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(Editor’s Note: I sometimes get asked, “What about creative writing?” Here is a lovely post about how to approach creative writing by guest writer, Karen Andreola.)
“If we would believe it, composition is a natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books.”—Charlotte Mason
Books of quality (fiction and non-fiction) will be the main source of a young child’s composition. By putting what he has read (or what has been read to him) in his own words, he is learning, from the authors of these books, how to use words. Without even being conscious of it, the child learns from authors how to use words. He is developing writing skills (a talent for using words) as he practices narrating.
With all this reading and retelling going on, it isn’t difficult to switch gears to make room for the occasional creative narration. While a child’s “imagination muscles” do develop by narrating from books, these and other intellectual abilities also grow as they are used in a more playful way with creative narration (or creative writing).
What Happens Next?
I have discovered the best way to prompt a child to narrate creatively. It is by giving him a story starter. He will narrate by telling rather then retelling. But instead of expecting a child to compose “from scratch” by supplying him with only a topic and a blank page, a task even the average adult finds daunting, we can kindle in him a keenness to write by using a story starter. An unfinished story is meant to draw him into a colorful situation. He is plunged into a predicament that holds him in suspense. Upon the invitation, “What happens next?” the child then springs forth to enhance and embellish the story as much as he wants.
Writing With A New Level of Vibrancy
When I read an old article from Charlotte Mason’s Parents’ Review that spoke highly of story starters I was intrigued. Reading about the success of teacher Raymond Ward’s experiments in using exciting and suspenseful story starters in his classroom, I couldn’t resist experimenting with my children.
What is Exciting Writing?
In brief, the student is provided with a situation that involves conflict. He sympathizes with the characters and, wrapped up in the emotion of the scene, calls on his developing skills of reason and imagination to continue the story. Emotions such as fear, joy, wonder, sadness, worry, or great relief create the spark to write more vividly. The student expresses himself spontaneously, leaving penmanship, spelling, grammar, and punctuation for a later time.
Mr. Ward’s claims seemed incredible. But I gave it a try. My students’ first story starter was a description of a wild and angry dog that was loose, roaming the neighborhood, and needed capturing. No pencil biting, no head scratching, no wiggling in their seats. My children focused on finishing the exciting story while the wheels of their imaginations turned. They wrote with descriptive phrases and vocabulary unlike anything that they had written before. My experiment worked and I was quite pleased.
Writing with Feeling and Less Restraint
I’m an ardent believer in the rough draft. The birthing stage of writing should not be bound by all the rules of composition. The student can keep a list of what strikes him at the moment, be it a phrase or a complete sentence. Content is stressed over form. Sentence structure is secondary. Nearly all writers go back over their work to polish it, and then polish it some more. Therefore let the first draft be as rough as it is.
Students who are accustomed to Charlotte Mason’s method of oral narration from books are apt to write in prose more naturally than students who are not. Adding to this, the advantage of an exciting story starter is that it emboldens children to write with feeling.
“A person’s worldview almost always shows through in his creative output.”—Francis Schaeffer
Facts in home school are important. Fiction teaches, too. Good fiction shows us what virtue looks like. It is a mix of kind gestures and heroic deeds. It may be a small act of bravery such as visiting someone in the hospital or a larger act in serving the war effort. Fiction teaches by intangibles. Characters in the story act out the intangibles, such as friendship, forgiveness, patience, gratitude, resourcefulness and responsibility, admiration and respect, love. Fiction enlightens us by helping us develop a moral imagination that enables us to put ourselves “in his place.”
Using story starters for creative writing can foster a positive attitude toward writing in general. As a student’s newfound confidence grows it will carry over to other writing aspects of schoolwork—the more factual kind.
A Big Book of Story Starters
This article has blossomed out of the many pleasures and rewards I have found in teaching my children at home using living books, narration, and also creative narration from story starters. To help my fellow home teachers strengthen and expand their students’ writing ability I wrote, Story Starters. It is filled with intriguing antique illustrations with different sorts of starters to enable your whole family to have a choice of which story they’d be keen to develop.
With this Story Starter curriculum (and its built-in teacher’s guide that accommodates four levels of student ability to plug into) I believe your children too can write more boldly, with feeling, and in ways they’ve never written before.