When I was a classroom teacher, at least once a day, I had a student tell me, "I have nothing to write about!" My students were unaware of the incredible natural resource they possessed: their boundless creativity. Our children are natural storytellers. The depth of their imaginations never ceases to amaze me. And yet, our children approach a blank page with trepidation -- certain they have nothing to say.
When most children set out to write, they aren't thinking about sharing their ideas and stories. More often than not, they're stressing about letter formation and proper spelling. When I ask my 6-year-old son to write, generally a small groan will escape his lips. For me, writing is therapeutic. It excites me. For him, writing is a pressure-cooker. "What do I write about?" "What if I can't spell something?" "How many sentences make a story?"
However, if I ask my son to draw a picture, he immediately puts crayon to paper and begins to unleash his ideas. As he draws, what he may not realize is that he is telling a story. The pictures that our children draw contain so much meaning. There is so much information within an illustration. Don't believe me? Pick up a copy of Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann or Mark Teague's Dear Mrs. LaRue. If you were to simply listen to a reading of the book, you'd no doubt hear a great story. However, when you enjoy the story along with the illustrations, the story is made complete.
The writer in me hopes that one day my son will fall in love with the act of putting pen to paper. Until that day comes, I want to inspire his creativity and affirm for him that he is a storyteller. I want him (and all children!) to know they have something to say.
You can follow this basic process to help your child recognize that his/her drawing is a story, and that he/she is a natural-born storyteller.
1. Talk to your children about their drawings.
Ask questions. Point out details. Encourage them to tell you about their pictures. Here are a few questions to ask:
- Point out the characters
- What are their names?
- What are they like?
- Describe them to me.
- Point out the setting
- Where is this? or Where is "character's name" right now?
- What is it like there?
- Ask about "plot"
- What is the character doing right now? Why? What do you think will happen next?
Let your children guide this conversation, and respond to what they say. Ask questions based on their responses. As they talk about their pictures, they are telling a story, giving you information about main characters, setting, and story plot.
2. You just told a story!
Woohoo! Your kids are storytellers! Let them know that they just told a story, and praise them for their imaginative ideas. Use this opportunity to build their confidence as storytellers, and to help them understand that they have something to say.
3. Write it down.
If your children are reluctant writers, instead of asking them to write the story, take a dictation, and write or type out the story as they tell it. The point of drawing a story is not to practice writing, but rather to help them practice storytelling and gain confidence in the depth and quality of their ideas. Children who are not frustrated with the act of writing, but simply struggle to develop ideas, may be able to do their own writing.
If possible, attach the writing to the picture.
4. Read your story.
Writers are readers. There is something magical that happens when children read their own writing. Sometimes you can almost see a switch flip, when they realize, "I'm a writer!" As my son read the words I'd typed, his face lit up. "Mom, can we keep doing this? I could draw more pictures and we could turn this into a whole book!" The day before, this same child sat sullenly at the kitchen table, staring at his journal complaining he had no ideas. I just needed to access his creativity in a different way.
5. Share the story.
Let your children share their stories with someone else. Have them read them to another family member or friend. Sharing their ideas and stories with others can be incredibly validating and further cement for them that they are storytellers with something to say.
Tap into your children's ideas this week, and encourage them to draw a story.