How to write like Roald Dahl – Six steps to help improve your child’s creative writing
Creative writing plays an important role in a child’s development and communication skills. It is also one of the key areas which school pupils are tested on during English language examinations. The UK government department for education wrote: ‘…overall the majority of pupils believe that writing is important or very important to succeed in life.’ This can make it frustrating for a child who struggles with creative writing and effect their confidence. It can also be difficult as a parent or a guardian to know the ways in which you can help, so here some simple steps that you can take to encourage the little Shakespeares and J.K Rowlings inside of them:
In this modern age of technology there are less opportunities for children to exercise their creativity and imagination in a world where technology does it for them. Although it can be difficult to take children away from enticing laptops or tablets, setting a time in the day where technology is switched off can be useful. This encourages a child’s natural ability for imaginative play which has many proven benefits. It also shows them the limitless power of their imagination, which they can unlock when faced with the task of writing a story. Turning off the television and eating together at the table is also helpful as it encourages discussion which will help your child communicate their ideas and thoughts into words. A child needs a creative space, so you could also try replacing some of their time spent on technology with writing by giving them a journal or diary where they can write down all of their amazing ideas, thoughts for stories or simply write about their day. It’s cheap and simple but can go a long way. Although it is tempting, don’t sneak a peek, let them know that it’s their safe space to let their imagination run wild.
The bedtime story has been a part of many children’s bedtime routine for generations and is enjoyed byboth the child and the parent/guardian. However, more recently researchers have discovered the valuable benefits of bedtime stories for young children’s language development. Studies carried out in the University of Texas and Yale University have shown that children who have been read to have more activity in the verbal processing areas of the brain. Telling or reading stories to children also improves their vocabulary and their own story telling ability. Vocabulary is important when writing as it can be exasperating for a child if they have an idea in their minds but do not have the words to express it. Anat Ninio, a professor in Psychology and the Director of a centre for the ‘Normal and Psychopathological Development of the Child and Adolescent’ wrote: ‘The bedtime story, or any form of shared book reading, has long been described as a vocabulary acquisition device.’ If there is a story which your child loves and doesn’t want to end, then encourage them to create a spin off or an extended ending of the story. What happens to the characters that they love next? If you’re feeling brave and creative make up your own story and encourage them to carry it on. ‘Lionboy’ was written by Louisa Young and her eight-year-old daughter Isabel under the pseudonym Zizou Corder, so who knows what you might create together.
Encourage your child to write about subjects which they are interested in. We all know that children go through phases in which they are particularly interested in a certain subject or theme, I can’t count how many I went through. Find out their current interests. Do they love ghost stories? Are they are interested in trains? Ask them write an adventure which takes place on a train. Maybe they prefer fantasy? They may be interested in cars, or princesses. The list is as endless as your child’s imagination. You can also make writing fun by incorporate stories with play. Does your child have a favourite toy? Ask them to tell you a story about the toy’s life or the adventures that it could go on. If they enjoy drawing, ask them to make that picture come to life with a story. The important thing is that they enjoy what they are writing about because if they do they will be likely to want to write more often, and, as we know, practice makes perfect.
Stephen King once said: ‘The scariest moment is just before you start.’ You may have encouraged your child’s imagination and followed the previous steps, however, your child may be struggling to begin writing their story when faced with a blank page. They may not know where or how to begin their story. This can lead to them to feel stressed and de-motivated. You can help ease your child into writing their story by giving them the first line of a story which they can continue from. This will remove the burden of how and where to begin. Here is a classic example of a first line which you can use: ‘An owl hooted in the darkness and I realised I was alone.’
Writing without reading is like trying to cook a meal without any of the ingredients. The importance of reading cannot be stressed enough. It not only increases a child’s literacy skills and vocabulary, it also increases their ability to write and be creative. J.K Rowling herself stated: ‘The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.’ There are a few things which you can do to encourage your child to read more. You could set up a reading corner in their room with a comfortable chair or bean bag. If your child is old enough to read alone, you could encourage them to read for half an hour before bed rather than taking their laptops to bed or watching T.V. Studies have shown that children’s books expose children to 50 percent more words than prime time T.V. Furthermore, reading before bed has been proven to help you unwind and relax, so you can try it too!
Nobody likes to be told that something which they have created themselves and worked hard on is not good. This may put them off any future attempts. Therefore, make sure that any criticism is constructive and that their effort is still commended. Also if your child has put time and effort into a piece don’t forget to shower them with praise. If they are young maybe give them a sticker or put it on the fridge. As a child their parents’ or guardians’ opinion of their work is important and can have a huge impact on their self-esteem. Therefore, praising their work and showing interest in what they have written will not only boost their confidence while writing, it will also fill them with pride in what they have written. This will encourage them to continue to write and consequently improve. For older children, showing interest in hearing or reading their stories will teach them the importance of feedback and re-drafting.