Igniting children’s creative spark and promoting literacy

As you might expect, there is no shortage of great quotes about writing. There’s funny: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” (Douglas Adams) There’s the tortured genius, suffering for their art: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” (Ernest Hemingway) As a toe-in-the-water writer myself, this from Stephen King resonates: “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” But for me it’s Philip Pullman who best sums up why writing is important: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” That’s why it is disappointing that the National Literacy Trust says that children’s attitudes towards writing “have declined over the past few years”, with only 17% of children saying that they write something at least once a day that isn’t for school.

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. And it is enriching: in a similar way to music, it “stimulates our spiritual and cultural faculties, transporting us to other times and places, and perhaps even to other dimensions.”

In his book The Sense of Style the cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker, himself a wonderful writer, says this:

An aspiring writer could be forgiven for thinking that learning to write is like negotiating an obstacle course in boot camp, with a sergeant barking at you for every errant footfall. Why not think of it instead as a form of pleasurable mastery, like cookery or photography? Perfecting the craft is a lifelong calling, and mistakes are part of the game. Though the quest for improvement may be informed by lessons and honed by practice, it must first be kindled by a delight in the best work of the masters and a desire to approach their excellence.

Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style, Chapter 1

All well and good, but try telling that to the many children who find writing (and reading) a chore not a pleasure. The National Literacy Trust does an annual survey of children and young people’s writing. The latest survey on its website is for the year 2017–2018. Among its findings were (percentages rounded up):

  • 51% saying that they either only enjoy writing a bit or not at all
  • 17% saying that they write something that isn’t for school at least once a day
  • 42% agreeing that writing is fun, and 34% agreeing that writing is cool
  • 40% saying that they only write when they have to

The National Literacy Trust found that one in six children (roughly 17%) engage in online fiction writing at least once a month and also said that daily writing levels “have been falling since 2014, and in 2017–18 we recorded the lowest levels of daily writing since we began asking this question in 2010.”

The good news for parents is that there is no shortage of online advice and support to help them get their child writing.

Here’s one, from the website Oxford Owl, a website from Oxford University Press.

Or try this article: How to plan a story: Writing with kids.

In her blog Writing revival Neena Mathew discusses reasons why writing has taken “a backseat” and the pros and cons of technology, as well as offering some suggestions of her own about how we can encourage our children to get writing.

Writing is a vital skill and central to LBL’s Communication theme. Neena’s message, from across the globe, about encouraging children to write in imaginative and open-ended ways, unencumbered by the demands of prescriptive learning that is typical of many formal curriculums and so often stifles children’s creativity and motivation to learn, is especially relevant.

If you too are passionate about igniting children’s creative spark and promoting literacy through free, imaginative and open-ended writing, please get in contact and add your voice, from whatever corner of the planet you inhabit.

Michael Mac, creator of Life-Based Learning

We recently highlighted another article by Neena in our blog We must do more to help our children eat healthily, says LBL Changemaker. Neena is one of our Changemakers, someone who is actively involved in working at the cutting edge of children’s learning and development, someone whose aims, interests and values resonate with those of Life-Based Learning.

Are you a changemaker? Are you passionate about wanting to build a better future for our children? Why not contribute a ‘guest’ blogpost to our website, setting out your ideas on the changes that you would like to see? We would love to hear from you.

Image at the head of this article by Dmitriy Gutarev from Pixabay.

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