When I was little, I remember making my sister play school with me. I’m pretty sure she hated it, but I was always pretty good at convincing her to do things my way.
Like that time I convinced her to give me all of her dimes since they were smaller, and therefore obviously less desirable, than my pennies in exchange.
I would have her write things and do simple math problems that she could understand. When that got boring, I started teaching her algebra. She was about 5 years old. She actually caught on fast.
I remember my mother being worried that I was confusing her, but as I have discovered throughout life, kids tend to deal with challenges better than we expect. As long as we phrase things simply for them and spark their interest.
I was honored to be invited to participate in Arts in the Schools Week this past week. Monday through Thursday, I visited South Penn Elementary School to teach an hour-long writing workshop with the theme of Japanese fairytales.
Though I am ridiculously tired, I am very pleased with the way the classes went. On top of that, I was actually paid to be there! Which is obviously a very good thing.
I began the session with a quick introduction and an interactive overview of Japanese culture. Then I read two versions of stories about the Chin Chin Kobakama while the kids followed along. The story selection seemed to be a hit since it is so different.
Then I explained to them how I start writing.
I usually start with a “what if” question or a “I wonder how that would/does work” thought and go from there, making things up on paper. I gave them one example from my short-story-that-needs-to-be-a-novel, The Murcep People, and also how the sea became salty. I gave them some ideas based off the story I read, like changing the point of view, then let them loose.
One interesting thing about South Penn is that it is built in the 1970s style of open classrooms with few interior walls. I was in one of the few multi-purpose rooms that was actually enclosed. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about open classrooms. I loved how the “library” was at the center of the entire second floor, so books were extremely present.
I also made sure to plug my free workshops offered through Tri-State Community School for the Arts. Some of the kids said they were interested in coming, and I promised to send the reading instructor more information.
One little boy, who carries his notebooks full of stories around with him everywhere, wanted to know more about getting his stories published. So I made up a quick handout for him Wednesday night, and he met with me for a special conference Thursday morning.
I also followed up with children on Wednesday morning since time seemed to fly away. We could easily have taken another half hour. The reading specialist even mentioned the possibility of having me come back to do more workshops!
Another little boy was so enthusiastic about Japan, that I was a little intimidated. He is apparently very bright. He rattled off names and facts I didn’t have a clue about, like exactly how Japanese houses were the first ones for be earthquake-proof. His story was fantastic.
My first thought with both of those little boys, the writer and the savant, was one of concern. Because I know how much their lives are probably gonna suck. And I also know how closely creativity and genius fly to crazy and substance abuse.
I had an overwhelming urge to protect them somehow.
I saw bits and pieces of me, and it made me sad. I really hope they turn up at one of my workshops, so I can check in with them.