Tag Archives: children

Children are Real Writers

A recent incident in California highlighted the value of children’s writing.  It seems two cousins wrote a book of 157 rules to live by, and then lost it in a Wal-Mart parking lot. A young worker who retrieves carts found the book, recognized its value, and advertised for its owners.

Now that girls and book are reunited, I hear that publishers are seeking the rights to publish the book of heartfelt rules like, “Don’t bite the dentist,” and  “Don’t keep saying please, if someone says no.” book of rules

Just like all real writers, these girls wrote about what they know best: their rules were gained from their life experiences and the advice of their parents. Like all real writers, these girls developed the skill to closely observe life around them.

As a teacher, these are the skills I tried to hone in my students. This kind of teaching takes time, but the benefits pay off. You may have seen post of my students’ work in my blog before; they wrote some amazing pieces – and they valued themselves as writers.

Teaching students to be real writers can come very early. I recently helped my seven-year-old granddaughter write some poems inspired from her Christmas book, Where the Sidewalk Ends  by Shel Silverstein.  See if you think she’s a real writer, too.

 Racing ©

by Delaney

Depends on if the

Judge is fair.

Depends on the

Sneakers you wear.

Depends on if

They count the nose.

Depends on if

You have long toes.

Depends on if

The track is square.

Depends on if

There’s dusty air.

Depends on if

You are not fat.

Depends on if

They put down a mat.

The race is won

By the raciest one.

The Groomer ©

by Delaney

I do not want my fur to go.

I do not want my nails cut low.

I do not want my long ears shaved.

I do not want my body bathed.

I do not want to have to wait

Locked up in a tiny crate.

My mom arrives

And hugs me so

All my worries

Far to go.


In memory of the children

We all ache and feel helpless when someone is taken from us. We want to help at any time of loss – especially when it involves innocent children.  We often cannot think of the right thing to do to honor the memory of the one or ones who were lost.

When we lost our daughter, Christy, we asked people to do acts of kindness and call them “Christys” in her honor as she lived her life performing random acts of kindness. This would keep her spirit alive. As long as one person remembers her she still exists. Having many people do good deeds in her honor keeps her spirit alive. Even though it has now been 14 years since her loss, I still get folks emailing and writing me about the “Christy” they performed. These emails make her present for just a moment and warm the space in my heart where she resides.child statue

This year, we have so many lost children to honor. A friend sent me a link where one can donate a book to a children’s library at a school or public library in honor of one of the lost children. The idea is to donate a book that connects with one of the passions of a particular child. The book is inscribed to a particular child who was lost.

I love this idea as it performs a good in the name of the child and connects to the life of that child. This idea brings a child to life as their favorite literature is shared in their honor with children who read the book.

Writing Can Heal

In times of sadness, writing can heal. I experienced this first hand when my own daughter died at 26 in a caving accident in Mexico. After the initial shock, as they days slowly passed waiting for her funeral, I found myself isolated in the backyard just writing about her. Through this healing process, I found a connection to her that I could share to help heal others.

I found the same to be true with my students after 9-11 when everyone was in shock. I led my fourth grade students in writing odes to America. By connecting with everything that America gives to us, we were able to help each other heal from this terrible tragedy. americaAs it turned out, we framed the students poems on patriotic paper, mounted them all on a bulletin board, and sold them at  a school event.

The parents were so moved to see the passion that each student poured out about this country that they just moved from poem to poem in silence. Many told me that these poems helped them to heal and were taken home and hung in places of honor. I know I still keep my teacher’s anthology in a place of honor.

Now we are faced with another senseless national tragedy. The villains who perpetuate these crimes steal more than lives – they steal our children’s sense of security. Writing can help restore the power of personal safety if we just let our children talk and write about their fears and them about the positives in their lives.

Here’s a sample Ode to America:

Ode to the Heroes

By Kelsey French, fourth grader in 2001

Over 300 hundred of you sacrificed your lives for others

Like angels radiantly praising God.

Your good deeds

Spread across our nation

Challenging us to follow your examples.

That night

You still kept your

Heads high and became

As rough as proud elephant.

Do you know

How much the children

Of the world relish you?

How much do you think you

Accomplished by your great deeds?

Everybody said you increased

In strength as powerfully

As David’s saving the world

From Goliath.

You’ve risen as swiftly

As eagles to shield your fledglings

In the Twin Towers.

So we pledge to you,

Heroes, for all the deeds you’ve done,

Let us be one America

With liberty

And justice

For all.

Story Starters for Children

Reading stories written by professionals can be a good springboard for children to create their own pieces of writing. Santa Claus Meets the Tooth Fairy opens the door to many writing ideas.

For younger children, the following ideas could prompt creativity:

  1. Write a letter to the Tooth Fairy.
  2. Write Santa a recipe for a healthy snack.
  3. Write about the time you lost your first tooth. If you have not yet lost a tooth, make up a believable story about what you think it would be like. Hint: Interview others who have lost a baby tooth to get details for your story.

For older children, the writing ideas can be more complex:  Student Writing

  1.  Research what children in other cultures do with lost baby teeth. The Tooth Fairy does not visit every house around the world. For example, in Japan, the first baby tooth is thrown on the roof and the second is thrown under the house to ensure prosperity. In another version from the Japanese culture, lost upper teeth are thrown straight down to the ground and the lost lowers are thrown straight up in the air to ensure that incoming teeth will grow in straight.
  2. What does the border in this book represent? Can you retell the story by touching the border? Create your own border, then write a story to go with it.
  3. Create a new fantasy character who will visit children in secret. Explain why this character visits children. Describe your character in detail. Does your character have any special powers. For example is there a character who visits children on their half birthday to reward them for good health habits? What about a character who visits children when they have completed other firsts in growing up like the first time they rode a bike, or the first time they used a cell phone, or the first time they ate an artichoke, or the first time they saw the beach?

The Power of Personal Writing

Good writing reveals our inner selves in a most personal way. It puts us out there for public scrutiny. Writing begins a most intimate conversation between the writer and reader.

Working as a Writers in the Schools (WITS) writer, taught me so much about how to open up my self to the personal details that making writing a better exchange between reader and writer. WITS pairs a professional writer in the classroom with a certified teacher.

Lessons are created that move students deeper into their response to a particular writing topic so that they become personal. After the introductory lesson, both the teacher and writer move around the class conferencing with individual students to ask more questions that prompt deeper thinking and more personal writing.

Colored pencilsOne lesson we did was “My Name.” This lesson is based on Sandra Cisneros’s piece by the same title found in her book The House on Mango Street.  The writer reads Cisneros’s piece to the class, and then with their help pinpoints what makes this piece personal, powerful, and fresh –  creating that personal conversation with the reader.

The writer and the teacher usually read their pieces to the class to generate further discussion. Word choices, introductions and conclusions are highlighted as strong points in each of the pieces.

Then the teacher and writer help the class to brainstorm other questions that might apply to the name of anyone in the class. As students generate ideas/questions, the list is posted on the board.  By this time, personal writing ideas have been born in the students are they are chomping at the bit to begin their own pieces.

Through this lesson process, students gain the desire to share the important details about their own names. Writing becomes more natural. Writers become eager to share because they feel that what they have to say is both personal and important.

Of course, many unique perspectives about each student’s name present themselves in the drafted pieces. The final step in all writing process lessons is either small or large group sharing. As these pieces are shared, student comments and feedback identify writing choices that they found particularly powerful and well chosen. Finally, students are given time to revise their pieces. When illustrated and published these pieces can turn into a keepsake of a class anthology.

Taking the time to make writing personal for students is a journey worth taking.

Give the Tooth Fairy sparkly, healthy teeth

My great nephew's first missing toothIt’s a celebration when a child loses a tooth to natural causes and awaits the tooth fairy, but a tragedy when a young one suffers from poor dental hygiene.

Santa Claus Meets the Tooth Fairy purposefully entertains as well as educates young readers: how appropriate that its publication month coincides with Dental Hygiene Month! As a mother, grandmother, and educator, I understand the importance of promoting good dental health and how children tend to tune out those messages from the people who love and see them on a daily basis.

Enter the fantastical: I felt having Santa and the Tooth Fairy teach a quick lesson on brushing and flossing makes this book more valuable and opens the discussion between reader and child about the importance of dental health.

As a teacher, I still remember all those young students who would come up to me with their mouths wide open and a tooth either dangling or in their hand having been recently removed.

My granddaughter's first missing toothEven though I taught 3rd and 4th graders for most of my career, they were still losing teeth and were proud of it.  They would stand in front of me proudly and await an excited response. As old as I am, I still remember the excitement of losing my baby teeth, so I proudly shared the excitement of each child with a new gap in their smile. As most teachers of young children, I even had a special tooth-sized treasure chest for a child to carry his or her tooth safely home.

I love that my granddaughter (left) lost her first baby tooth at my house this summer. We were at a Vacation Bible School celebration. She flew across the room to smile at us with a space where a tooth had been when we dropped her off at her classroom door just a few minutes before.

Look at that proud and excited expression on her face. Do you have pictures to share of that first toothless grin of one of your babies? I’d love you to share them! Please email them to me at kvanek at yahoo dot com or post them on my Facebook Fan Page.

Losing baby teeth

For me, the time as a parent when my children began losing those first baby teeth was both magical and poignant.

The magic began with passing on the tradition of believing in the tooth fairy. As a young parent, this presents many questions:

  • What do I want my child to believe about the Tooth Fairy?
  • What do we put the tooth in?
  • How much money do we put in place of the tooth?
  • Should the Tooth Fairy leave a note?
  • What do we do with the tooth once it’s retrieved from under the pillow?

baby teeth, losing a tooth, tooth fairy

Preparing for the first visit of the Tooth Fairy is fun, but also sad in knowing that this is another step toward your child’s growing up. Just like crawling and those tentative first steps, a parent knows that each necessary stage in the growth process leads their child to independence and moving into adulthood when we sometimes want to just keep them little so that we can protect them from the grown-up world.