As a teacher of elementary school children for thirty-nine years, I have found the innocence, forthrightness, creativity, and curiosity of children—primarily between the ages of five and eight years of age—to be refreshing and even enchanting.
I believe children are born with an innate curiosity for learning. As parents, teachers, and writers we have a responsibility to develop and encourage their curiosity, imagination, creativity.
Their innocence and forthrightness should be respected.
It is with these beliefs in mind that I have sought to combine the experiences of my own early school days with the experiences of my own children’s school days, and finally, my experiences with the diverse and multicultural cross-section of children I have had the privilege to teach throughout the years, to write stories that children will enjoy reading and will identify with.
Imagination is paramount. Childhood is all about this. Children’s stories need to be colorful with vibrant, larger-than-life characters and need to incite the child’s imagination. They need to see themselves in the characters and in the action. Children should read every day, to read stories they can laugh along with, stories they can read and retell over and over.
Understanding Children in The Writing Process
Observe children — Children are very honest. They will say whatever is on their mind, generally without hesitation. This lends itself to the creation of outgoing, fun characters a child can relate to and emulate because these characters offer security, leadership. Children are basically focused on “self,” not sharing. Sharing is one of those concepts that is taught by example.
What makes children happy? — They are very much about self so stories should relate to the child and their families, friends, pets, hobbies. Children want to be loved and cared for. They like hugs and being praised for who they are and for the good that they do. This all builds upon self-image. They need to be respected and to be listened to. In turn, they will learn to listen to and be respectful of others. Children love times spent with family and friends whether it be reading a story together, playing a game together, going on a picnic or fishing together, or experiencing a memorable vacation. These are all the sort of experiences that make for memorable and relatable children’s stories.
What are children’s fears? —Sometimes, the fears are obvious, when a child will not participate in a particular activity. However, the underlying reason behind that fear may not be obvious. Acting out fears with puppets has proven successful. Story discussions are useful as well. A child may relate to a particular character in a story and how they overcame a fear. A child could be fearful of participating in a sport because they don’t want to be hurt. Think of a child riding a bicycle without training wheels for the first time. Confidence is acquired by practice with that trusted parent, brother or sister by their side holding on and not letting go until they are ready to go it alone. A child could be fearful of something as seemingly simple and fun as fingerpainting, for fear of getting hands and clothes messy. I saw this with a student. Once they saw that they could be a part of the fun with their friends and with me by their side fingerpainting as well, they joined in happily. All it took was a long old shirt for cover and the companionship, security of teacher and friends to overcome the fear and produce a wonderful painting.
How do they show happiness? — Children show happiness with their smiles, laughs, hugs, words, pictures, stories about their best experiences.
How do they cope with fears? — Children cope with fears by sharing stories with family, friends, imaginary friends or a beloved companion teddy bear or a pet. They cope with fears when they have someone to share with who will listen and instill confidence.
Keep the sentences simple and repetitive — Children have short attention spans. (Some adults do as well) Keeping sentences short and to the point keep your audience’s attention. By using repetition children are motivated to retain specific messages within a story. Take for example the classic children’s story The Little Engine That Could and the line “I think I can, I think I can…”
Write about what children can relate to. — They need to see themselves in the characters and in the action of the story.
Think about your school days, what you liked and how you made friends. — These should be the best years. Childhood should be about learning, fun, imagination, fantasy. It is way too early for harsh realities. When I look back on my childhood school days my fondest likes and recollections were with teachers who incorporated music, the piano, singing and dancing to nursery rhyme melodies, painting and other creative projects and reading, storytelling, “Show and Tell,” trips around the community—to the bakery, the post office, the library, the police and fire stations. These were all valuable learning experiences and they were fun. On trips to the parks and beaches in the springtime we collected leaves and shells for art projects. I remember as a teacher myself, taking my students out for the first snowfall just outside on the playground and how exciting it was for them to just catch the first snowflakes. In later years, they wrote about experiences such as this and other memoires of kindergarten. I remember the childhood friends who I walked to and from school with, had lunch with, played “Around The World” and “Hopscotch” with on the playground. And yes, I remember the little boy in second grade who gathered all the paper dolls from the “Surprise Box,” after he finished his assignments, just for me.
Select an ending that encapsulates the moral of the story. — Every story should have an ending that brings all the prior events into a neat little summary, moral or lesson that will stand out in the memories of the readers. Again, with the classic, The Little Engine That Could, the little engine learned that to succeed it couldn’t give up or give in, but had to keep on trying. Another example would be The Cat In The Hat and the lesson that ensued from the children not telling their mother about the goings on with the visiting cat on that snowy day. This story ends with a very good question which leads to discussion: “What would you do if your mother asked you?” — Dr. Seuss.
Use Rhyming. — Children love rhyming. They love to hear rhyming stories like those written by Dr. Seuss, and P.D. Eastman who authored A Fly Went By. These are also stories that encourage and delight beginning readers.
Cheryl Babirad lives on Long Island with her husband, son-Robert, daughter-Christie Leigh, and Jack Russell Terrier- Alistair. She is the author of the children’s book collection, The Jennifer Ella Rose Series (I Did My Best coming soon). She earned her master’s degree in Education from Adelphi University and taught in the North Babylon School District, where she and her children grew up, for thirty-nine years. Cheryl taught Kindergarteners for most of those years but also taught first and second graders. Cheryl loves reading, writing, and playing the piano, which she did daily in her classroom while the children sang and danced along. She is forever grateful to God for the opportunity to teach and influence young lives in a positive way; her parents for the traditional values of faith and family they instilled in her; the dedicated educators who influenced her teaching early on; and the many children (and their parents) who came into her life throughout her years of teaching, many of whom are still in contact along with their sons and daughters.