To celebrate National Stationery Week we have asked some top children's authors to tell us what writing means to them. First up we have Fleur Hitchcock, whose titles include the very popular Shrunk!
I’m in a school in South London, it’s hot. The sun’s
streaming through the windows. The children are restless.
‘Who here likes writing?’ I ask the class of 9 year olds.
Some of them put their hands up.
‘Is there anyone here who doesn’t like writing?’
There’s some shuffling, a glance or two at the teacher.
‘It’s ok to not like writing,’ I say.
‘I hate all the rules,’ says a child, his face twisted to
the side, eyeing his teacher. ‘It’s too much work.’
The rest nod in agreement and they chip in with their complaints: rules, corrections, punctuation, spelling. ‘Writing’s hard work,’ they conclude.
As a children’s writer, I write both for children and with children. For the last 14 months I’ve worked alongside Hot Key Books on an interactive writing project called The Story Adventure. The aim was to write a sequel to my book SHRUNK! using the same characters and setting, but getting the children to invent the plot the details and the challenges. We wanted to give them ownership of the book, so that they felt listened to.
We had no idea what to expect, but we thought the children would keep their ideas to a minimum, just giving us the bare bones. Gradually we found that they liked nothing better than writing a whole string of dialogue or a long and
complicated piece of description and the suggestion strings grew and grew.
The site changed from something where they just gave ideas for me to write them a book, into something much more complex. It became a place where they felt safe to write practically anything.
They posted poems and short stories, began their own writing game threads, drew maps and pictures, and wrote reams. They commented on each other’s work – never correcting the form, only refining the content, running with each other’s ideas for page after page.
What we discovered is something we already knew from our own childhoods, that when children are left to their own devices, they love to write. They really enjoy it if they’re able to do it without being knocked back by rules and regulations.
Personally, if I had someone hanging over my shoulder correcting my adverbials I’d probably crawl off and hide away dropping the pen back on the table as I went.
I understand that grammar’s important, even if I don’t understand how it works, but the danger of teaching anybody to write “properly” is that we kill their desire to do it. When it’s a hobby it’s fun, when it’s homework or in the classroom it can lose its charm, not for every child but for many, especially the less able.
Which is why we need to give them space to write, unhindered. I run lots of workshops where at the beginning some children tell me they don’t like writing, but, because I don’t care how messy their handwriting is, or if they draw the words instead of forming the letters, they often find that by the end, they actually love it. They are often the same children that ask for more and more and can they do it again please?