Monday, March 7, 2016

Entering the PBS Kids Writers Contest 2016

We had so much fun entering the PBS Kids Writers Contest last year (see here) that we did it again this year. I put a placeholder on my calendar two months before the entries were due (April 1) so that we could start in plenty of time and proceed at a leisurely pace.

John's final story laid out to dry on a bookshelf

I really enjoyed the process of encouraging the children to brainstorm stories. John (9) is reticent to write down a story, but he invents stories all the time, mostly regaling us at the meal table. I used a technique encouraged by Bravewriter in which I'd listen to him talking conversationally to his sibling, I'd leap up from the table, and say something like, "That's a really great story idea. I'm just going to jot that down because I like it so much." This technique causes the reluctant or shy child to grow in confidence as someone he admires (an adult, a parent) affirms his ideas as worthy ones.

This technique worked so well with John!

A couple of pages from Mary's story:
note the blood spurting from the victim on his way to the hospital

When each child had a kernel of an idea, I carved out some school time to sit down with that one child and have the child dictate to me his whole story. I was careful to write down the story exactly as the child said.

Then we went through about four drafts each. First, I'd show the child that he had a limit on number of words (e.g., 350 words for third graders) and we'd discuss ideas for how to reduce words. "For example, honey, we almost never should start a sentence with 'And' and I see that you've started a lot of your sentences that way. Do you want to go through and cut those out?"

Being a former professional editor at Random House and then running my own freelance editing business, I can tell you that it takes mustering all my self-control not to craft the children's sentences for them, not to tell them how the sentences would sound better!

I was almost curled up in knots when sweet Mary (7) was writing about two characters who are "people who do sabotage." She's not familiar with the vocabulary word saboteur and I felt it would be crossing that bright line if I were to tell her that word so she could change her darling, age-appropriate wording . . . so I didn't.

Then each day, I assigned as part of school for the children to draw one illustration each (to achieve the required five), which involved sitting down and discussing what were the action scenes of the story which could be illustrated.

When all that was done, I assigned them to color the pages, one picture daily. Then there was cutting and pasting to be done, filling out the forms, and mailing off the package.

The whole process even involved a good lesson about perseverance. When one child got frustrated with an illustration, said child crunched up the paper and swore that this contest would not be entered--and that was final! I explained that while this whole project had been optional when I presented it as a possibility, once the children agreed that they wanted to write the stories, it became a school assignment. I didn't care if anybody entered the contest, but they were going to be required to finish writing and illustrating the stories because we finish what we start. (And then we went back to the story, picked a different action scene to illustrate, and the child was happy as a clam again, the storm having passed.)

It has been an enjoyable month working on this project and now we'll get back to our bread-and-butter BJU English textbook!

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