Tuesday, 17 September 2013

How to Help Very Young Children "Write" Stories

I know many parents who think that at three and four years old, their children are too young to be able to write stories. Contrary to that belief, I have found that, although they might not be able to physically write out a story, children of that age are often perfectly capable of telling beautiful stories.

Don't believe me? Here are some examples of stories my children dictated to me when they were three and four years old (Scroll past the sections in the blue font if you believe me and just want to get to the "how to" part of the post.):

Written by my daughter Gabriella, age 3:

Marbles and Flowers

There once was a really beautiful fairy named Gabriella. She was playing marbles in the sky with God. Rumbles of thunder could be heard as marble crashed against marble.

Later, she found a flower that belonged to her friend and had been left by her friend for Gabriella to find. Gabriella wanted to show God her flower. When she got to his house, she had a nice cold drink as it was a hot day.
Written by my daughter Isabella, age 3:
Princess Kolluna

There was a princess who lived in a nice castle. Her name was Kolluna. She liked playing with balloons.
One day while at the beach, she blew up some balloons to play with, and a big monster showed up. He was a bad monster. He had yellow scales, two tiny eyes and tiny little baby teeth. He had noticed her because of her bright balloons. He wanted to eat Princess Kolluna.

The princess ran into the ocean and some mermaids came and rescued her. She was so happy that the mermaids helped her that she gave them each one of her balloons as a thank you.
Written by my son Connor, age 3:
Princess Mommy and Her Dogs

There once was a princess named Mommy. She lived in a castle. Her castle had a moat around it and, in her bedroom, she had a very big, comfortable bed. She had four dogs. Two of her dogs were girls and two of her dogs were boys. Their names were Tyler, Ben, Rosie & Helen. They were very small dogs. They had long fur and long tails. Their fur was pink.

Princess Mommy fed her dogs every day and took them on lots of long walks. She threw a ball for them, and they all loved to try and get to it first and bring it back to her. Princess Mommy loved her dogs and her dogs loved her.

One day, little Rosie went missing. Princess Mommy looked everywhere for her. She looked in the dining hall, but Rosie wasn’t there. She looked in the rubbish, but Rosie wasn’t there. She looked in the kitchen, but Rosie wasn’t there.

Princess Mommy was very worried about her little pink dog Rosie, and the other dogs were sad too because they missed Rosie. Princess Mommy looked in one more place. She looked in the castle moat, and there was her little Rosie! Rosie had decided to go for a swim.

Princess Mommy got Rosie out of the moat and gave her a bath to clean all of the mud off of her. She was very happy that she had found Rosie and the other dogs were happy too.
Written by my daughter Gabriella, age 4:
The Little Pink Flower

Once their was a little pink flower. She grew amongst the grass at the park. She saw other, really beautiful flowers being picked by people who would comment at their beauty and she wanted very much to be pretty enough for someone to pick her. 

Days went by and she watched as other flowers got picked but she was left. Then one morning, a lovely princess was walking in the park when she noticed the little pink flower and thought the flower was very pretty.

She liked the flower so much that she had to pick it, and she took it home to give to her husband who she loved. The little pink flower was put into a vase of water and was very happy.
Written by my daughter Isabella, age 4:
The Magic Dress

Once there was a little English princess named Bella. One day, she found a beautiful dress on the ground outside her castle. She took the dress inside and put it on. It was a magical dress and, when she wore it, she found that she could fly. She flew to America, and in America she bought a wand and a sweetie. Then she flew back to England. 

She flew high in the sky and when she looked down, she could see crocodiles way below. She used her wand to bring more fairies to her so she wouldn’t have to fly alone. Before she stopped flying, she flew to a castle and became best friends with another princess named Gabby. She had so much fun in the dress! When she got home, she changed into a normal dress and put the magic dress back on the ground where she found it.

Written by my son Connor, age 4:
 The Princess and Her Castle in the Clouds
There once was a pretty princess named Mommy who had long red hair. She lived in a castle that sat way up on top of clouds. Whenever she wanted to get down, she used a long, pink ladder. She loved looking way down at everything below her and could see lots of pretty sights, but it was such a long climb down that she didn’t climb down very often. Sometimes her friends climbed up to see her though.

One day, her pink ladder fell over and she became trapped in her castle in the clouds. She became very lonely and after a few days, she began to wonder if she would ever find a way down again. 

Then a boy who was a prince named Connor happened by. He looked up at the castle on top of the clouds and wondered who lived there. Princess Mommy looked down from the castle top and yelled down to the Prince below, “Please help me! My ladder broke and I can’t get down!”

“That’s okay,” said Prince Connor. “I have a ladder too.” He went home and came back with a long orange ladder. The princess used the ladder to climb down.

The princess thanked him and then decided that she no longer liked having her castle in the clouds. She looked around and found her pink ladder lying in the grass. On the side of the ladder was a magic button. She pushed the magic button and her castle slowly came down and landed in a field of grass. It still sits there to this day.
They all wrote/told many more stories at those ages than I am showing here. These are just some examples to show you that it can be done. Each story varied greatly in how complex or how simple.

Here are some tips to help you coax some stories out of your very young child:

1. Ask questions. What does her main character look like? What is his or her name? How old is the main character? And here's where it gets tricky. When your child seems as though they are just going to tell you about a pretty little girl and nothing more, ask "What happened next?" If she or he still doesn't know where to take the story, ask questions that give ideas, such as, "Did something scare her? Is there a game she liked to play? Does she have any friends?" and so on. And the answers can lead to other questions, such as "Why was the monster chasing him? What happened during the game? Did his friends go on an adventure with him?" and so on. Each question can lead to more questions.

2. IMPORTANT. Do not try and change your child's mind on the direction they choose for their story. I once (and only once) tried, innocently, to lead my daughter in a direction for her story that I thought would be easier for her to continue on from, but she adamantly refused my leading questions and went her own way with the story, which is what should have happened. I should never have tried to lead her story. Not only do you need to not interfere so that you can end up with a story that is authentically your child's own, but your child needs to feel as though the story has come from him and not from you. Your child will feel much more pride in the story he has told when he knows it has come completely from his own choices and ideas.

3. Let your child lead. If your daughter seems too tired or not very interested in telling her story, take a break from it and try again later or another day. Some very young children will be better at this than others and some children will enjoy this process more than others.

4. Praise your child's finished story. Make sure you let him know how proud of him you are and how wonderful you think his story is. Children love to be praised for their efforts.

Sometimes, the story your child tells will barely make sense, and that's okay too. Writing has a lot to do with the process. It's like alchemy for words. Your child's words might start out producing nothing more than a slimy gunk (which, because it is your child, you will think is the sweetest bubble gum goo), but keep at it, and every once in a while, your child will produce gold.

And don't forget that all of the stories you record your child telling are a form of memory storage. Until I looked up my children's stories from when they were younger to add to this post, I had forgotten that, for a while, my son always wrote stories about a character he called "Princess Mommy." Reading those words again brought a warm feeling to my heart and a smile to my face.

Your only job, as the typist of the story, is to help your child brainstorm and to correct any grammar problems. You should probably also spell correctly as you type up your child's story. ;)

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