Choosing your own adventure is one of the best things about being a kid – and now with all the extra Covid rules and restrictions, making up stuff is even more important.
Escaping and getting to “control the narrative” both mean that making up stories – whatever your age – is good for wellbeing, resilience* and empathy*, experts say.
And with the annual Kids News Short Story Competition now open for entries, we invite kids to feel good by having some fiction-writing fun.
Inventing something, as you do with creative writing, takes you outside your normal environment, giving your brain and body a break from everything that is going on around you, said Australian Childhood Foundation founder and chief executive Dr Joe Tucci.
“Play is really for kids a vitamin B shot, it’s a booster; it enables their brain to be stress-free (and) have less pressure on it,” Dr Tucci said.
Building a narrative also gives back a sense of agency* if you are currently unable to go to school, play team sports, have a birthday party or visit family and friends interstate, especially because most kids prefer certainty and routine.
“All of those things that are (usually) predictable and expected start to become a load for kids,” Dr Tucci said. “That feels heavy for them and they can’t just navigate* their world with the new things, they have to focus in on the small things that should be just routine.
“What stories do and being able to create a narrative is that (kids) gain control (because) the main character gains control over what happens to him or her.
“They might have magical powers that give them control to fix a problem, they might work with somebody else to overcome a challenge, or they become part of a team to beat the basketball team they could never beat.
“All of those narratives are about children regaining* control in a time of uncertainty. And if they can do that in their imagination, then that has flow on effect into their life.”
Imagination is an escape hatch. It is an opportunity to step outside your world – at any time and for as long as you like – and just leave behind all of the challenges real life presents right now.
Dr Tucci and Jenny Atkinson, the founder and chief executive of children’s writing platform Littlescribe, agreed that part of getting your imagination into gear and getting excited about writing is giving yourself permission to write whatever you like. That means farts, silliness and bottoms are all in if you want them to be. The sky’s the limit – there are no rules in the land of make believe because there are rules enough in reality.
Kids can have that chat with their parents and let them know that “the red pen is for the teacher”, Ms Atkinson said.
She recommended budding writers think of themselves as spies, spying on other people to notice the funny things they say and do, and also strongly encouraged young authors to write or draw their story by hand at first, even if they planned to enter a typed story.
“When (a child) handwrites more, they become better at writing,” she said.
“We go deeply within ourselves to find expression and the rest of the world gets turned off. Start off by handwriting, start off with illustration* … because then they can use that to pull out the words that are in the drawings and illustrations.
“That’s storyboarding*, that’s a very valuable, positive way to write and to tell stories.”
Indeed, year 8 student Amaeh Reed, a winner of the Kids News Short Story Competition for the past two years, said writing can help kids turn difficult emotions into positive ones.
“I feel like when you’re writing, you can just really let your emotions out,” said Amaeh, who turned 14 this week.
“Whether you’re writing from your own or a character’s perspective, especially during Covid and times like that, it’s a really great way to be able to feel what you’re feeling and put it into something that can turn out really beautiful or really amazing.”
Amaeh said writing was a “place for me to go wild and free” and she loved to sit and write on the balcony of the family’s Brisbane home.
“I really love being outside and hearing the little noises of nature around me, they really inspire me as I’m writing. It makes me feel really calm when I’m writing as well,” she said.
- resilience: ability to recover quickly from difficult situations, toughness
- empathy: ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings
- agency: being able to act, intervene and have an effect
- navigate: plan, direct, influence the direction or path
- regaining: getting back, restoring, retrieving, reclaiming
- illustration: picture, drawing, sketch, graphic
- storyboarding: drawings, some with directions and dialogue, showing how the story unfolds
- Are there any rules in the land of make believe?
- Why does Dr Tucci say it is important for kids that characters have control in the story?
- Why does Jenny Atkinson recommend writing and drawing by hand to get started?
- How many times has Amaeh won the Kids News Short Story Competition?
- What are some of the things that inspire Amaeh?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Welcome home!
“A place for me to go wild and free”. Use this idea as your inspiration to plan and write a story that you could enter in the Kids News Short Story competition. Use the tips in today’s story to help get you started.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
In today’s story, you have read that making up stories is good for our wellbeing, resilience and empathy. Can you think of other activities that could also help kids develop these important things? Write a list of as many as you can think of. Next to each activity, write a sentence explaining how it will help.
Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Personal and Social Capability; Health and Physical Education
Inspired by Amaeh
Amaeh says, “I really love being outside and hearing the little noises of nature around me, they really inspire me as I’m writing.’’
So this is a piece that will be inspired by her. Go outside and find a nice, safe spot to sit, or if it’s raining, perhaps sit near a window.
Write a descriptive paragraph. What do you see, hear, touch, taste, smell?
Write the description out in detail to share with a partner. Ask them to close their eyes as you read so they can really start to create your imagery in their mind, like a movie or painting slowly being drawn.
Remember, the sense of ‘touch’ does not need to be with your hands, it’s anything you feel on any part of your body.
You also do not need to use the words, I see … etc. You can describe what you see and hide the sense word (show, don’t tell). ‘Before me, a majestic creature caught my sight …’ instead of ‘I see a majestic creature’.
When you have finished, go through and highlight all your VCOP to see which elements were dominant in this piece of writing.
ENTER THE SHORT STORY COMPETITION BELOW