends – the list goes on – waft from kids’ imagination and into the walls and floor boards of the store. I think that with all the magic that has been conjured up in the last two years – Bee Hive is officially an enchanted cottage.

So, clearly, in our eyes, a kids’ book store and kids writing go hand in hand. But take that part away. Take Bee Hive out of the equation and, really, with everything else kids have going on these days – what’s the big deal about writing? Why add another thing to their busy lives?

There are actually a few really great reasons:

The first big one is imagination. Writing is like play-time for the brain. Coming up with alternate universes, characters, and whatever magic or fantasy they are focusing on, allows kids to think outside the box. It gives them an outlet for all the cool creative energy bubbling inside their heads. My 8-year-old daughter has written stories about a coin family, her brother as a fox (wearing purple socks), and Super Germ. This is stuff that needs to be encouraged before it becomes stifled by other things. It is pure, sweet, greatness.

Another one is the simple fact that creative writing develops reading, writing, and learning skills. Writing makes kids greedy for words. They start wanting to know how the dictionary works. And what’s a thesaurus? And how do you spell this? And can I use this word here? It is learning in its most organic form. And as J.K. Rowling once said, “I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I’m in good company there.” Reading is essential to writing.

By creating something unique, writing develops self-confidence and identity. Not only do kids learn about themselves but they see what they are capable of creating. “There’s really something magical about writing a full page of text at this age!” says Rachel Miller-Howard, an independent educator and Bee Hive’s first resident writing instructor. The more they do, the more they want to do. “I always appreciated the kids’ enthusiasm about sharing work,” says Rachel. And this just grows as their confidence does.

Creative writing teaches empathy. When kids create characters, they have to put themselves in their shoes. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? It helps them see that the world is different when seen through eyes other than their own.

And, a super important thing to consider, is that writing is an emotional outlet. It can be weird and scary to be a kid, and writing is an opportunity to express certain thoughts and ideas in a safe way. Maybe they create a character that lives out emotions that they are feeling. Or situations that they’ve experienced and are confusing. “In one workshop, we started working with an image of an abandoned house that sparked conversation. It was hugely symbolic and provoked emotions of being lonely, scared, and sad. It really resonated with the kids,” explains Krista Isaksen, Bee Hive’s current resident creative writing instructor. Writing is an amazing tool for sorting out and processing big things.

Having said all this, which is all really important – the bottom line is, its fun. It’s fun to play around in a world that you create. To be the master of your own universe. To be caught up in a reality that you are in control of – when in your other reality, you’re not so much so. To be free to make your characters blue; or dogs and pigs best friends; or parents that are invisible; or cars that run on grape juice. This is awesome stuff! “I’ve watched kids who thought they hated writing start producing stories, graphic novels, and illustrations in their own free time,” says Nikki Loftin, “Why? Writing can be fun, and powerful, and magical. I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour or two than learning how to use your words as magic wands!”

How can you encourage your kids to write? Really all it takes is a little creativity on your part. At Bee Hive, we love combining writing with visual projects. “I really enjoy doing activities that combine text and pictures. I think that really resonates with people that age, and generates different ideas than text alone,” says Rachel. “It’s like their heads are full of stories, but they’ve only got the basic writing tools down, so including illustration affords a broader opportunity to express themselves.”

Another easy thing to do is to watch for things in books that either you are reading together or they are reading on their own that is really making an impression on your kids. For instance, on a recent road trip, we listened to the audio version of The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, which has a lot of dialogue. Afterwards, my son was going around finishing people’s sentences with – “said, mommy”. Or, “said, Olive”. Or if he just said something, he’d tag it with, “said, Cash” (Annoying? Nooooo!) He really tuned into that structure. He’s only five, so he isn’t writing manifestos, yet. But my daughter went and created a story using the dialogue format. Or maybe your child really got into the butt-kicking princess character in The Princess In Black, you can suggest that she write a story with her own butt-kicking character – nothing wrong with giving your kids writing ideas and empowering them along the way. Or maybe your kids are enamored with time travel or animals with human qualities. Encourage them to create their own stories using these elements, perhaps using a visual aspect to get them going.

Or, of course there are always workshops. “Writing workshops help bring that feeling of wonder and mastery to young writers and readers, showing them the way to create their own Narnias, or Hogwarts, or Terabithias,” says Nikki. Workshops are also important for community building. Helping kids find their tribe. “One of the kids at a workshop declared to the other students, ‘You are so weird in the best way’. Meaning they were just like her,” says Krista. At Bee Hive, we are committed to offering regular writing workshops with topics that engage and inspire kids based on different genres of literature. The classes are small, no pressure, interactive, with the simple goal that kids have fun. And leave wanting to keep writing. And they take place in an enchanted cottage. Magic – guaranteed!

(This story appears in the Summer edition of Tumbleweeds)

Wednesday May 3, 2016