When school started last year, I got the crazy idea that the students at my daughter’s elementary school might like a forum in which to do creative writing. Although they get some in the classroom, I was thinking of a completely non-judgmental environment where I guide them but they ultimately do what they want, where there are no wrong answers or points off for misspelling a word. Really, I wanted for them the kind of club I would have loved myself as a child.
I pitched the idea to a friend of mine, a professor of creative writing, who very graciously shared with me exercises she does with her grad students. It took some work but I brought them down to a level I thought would work with 4th-6th graders.
Next I had to get buy in from the school principal to run an after school club and use the library. She loved the idea but reminded me I needed a ‘baby sitter’ because I’m not a credentialed teacher. The librarian agreed to keep me on the straight and narrow and I promised to keep his library in good working order.
From there, I got myself invited to a PTA meeting to see if they would throw me some funds to run the club. Really all I wanted were notebooks, pencils and a few other little things here and there to help with the writing exercises. They said yes and I was off.
We meet once a month for an hour. We have two rules for Writing Club. The first is we are respectful of everyone’s ideas; if a fellow student is reading his/her work aloud, we are quiet and listen closely. The second is no one has to read if they don’t want to. No pressure. I also give away middle grade books I’m done reading. Winners beam like they’ve just won the lottery.
At our first meeting this year fifty students showed up! I ran out of everything – notebooks, pencils, seats, table space – but seeing these kids, scribbling away, giving voice to the stories in their heads, gave me hope for the future.
(for specifics on the writing exercises, please visit my website)