I have an old black trunk with big brass corners and a large lock with snapping clips on each end. I got the trunk when I was a freshman in college as a storage area for my close quarters dorm room. It has remained a place for “things” ever since. Over the past several years, I have tried to consolidate all my “things” into fewer places and started to use the trunk for old mementos from childhood. Every so often I like to go and look through the trunk in search of something old. I love the smell that rises as I open the heavy door hinged top. I see the old papers, my three favorite stuffed animals from childhood, a small basket, notebooks, photos and cards. They all remind me of who I am and where I have come from. I see all the tiny things made from tiny hands that once were my most treasured items and now sit quietly in this trunk.
Tiny hands. We all started with tiny hands. Think about it. Think about the first time a child in your life grasped your finger with one whole hand. Think about the infectious grin across the child’s face when those hands were discovered for the first time. Tiny hands are where it all begins. Small padded hands crawling across the carpet to your open arms. Miniature fingers wrapped around your thumb as feet take their first steps. Little fists wrapped around a crayon. Tiny hands are where we begin to explore our world.
Tiny writers are tremendous and limitless. They hold so many stories in their short beginnings. When they make their first marks with those tiny hands we treasure them. Those first marks hold so much more meaning than just a scribble. It is their first experience putting crayon to paper. It may just look like a blob of color but for a moment it was something more and inside their little head they had a plan. Otherwise they would have chosen to do something else with those tiny hands. Putting materials like paper and crayons into the tiniest of hands is an invitation, an invitation that says, “create something.” If we want tiny people to love writing workshop we need to invite them to love it. We need to put the materials out as an invitation to learn, an invitation to create.
Your students may be four or fourteen but they still have tiny hands. How do you create an environment for a student who has not been invited to workshop but instead was forced? Start over. Go back to the beginning of what should have been done. Allow choice and creative materials. Let them explore their interests and make “things.” It may not feel like there is time, so it is up to you. You can either keep pushing them further into a place they have never been invited to evolve or you can start over. See it as an opportunity to reprogram your students and maybe yourself. Look at those tiny hands and ask yourself, “Do I want to grow an open writer or a closed fist?” You can be the catalyst in a writer’s life. Be that teacher. Be the one they never forget. Be the one that made all the difference.
Here are my tiny five year old hands, found in the trunk, above my son’s tiny hands when he was only five. The same poem is on each and when I discovered this it felt like a full circle moment. My tiny hands once laid on paper for my mother, my son’s tiny hands laid on paper for me and maybe one day his son or daughter’s hands will do the same. We all started with tiny hands that are here to do more than just leave finger prints on the wall. They are here to tell a story.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.