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A matter of write or wrong

It seems kids don’t hate maths anymore. Now they hate … English!

Abby with puppy jazzy

Abby with puppy Jazzy

A recent chat with a friend’s daughter, Abby, helped me understand. Abby told me that she hates English because she hates writing. I’ve heard this before. But why? Trying to get to the bottom of it, I ask Abby, ‘But you like reading right?’ Oh yes! What’s your favourite book? Well … a small shy tilt of the head …well that would be Smooch & Rose. My heart melts. Abby likes my book. She’s read it three times. She wants to be a wildlife carer when she grows up (like Rose). There’s no second option. Wildlife carer or nothing. She makes me smile. Other favourite reading titles include the National Geographic for Kids magazine which comes out every month, and of course, other animal books. Her favourite animal is the cheetah, because it is the fastest runner in the world. She’d like to go to Africa to see one in the wild one day.

So why do you hate writing Abby?

A pause. I prefer to draw, she says. Here’s the picture I’m drawing at the moment. Abby shows me a picture of a girl with stars in her hair. She’s gorgeous, wouldn’t you like to write about her? A tiny shake of the head. But say you did decide to write about this girl, and she had the job of telling all the kids in the Australia how to help koalas, what would you write? Oh, that’s easy. I would write that people should car pool to save carbon emissions, and people should drive more carefully at night so they don’t knock koalas over. They should definitely lock their dogs up at night … a pause while Jazzie, the 6 month old family puppy breaks inside and nibbles our plate of bikkies … and they should tell everyone how precious our koalas are.

Great! I say. There you go, you could easily write all that! Abby smiles and doesn’t look convinced. I think I’ve cracked the problem. Our kids are getting stage fright. They worry what they have to say might not be polished enough or exciting enough, so they get scared and resist putting words down on paper. After all, their world is full of amazing entertainment. What on earth could they possibly say of interest to anyone?

Easier to write nothing.

CheetahSo how can we help retrieve the love of writing? I think the answer is to take away the pressure. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to the imagination. Enid Blyton didn’t have to worry about Naplan narratives. Try writing a story out loud. No pens to paper, just starting big, letting our imaginations run wild. Wild like an African cheetah. It seems that free of all the restraints of actually writing, anyone can make a narrative sing. It’s about being brave enough to think big, without the fear of falling. And remembering the big five: the who, what, where, when and how of storytelling,

By the way, Abby’s favourite colour is yellow and she loves ice-cream.

About Samantha Wheeler

Australian Children's Writer.

3 responses »

  1. Brilliant, Sam! I couldn’t agree more. Everyone has a story to tell! Let’s encourage the love of telling them in our kids instead of trying to make their stories “right”. You can learn to swim with formal lessons, but you can also learn to swim by simply spending time in the water. Playing, watching and experimenting.

    Reply
  2. Lovely article Sam. I think we need to start a 60’s style free writing movement. It’s such a shame something as elementary as self expression – so much of life for that matter – can be overshadowed and perhaps smothered by ‘stage fright’ as you say, Sam. Here’s to peace, love and free writing, man!

    Reply

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