Let’s Mandate Fun

June 7, 2013 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, teaching | By

Creating something from nothing. Marjorie Frank calls it “romance.” Naomi Kinsman Downing calls it “play.” Some call it “foreplay.” No matter what you call it, it’s an essential start to the writing process.

One must get one’s creative juices flowing, so to speak. But I’ll stick with the PG version: Fun. Writing starts with fun. If you’re not having it, most likely you’re staring at a blank page or computer screen.

A haiku written by a fourth grade class, based on a scribble drawing.

A haiku written by a fourth grade class, based on a scribble drawing.

The same goes for teaching a writing class. Kids can’t write if they are not having fun. If the kids aren’t having fun, you’ve got a class full of kids ripping up paper, playing light sabers with pencils, crawling under desks, or using up all the anti-bacterial gel.

In short, kids will make their own fun. And it won’t be fun for you.

Fun is paramount. If I could, I’d make fun mandatory. For teachers. Forget the kids, man. If we’re having fun, so are they.

Naomi Kinsman Downing, Founder and Creative Director of Society of Young Inklings, articulates it this way.

“The freedom associated with letting go, being silly, breaking patterns, is the very thing most likely to bring new ideas and insight. Play isn’t trivial. It’s vital.”

She’s right. How often have you been unable to solve a problem as you sit for hours at your computer? Miraculously, when you release your mind from it – sew, garden, shower, feed the kittens ­– a brand new idea may come.

Play frees. We need fun to create. The first book I bought about writing was called “If You’re Trying to Teach Kids How to Write You Gotta Have This Book.” It was written by Marjorie Frank and published in 1979. I kept it on my desk when I began teaching over twenty years ago. I still have it on my desk now.

In her chapter titled “Romance,” Frank say this:

“Experiences – with self, with others, with literature, with arts, are the catalysts that ignite expression…PLEASE, don’t ask kids to write without giving them some input!…SOMETHING romantic needs to proceed the writing assignment: some happening that jars loose the poetry inside their heads and sets free a flow of new ideas.”

As a teacher, mostly I can figure out what will be fun for kids. Usually its what’s fun for me: playing a silly game, reading a book, making detailed observations of art or life, experiencing art, or sharing interesting information. Today we drew silly pictures – starting with a scribble – then wrote haikus together. We had fun trying to make sense of our pictures, within the syllable count of haiku.

When an activity is no longer fun, sometimes a kid will ask, “Can we just go write?”

I’ve never said, “No,” to that question. Sometimes, writing is more fun than a game, or a story, or whatever else I’ve brought for the day. Sometimes, that question means the game, or story, or photo did its job.

Each writing session is a chance for joy. If you’re not having fun while you’re teaching writing, stop. Do something that sounds fun. To you. Its vital.

It should be mandatory.

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