The stories that we read, wrote and heard as children shaped the memories of our childhood. Characters that we loved, fantasy worlds we imagined and pictures we created all form our own personal histories of growing up. It’s through this creativity that children start to express themselves, learn how to articulate their opinions and develop personal confidence.
Though impressive for incorporating multiple languages,
Hong Kong’s education system often lacks creative guidance for our children. English lessons frequently focus on mastering the complexities of grammar, rather than encouraging a breadth
of reading and creative writing. In addition, children’s busy schedules and the easy distractions of TV and computers leave less time for imaginary play. As tutors, we often notice in our Hong Kong students a willingness to sit and listen attentively, but a reluctance to engage creatively and think freely. As a result, we spend a lot of time building students’ confidence to approach questions differently and to enjoy the challenge of the grey areas, not just to look at the black and white.
It’s never too early to encourage the development of little writers and thinkers. As award-winning children’s author Elizabeth Laird says, “Read, read, read, write, write, write”. Children should be read to from just a few months old, in the readers’ arms or close by. Even if they cannot yet understand the story or characters, listening to the cadence of a parent’s voice and the child’s physical proximity to the reader is enormously beneficial in helping children in their language development. Not only does it expose them to a range of vocabulary and phrasing, but it also creates an awareness of narrative sequencing – important skills for developing both their talking and writing.
Students who have been read to from a young age have better comprehension skills, a wider vocabulary, more accurate grammar and much greater creativity in their own story writing. Discuss the books with your children while you read them, talk about your favourite characters and think about other adventures these characters might get up to. This should also create a lifelong love of reading and language.
Once a reader, your child will naturally be acquiring the tools to become a writer too. A great way to develop this at home is to encourage your children to keep a daily journal, writing down things that happen to them and around them and the way that they feel. Perhaps encourage them to illustrate the entries. Then, starting at a young age with sequencing exercises to familiarise children with plot structure, help them build towards writing full stories with a carefully structured and developed beginning, middle and end. A fun starter exercise is to give your child a set of sequencing picture cards and ask them to arrange them into an order that matches a story they will narrate to you as they sort through them. Just as you would encourage your child to read many different forms of writing, so encourage them to write widely as well. From recipes to poems and from adventure stories to song lyrics, they should have fun with finding their voice. Ask children to read their stories aloud to you to see how they sound – a great way to develop their performance skills as well.
As they grow
One of the difficulties that we see older students facing, particularly when it comes to university, is an inability to form reasoned arguments from independent thought. Creative writing from a young age helps to prevent these problems; the impact is broader than simply learning how to write stories. It teaches you how to write well across all disciplines, to understand the value of structure and to think carefully before committing pen to paper. These are essential attributes when it comes to essay-writing and developing a higher level of academic acumen.
Thinking and writing creatively is not just important for artistically
leaning children. Discussion, debate and structured thought throughout childhood and adolescence lead to constructive university tutorials, and then to effective teamwork and business leadership in adulthood. Whether your child becomes an economist, entrepreneur or author, these skills developed in childhood will last a lifetime.
If your child is more of a science whiz than a bookworm, getting him/her to set aside the test tubes and pick up a pen needn’t be a challenge. Creative writing should always be fun and tailored to your child’s specific interests. Young scientists might like to research a topic and try writing their own encyclopaedia entry. Sports fans might like to imagine an interview with their favourite football player. TV addicts could write a review of the latest film or even try their hand at writing their own script. As JK Rowling commented in a BBC interview, “Write what you know: your own interests,
feelings, beliefs, friends, family and even pets will be your raw materials when you start writing.” Writing what they know and love will help children learn to love writing itself and show parents their unique view of the world.
As your child grows, put together a scrapbook of their writing and this will reflect the changes in their interests and goals. Children love to see their own progression and compare their ability now with what they have written in the past. Our students often flick back through their writings and exclaim, “Wow! Look what I wrote back then and wasn’t my handwriting funny!” Competing with their younger selves in this way continually inspires children to become more accomplished writers. Not only does their handwriting change over time but so does their writing: they naturally progress from writing simple descriptions to more developed pieces about their hopes, fears, opinions and interests.
A personal anthology that captures their childhood in a way that adult memories miss is something that your children will always treasure. The skills that they acquire in creating this anthology will give them an inquiring mind and writing aptitude – the firmest foundation for lifelong learning.
Top 10 tips to inspire creative writing
• Every author agrees, key to becoming a budding writer is to read, read, read. Take regular trips to the library or bookshop with your children and encourage them to choose a wide range of reading material.
• Discuss the books with your children, ask them to summarise the story for you and give you their opinion. Writing book reports is a great discipline too.
• Children are never too young to start thinking creatively. Before they are able to write their own stories, encourage them to structure simple three-sentence stories that show what happened first, next, then last, and dictate them to you to write down. Another fun exercise for pre-schoolers is to have them draw a picture and then tell you a story to accompany it.
• Keeping a daily journal is a great way for children to practise writing. For younger children diary entries can be a picture with a few words. As children get older they should move into writing full sentences and working towards writing a page a day.
• Help your children make, write and illustrate their own mini-books as a fun exercise to do together. They can build up a personal library and share them with their friends or siblings.
• Always encourage your children to plan their story before they begin writing. You can help them with the structure, and then let them get creative.
• Give lots of praise and encouragement – story writing should be fun for your child. Although correct grammar and spelling are important, don’t cover their stories in red pen, which can be discouraging.
• Try setting a timer and having a story writing race with your child – ten minutes for each of you to create a tale about fairies or vampires, for example.
• In the car, play a game where you build a story out loud together. Saying one sentence each in turn can create hilarious results.
• Consider hiring a tutor who could structure a bespoke creative writing programme for your child, helping them with everything from descriptive writing to story structuring, and tying together reading, comprehension, discussion and writing.
Eleanor Smallwood and Olivia Hungerford are the managing directors of British Tutors Ltd, a company which brings the highest standard of academic tuition from the UK to Hong Kong. Visit www.britishtutors.com for more information.