We all have unrealistic dreams of parenting, don’t we? In one of mine, my daughter and I spend happy hours together as I write down her dictated stories. My mom used to do this with me, and being me, I loved it. Wouldn’t my daughter, being my daughter, love it too?
Well. The one time I successfully convinced her to try, she wrote the following:
Experimental literature is not ready for my daughter.
The Definitive Field Guide to Monsters
However, being my daughter or just herself, she does love field guides. We often read them as bedtime stories. She particularly likes reading about the habitats and reproductive habits of moray eels, mountain goats, musk oxen, and elk1.
She also, along with her invisible rabbit Jenny, is something of a monster expert. Jenny, you see, hunts monsters and we currently have an invisible mini-fridge of monster meat in our living room. I hear monster is good with salt and vinegar.
The idea came up of writing a field guide to monsters. I was just as excited as she was. We dug up a piece of old poster board and I set her loose with her water colors. Then, (cue exaltant violins) she dictated everything she knew about them to me.
Did you know that monsters are the size of whales, but can’t swim because they live in dry places? Or that they hatch out of the earth because they all have male parts and so cannot have babies? Or that you tell male and female monsters apart not by their genitals but by whether or not they have beards?
You can write about anything
The point here being, you can write about anything. And sometimes kids who are reluctant to write just need a backdoor that is as far away from the grand front steps of the library as possible. Maybe that’s monsters. Or skateboarding. Or video games. Or tigers.
Getting a kid writing might also mean thinking outside the normal genres of stories, poems, reports etc. It might mean writing a field guide, or instructions, or a review. It might start with a list, or a comic, or sticky labels. It might be online, or written with sidewalk chalk, or mailed. It might be dictated onto a giant posterboard covered in paintings of monster beards.
The important thing is that it is a positive experience of expressing something through writing. It’s a reinforced neural pathway between satisfaction and writing. And it’s just the beginning.
Did you know that male elk pee on vegetation and then toss those plants over their backs as part of their rutting displays? We can tell you all about it.