Wednesday, July 14, 2010

YA author Kathi Wallace, guest blogging

Help me welcome Kathi Wallace.  She's our guest blogger.  My future aim is to entice authors of all genres to share their love of writing with you. Kathi writes for young adults, one of the hottest markets going. Please visit Kathi's website and check out her books.



Teaching Children to Write Starts with Teaching Them Story-Telling

I really like kids. I enjoy the sound of their voices when they are playing. I love to hear their giggles and whispers but watching them discover something for the first time is just sheer joy. Turning my joy in children into a profession was a natural evolution and I spent twenty years of my working life as an early childhood educator.

One of the things I have always tried to share with children was my love of books, having been introduced to books at an early age myself. I can still remember the patience of my grandmother as she would agree to read me 'Just one more, please, Mamo!'.

When I learned to read myself, I devoured everything I could get my hands on and at times, my desires outstripped my abilities; I read Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight when I was seven and not surprisingly, didn't like it at all. It wasn't until ten years had passed and my father gave me an omnibus of McCaffrey’s work that I realized - Wow! Needless to say, after that I gobbled everything of hers I could get my hands on.

It only seemed right to share this passion for reading with kids, not only my own, but the ones I dealt with on a day-to-day basis in my daycare center. Reading and telling stories were one of the day's highlights, not only for the kids but for myself and the staff as well.

As an educator, mother and writer, I feel very strongly about encouraging children to share their creativity and a great way to do this is through story-telling.

Children get validation when they are listened to; being listened to increases their sense of self and their importance in the scheme of things. There is no better way to get kids talking and others listening than to have them tell or write stories. Telling stories increases vocabulary and expands a child's ability to imagine and there is no better gift to give a developing mind.

When is a child ready to make up their own stories? When they can listen to a story, then repeat back some of the main points of that story, they are ready. I've had kids as young as three do this, but bear in mind that not all kids develop at the same rate and not all children listen in the same manner. Some kids process while they move, so that tapping or rolling around they're doing doesn't necessarily mean they aren't hearing the story, which is why they need to be asked what they've just heard.

One good way to get your child started telling their own stories is to first tell a few yourself. Sometimes kids don't really understand what telling stories is all about – and I totally get that. Understanding that a story is something created out of nothing can be a logical leap and one way I have helped children cross that first mental hurdle was to ask them to give me a prompt, modeling always being the best way to teach a skill.

"What would you like to hear about today?" I would ask. "Help me decide what to tell a story about." This lets the child know that you aren't just repeating something you've read or heard about, you are actually creating something. After a few times of this - the child giving you a topic and you making up a crazy little story from that topic - the light bulb turns on and the child is ready to try for themselves.

Don't expect too much at first – very young story tellers usually have very short stories, sometimes only a sentence or two. Just nod and repeat back to them what you've heard and if another child is present, include them as well. "Did you like that story as much as I did?" Eventually, the stories these children tell will become longer.

After a child is comfortable telling stories, they are ready to take the next step, which is seeing their words on paper. If a child is not yet writing themselves, then just write down their stories for them, making sure to do it as they tell the story. This lets kids get the connection between words that are spoken and the fact that they can have a one-to-one correlation to a written word. Because of this, it's important to write down the story exactly as it is told.

Then read the child's story back to them and watch their pride and excitement in realizing what they've accomplished. Don’t be surprised if your own feelings of joy seem to be even greater than theirs.

Kathi Wallace is the author of Assiniboin Girl, a Young Adult book released by Drollerie Press ( and available from Amazon. She has two more books that will be released shortly. Kathi can found most days on her blog or on Twitter as Kathi430.

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