Reading books with your children not only opens up the whole world to them, but often kick-starts their creative writing juices. For instance, after reading The Wizard of Oz, ask your children to write a story about a strange world.
When teaching creative writing to children, I’ve found that using maps, props, cards, books they’ve read, or pictures help them organize their thoughts and create characters and a plot. Here are a few activities that will help your child get started.
Map a New World
Draw an island on a crinkled up paper bag to show that the map is old. Add some features like mountains, a volcano, rivers, forests, beaches, caves, villages, swamps, or lakes. This is a great way to give your kids a geography lesson or map making lesson without them knowing! How about adding an old, deserted pirate town?
Islands don’t have to be tropical. There can be rocky islands, jungle islands, and since this is an imaginary story, how about rainbow islands, candy islands, islands made of toys, or any combination of elements you want.
Decide who lives on the island. Maybe it’s a clan of long-lost Vikings, rock people, whacky animals, or talking birds. Maybe there are two groups on each side of the island that don’t get along with each other. This might help you give the land a name.
Finally, start the story by bringing to the island a main character or two. What would happen when two kids get shipwrecked there, or a time-traveler shows up? They need to have a goal as well. It could be as simple as trying to get home, or as grand as finding an object that’s needed to save the world.
Because you have a picture of your island it is easy to create a plot as your characters move from one part of the island to the other. Create a problem to overcome at each feature. For instance, the cave may be full of poisonous snakes or spiders and you have to swing on a rope to get past them. Try reading The Adventures of Grassie Green in the Colored Worlds by Steven Rox.
Imagine Yourself As a Tiny Explorer
First, give your character a reason to explore. Maybe you’re looking for a lost treasure, a rare animal, or a cure for a terrible bug disease. As a tiny creature, everything looks different to you.
Use numbered popsicle sticks and string to map out your journey in the yard. Wind the string around each stick as you place it in the ground. Each stick represents a problem that you must overcome to continue your quest. Maybe you have to think of a way to get over a big rock, cross a puddle on a leaf raft, get away from a hungry bird, ride on a dandelion seed, or in a toy car.
Finally, decide how you solve the final problem and find what you’re looking for. Try reading The Little Squeegy Bug by Bill Martin and Michael Sampson.
How Did the Tiger Get Its Stripes?
These types of stories are called folktales. They have historically explained things. Have your child draw a picture or make a clay figure of his favorite animal. Make a list of the characteristics that make this animal unusual or different.
Write a story that explains how the animal got a particular trait — how a tiger gets his stripes, how an elephant got large ears, why an eagle has a white head, or how a giraffe got a long neck. For instance, start the story about elephants when they had tiny ears. Tell us the problems the elephant had. Tell how his ears grew to solve his problems.
Try reading Asian Children’s Favorite Stories: A Treasury of Folktales from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia by David Conger, Patrick Yee, Marian Davies Toth, and Kay Loyons.
It’s never too early to start training your child in creative writing. If your child is too young to write the story himself, have him tell you the story and you can write it down. Children love to illustrate their stories in a fancy notebook.
There are even book making kits available at bookstores. Once you start exploring the endless number of props that are available to inspire writing, you will be amazed by your child’s imagination and writing ability. Who knows? They may become a famous author someday.