One evening in early May, I found myself sitting at our kitchen table with my oldest daughter, Wren. Over the past year, our kitchen table has become not only the place we share family meals, but also my home office, a preschool, a first and third grade classroom at times, and a place for projects. I took this unusually quiet moment as an opportunity to reflect with Wren. “What would you tell other people, teachers and kids, about what you learned from doing the Slice of Life Student Challenge?
Wren had just completed her second Slice of Life Story Challenge, days before (you can read more about that here), and I was still marveling at the writer she was becoming.
“I’d tell them that we all have stories. They don’t have to be big moments. But Mom, stories are happening every day, all around us. Not just the major events.”
My heart swelled. My eight year old had learned what it had taken me 25 years to learn. Wren sees the world like a writer. She recognizes small moments, hangs onto details and dialogue, and can turn around and spin words into stories and poems.
I remember when I began to live like a writer. I was in grad school and was taking a class that required me to write daily in a writer’s notebook. I clearly remember a moment, waiting to pump gas at the gas station, where I realized I was drafting in my mind. I was rehearsing something that I would later scribble down into my notebook. I am in awe that Wren is already doing this mind work. It makes me wonder what kind of writer and person she will become because she has learned to live like a writer so early in her life.
Living a life like a writer is a gift that we, as teachers (and parents), can give our students. Fostering three young writers of my own has helped me to reflect on habits that I believe can also transfer to classrooms. We can help create the conditions that grow writers from day one of school. Here are some ideas for maximizing these opportunities:
Beginning really early on in my daughters’ lives, I have been pointing out shared moments that could become stories. We’ve narrated countless stories in the air, remembering and rehearsing. Driving in the car has become a key place to begin constructing these stories together. As one of the girls starts to recount a moment from their day, I often ask, “If we wrote that story together, how would it go?” Then just like that, the stories float through the car. We listen, offering bits of feedback and suggestions. Many of these oral stories have become the stories my children remember, the stories they choose to write during narrative units of study at school.
I see this process translating to a classroom, naming moments for individual students, or even a whole class, that could be rehearsed for potential writing pieces. Imagine the stories that could float through your classroom! I will often say things to students like, “That moment, right there in the hallway, that could be a story. Hurry, let’s get back to the classroom and jot that idea down before we forget!” Shared class experiences also make for great shared writing pieces, rehearsed and drafted collaboratively.
Sketching to Notice More
Thanks to a dear friend, sketching to notice has also been a routine that my children have engaged in regularly from a young age. Occasionally, I will pull a vase of flowers, sticks from the yard, or a found bird nest. Together, we will sketch, which often turns into talking about our observations and noticing small details together. Sketching often proves to be a mindful exercise, grounding and calming. This practice has led to conversation and also to habits of seeing the world.
Sketching could become a staple in any classroom, used as either a warm up or even as a small group. Sketching often becomes a pathway for students to enter into the writing process, seeing where their mind goes while sketching. It also creates a space for a variety of genres including narrative, informational, and poetry. Sometimes when the words don’t come, images can help writers find the words swirling in their minds.
Seizing Teachable Moments
Kids are naturally curious and will often pitch us the perfect teachable moments, where we can layer in tips and ideas that can fuel writing. If we, as teachers of writing, are listening and willing to pause, there are so many moments that we can turn into on the spot writing lessons-books, poems, and memories just begging to be captured. Here are a few of those moments I have written about on my blog over the years: Glitter, It’s a Teaching Book, and How to Be A Good Reading Partner.
These habits of living have helped my kids to see they do have stories to tell. They are living these stories every day. Wren’s reflections on taking part in the Slice of Life Story Challenge, have helped me to reflect on how she made it to this point, where writing has become a part of her identity. I believe that many of these same habits can be implemented across the school year, to help foster a community of writers.
Children are born seeing the world, curious and observant. As teachers and parents, we can help to foster the habits and conditions that nurture children who grow up believing they have words, ideas, and stories worth writing and sharing. We can grow writers.
Jessica Carey is a mom of three young writers, Wren, Adi, and Rose. She is currently a literacy coach in Westport, Connecticut where she gets to work alongside passionate educators, learning and growing daily. Jessica is a regular contributor to the Teachers | Books | Readers blog and is a loyal participant in the Tuesday Slice of Life and Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge in March. You can read more about her personal and professional life on her blog, Where There’s Joy. You can follow Jessica on Twitter @jcareyreads.