Douglas Adams said: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” It’s one of my favourite quotes about writing. Another comes from Margaret Attwood: “A word after a word after a word is power.” Too many children find writing a chore and too few write (or read) for pleasure. That’s why encouraging creative writing is important, and so it’s great that the BBC’s 500 Words creative-writing challenge for children is coming back after a three-year hiatus. The BBC is also asking for volunteer judges. Many people worry that an obsession with teaching children the ‘mechanics’ of language takes all the enjoyment out of reading and writing and stifles creativity. Our goal should be to make reading and writing fun, to see literacy as a way of enabling each child to express themselves imaginatively and of igniting their creative spark.
500 Words is back in September. The announcement was made, appropriately enough, on World Book Day last week. The competition was first launched by Chris Evans for the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show in 2011 and continued by Zoe Ball until 2020. In that time, more than one million stories written by children were submitted.
It is being revived on BBC One’s Breakfast programme. The grand final, which will feature the 50 best entries from two different age categories – children aged five to seven, and eight to 11 – will take place on World Book Day 2024.
A panel of judges, including Charlie Higson, who is the author of the Young Bond novels, the former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman and Sir Lenny Henry, will look at the best 50 stories. Long before that final stage, there will be thousands of entries to sift through, and the BBC is looking for teachers, teaching assistants, librarians and SEN staff – whether in post, in training or retired – to be first-round judges.
Click here to find out more and register your interest.
Have fun with it; there are no rules and what we really want is to see inside those kids’ minds and get their personalities through the stories. And I think anyone judging it is going to have huge fun seeing what stories these kids are telling.Charlie Higson, speaking on BBC Breakfast
There is a lot of online support for parents and others looking to engage children in creative writing. For example, the website Oxford Owl for Home, which was created by Oxford University Press and supports parents and carers with learning at home, has plenty of advice and resources, including:
In our blog Igniting children’s creative spark and promoting literacy we wrote:
Writing isn’t just functional — an essential skill that we need to fill out forms and text our friends. Nor do we just need to know the ‘rules’ of writing so that we can communicate accurately with others without being misunderstood. Good writing is a thing of beauty, capable of engaging and inspiring both reader and writer. It is empowering, allowing us to articulate ideas, express emotions or create whole worlds of the imagination.
In our blog Why we must do more to promote reading for pleasure we wrote:
Proficiency in writing, oracy, numeracy and especially in reading is perhaps more important than ever in this digital age. Put simply, reading transforms lives — for people of all ages. The benefits of reading are incalculable. It increases educational attainment. It broadens horizons. It promotes tolerance and understanding across cultures. It develops creativity and the imagination. It boosts mental health and wellbeing. The list is endless.