About mid-way through this school year, my daughter started griping, I’m bored. I thought, whatever. She nagged me to volunteer in her class. I thought, no way.
When a four- or five-year-old uses the word, bored, it’s a safe bet they are playing with the word. But when they are eight or nine, it might be time to pay attention. When I did, it changed my life.
I like Georgia’s historic, charming, well-staffed, well-intentioned public school. She does too. This post is not about the shortcomings of her school. It is about the shortcomings of my attention.
My daughter and her classmates are being taught superlatively well how to write to rules and rubrics. But to write freely, for fun and without judgment? That’s a different story.
Stuck in my own nowhere of creative momentum, I plunged instead into a new adventure. I proposed to Georgia’s teacher that I lead a classroom project in something I’d never done, but that amounted to the only thing I could contribute. The magnificent teacher did her part: she said yes. Then, over a four-month period, she and I worked together with 19 third-graders to write their own creative nonfiction (and a bit of fiction) stories.
We tell our children stories. We read books aloud, and prod our kids to read for themselves. So they read about famous people, folk tales and legends, biographies, historical fiction and fantasies. But do they realize that their own lives are stories? That they have the experience and imagination to create and share stories that come entirely from themselves? Based on their own remarkable lives and the future they envision?
Well, of course, they can. Give them tools and attention and you will be amazed. I was amazed. I was encouraged. I was uplifted and transported. I was repaid a million times over, with the only payment that counts or lasts.
I want you to know that wherever your child goes to school, or doesn’t, whatever their age or grade level, they are brilliant. They are geniuses. They are authors. I am convinced already. I am their first fan.
I word-processed and printed out each three-chapter-long book on my computer. They drew illustrations and a cover design that we laminated. They wrote author bios and I snapped their photos and we put that together on the last page. We spiral bound everything together and then they went on book tour reading their stories aloud in classrooms of younger ages. We’re having a book festival next week where the kids will read their stories to their fellow authors and everyone gets a literary prize. An eraser. Oh how I prize my own, because the most important thing about writing is not that you finish. It’s that you start, and then start all over again.
What did they write? To keep it short, I assembled 19 lines from their work into this abridged life story. It gives you an idea of the treasure they handed to me.
My story is unlike any other.
I was born early because I wanted to go places.
My first smile wasn’t a real smile, it was my “about to cry” smile.
It was like being sad and happy at the same time.
When I was little I liked excitement. I put Cheetos in the microwave.
When people asked how many friends I had, I said, “It would take a long time to count them.”
It seems like I have friends all over the world.
Friends are magic, movies are magic and spelling is magic because people can read your writing.
Making people feel happy and safe is the most important thing there is.
Everywhere we went, we went fast.
I thought a lot about growing up, but my parents thought about when I was little.
That’s what parents do.
Sometimes you have to lose something to find something better.
What you love never really goes away.
I used to want to work in an ice cream store, but something tells me life will be more interesting than that.
The day you read this I may be 9 or 90.
Now my energy goes up in the daytime and down in the nighttime.
The funeral lasted three hours.
Somewhere I’ll be watching, and I’ll be happy if you are good citizens.
I could go on forever, but my heart is bursting, and I find I have some writing to do.
If you are a parent or teacher and you would like a copy of the lesson plan I created for this project, “My Life Story: A Creative Nonfiction Project for 3rd Graders,” just leave a comment with a way to contact you, or email me and I’ll gladly share.
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