“Exploding with Happiness”: The Honesty in Children’s Writing and the Power it Provides

Children have an uncanny ability to experience the world with wonder and often articulate that wonder in fascinating ways. Writing allows children to channel that wonder, even build on that wonder, and share it with others. As such, a colleague and I developed Writers Experience (WE), weeklong summer writing workshops for children in grades 1-5.  At WE, writers learn to be independent, appreciate the writing process, collaborate with other writers, and receive dedicated attention from seasoned teachers. WE writers leave with a newfound appreciation and confidence in their ability to write because they know they have important things to say, as well as the tools and strategies necessary to develop and share their ideas with others.

We had our first two WE sessions of 2012 last week and what a joy it was. WE prides itself on recognizing and developing the stories within each child.  And these two sessions were no different. Within a fun, supportive, and engaging environment the writers felt safe to take risks and make sense of their thoughts and ideas.

How invigorating it was when the kids were excited about writing and expressing themselves and their imaginations.  We had many parents tell us their children had never enjoyed writing and were amazed at how often and freely their children were writing at home during the workshop.  One child brought his writers notebook to the zoo and wrote descriptions of all the animals he saw using his senses and keen observations.  Another child had his notebook at breakfast and was working on a fantasy story he began in class the previous day.  Students wrote about real life events, descriptive poems, as well as developed fantasy and adventure stories.  We never dictate the topic or genre, but rather support students’ development of ideas.  We use picture books and our own writing as inspiration and as models for students’ writing. The story I’d like to share with you in this blog stood out to me because of its honesty and voice. Ian, who had just finished first grade wrote the piece.  The first night of WE Ian’s brother fell and cut his head.  Ian was scared and confused but used writing as a way to help him makes sense of what had happened.

Will’s Hurt Head by Ian

On a boring summer afternoon, I was playing downstairs, when suddenly I heard my brother Will scream. 

I ran upstairs as fast as a fire bolt.  What I saw was as scary as a scary movie.  Mom was with Will and he had a cut over his eye that was as long as a dagger.  I was so worried.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I was shivering so much.

I could tell in my head that mom was scared too. “Is Will going to be okay?” I asked myself. 

Mom brought Will to the hospital. I had to stay at grandma and grandpa’s house.  Fortunately, the doctor gave him stitches to close up his big gash. 

When I saw Will the next morning I exploded with happiness. Will was Okay!!!

My two favorite parts in this story are, “I could tell in my head that mom was scared too.” and “When I saw Will the next morning I exploded with happiness. Will was Okay!!!”  The first, because it shows how intuitive young children are about how adults around them are feeling, and the second because of how the phrase “exploded with happiness” shows the release of the tension he had been feeling the previous night.

While there were many instances when the students in WE grew, expressed themselves, and used craft (e.g. repetition, interior monologue, show not tell, vivid verbs) in their writing to support their point I just had to share the above story because of, as I stated before, the honesty.

I also had to share this story, because of how the writing helped Ian deal with and come to grips with a scary incident.  When students know that writing can be a way to help them make sense of their world and come to terms with things they don’t yet understand they have power.  And with that power they can do wonderful things.

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