Tag Archives: writing

Unexpected Lessons

This past weekend was a busy one. I had the opportunity to attend the Write2Ignite! writing conference, and I took two of my children along with me.  Three of their cousins attended as well. The youth class for middle school and high school students was taught by author and teacher Carol Baldwin, so  I signed them up, confident they would discover some things about how to write a story of their own.

And they did. My daughter Cassie, now 12, really enjoyed it and said she had learned a lot. My son John agreed.

What I didn’t expect, though, were the opportunities to work on other skills as well — life skills. When we arrived at the conference early Saturday morning, Cassie began looking around for her friend who was also coming to the conference.  The friend hadn’t arrived yet, though, but there was a girl about Cassie’s age sitting with her dad.

“Go over and introduce yourself,” I said, recalling the class in communication Cassie took last summer. “Remember what you learned? Just go up, tell her your name, and ask her what her name is.”

Cassie looked at me with her eyes wide, like a deer in headlights, as they say.  “Well…” she began, and I knew she was thinking up a reason not to go. Moments later, the girl’s friend arrived, and they were sitting together.

“You know,” I said to Cassie, “You can learn a lot more than writing at this conference. You have a chance to reach out to other people. Your friend is coming, but she doesn’t know your cousins — introduce her and pull her into the group. Then, you can go meet those two girls over there, and pull them in as well. What an great opportunity!”

“Maybe,” Cassie reluctantly admitted, and she went to find a seat until her friend arrived. That’s when I began scanning the room for someone I knew to talk to. Some people were getting coffee, some were reading, some were just sitting alone at a table. Then I caught myself —  it looked like I had that same opportunity.

Photo by taliesin


This is my third year of being part of the Write2Ignite! Conference, and I’m so excited! This year, the conference will again be held at North Greenville University in Greenville County, South Carolina, February 19-20. And one of the best features: the Teen Track for middle and high school students!

This year’s Teen Track Speaker is author and teacher Carol Baldwin. Her goal: to inspire students to write the story only they can write. By the end of three sessions, students will have created original characters and placed them in believable settings, brainstormed conflict and plot ideas, and learned how to mine from their own life experiences.

And that’s not all! Carol will also show them the benefits of the red pen, as they learn how to edit their own work. She’ll also describe for them the path to publication and how they can become published, too.

If you’re also interested in writing, you could make the conference an educational experience for both you and your child! Although this conference is primarily geared towards Christians who write for children, there’s a lot of great information for those who write for adults as well. Workshop topics include researching,  creating characters, writing devotionals for adults and kids, crafting queries and proposals, understanding contracts, building a web presence, and more.

Featured speakers of this conference include Marybeth Whalen of Proverbs 31 Ministries, agents Jenni Burke and Les Stobbe, editors Cindy Sproles and Terri Kelly, and authors  Michelle Buckman and Jill Roman Lord,  just to name a few.

So if you have a budding author in your family, consider having him or her attend a conference like Write2Ignite! I’ve attended the past two conferences with my children, and we all came from it inspired, encouraged, and ready to write!

Creating Story Characters

This year at our co-op, I’m teaching a creative writing course using WriteShop as our curriculum. Ten students in grades 6th – 9th are taking the class, and even though there is a difference in ages and abilities, for the most part, the classes run quite smoothly. The way the lessons are designed, we sometimes end up with extra class time for supplemental writing activities. One of our favorites so far has been “Creating Story Characters.”

What you’ll need:

  • Two large garbage bags
  • Various hats (i.e. chef’s hat, football helmet, pirate’s hat, etc.)
  • Other props (we used a Dr. Seuss book, a cape, a Hannah Montana wig, a pink feathery shawl, a fake beard)
  • 3 x 5 cards
  • envelope
  • pen
  • paper for each student
  • pencil for each student

To prepare, place all of the hats in one of the large garbage bags and all of the props in another.

On each 3 x 5 card, write an emotion. You might include happy, depressed, angry, excited, thrilled, lonely, etc. Place these cards in the envelope.

To play:

Ask for a volunteer to come to the front of the class. Have him choose one item from the “hat” bag and one item from the “prop” bag  by simply reaching in the bags without looking. Whatever props he pulls out, he must put on. Then, have him draw an emotion card from the envelope. He must then act out that emotion.

The other students are to quickly create a character based on what they see. They can include as much detail as they want about the character, such as the character’s name, where he’s from, what his hobbies are, why he’s feeling a certain way, etc.

Students have one minute to write about this character. When time is up, go around the room and have the students share their ideas.

I found that as the game progressed so did the creativity the students displayed! They came up with some great ideas for the wacky characters they saw — ideas I never would have thought of. And I have to admit: we had a lot of fun in the process!

Photo by cohdra

Finishing Those Unfinished Projects

Today was the last day of our writing camp. It began on Monday and ran for two hours each day. By the end, every child had a completed story in a folder, with the folders acting as the cover of their books. They had designed and colored a picture for the front of the folder, as well as created a title page, a dedication page, and an author page. We also included an author photo. They had completed two author’s bookmarks and a painted picture frame which contained a photo of the child holding his or her book.

While most of the children finished everything, a few didn’t complete all of the illustrations for their books. Two of my children who were at the camp ran out of time, and one of them was quite upset. “Don’t worry, ” I told her, “We can finish at home.”

Now comes the tricky part — setting aside time in the very near future to get those books completed all the way, especially during the summer when there are a lot of other things going on. I have a shelf full of my children’s unfinished art pieces, so I know it’s going to be a challenge. If you’re like me and want to help your children finish those unfinished projects, here are some ideas for you (and me!) to try:

  • Get back to the project right away! The longer it goes unfinished, the less likely your child (or you) will want to work on it again.
  • Set aside a particular time — a day, a morning, an afternoon — to work only on the project. Don’t worry about other schoolwork you may have had planned; finishing a project is a lesson in itself.
  • If your student is reluctant to finish it, give him smaller intervals of time to work on it, such as 20 or 30 minutes. Provide him with a timer, so he can see just how much time he has left. Challenge him to get a certain amount completed before the timer goes off.
  • Create a place for your student to work on the project and ONLY that project, such as an extra desk or worktable. That way, if it’s still not completed in one sitting, your child can return to it and easily pick up again where he left off.
  • Provide a reward! When the project’s completed, celebrate by showing it off to family and friends or sharing a special dessert or treat.

Now go get started…and get finished!

Photo by JDurham

Story Starters

This week, I’ve been helping to teach classes at a writing/illustrating camp for kids. We have students ages 6-13, and it’s been a lot of fun. The children have come up with some very imaginative stories!

One of the things we discussed at the camp was how the main character of a story has a problem to overcome. After the students decided on their main character, they had to figure out what the problem was going to be. For those who were having trouble thinking of a story line, we gave them a list of story starters.

The story starters were ideas for stories that the children could build upon. A story starter might be something like:

1. Tommy arrived home from school only to discover his baby brother was now sharing his bedroom.

2. The day before the royal ball, the princess fell from her horse and broke her leg.

3. The pirate captain and his crew were ready to dig for treasure, but they lost the map.

4. Spotty the dog wanted to walk with his owner to the store, but there was a cat sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. Spotty was afraid of cats.

5. As Jane and Marvin were having a picnic in the yard, a terrible storm blew in.

You can create more story starters to get your child writing. Just choose a character and a problem, and let the story begin! But, if you need even more ideas, there’s plenty of help online. Below are a couple of sites worth visiting:

  • Scholastic.com has a fun story starter “machine.” Just give the wheel a spin and see what comes up.
  • BookWeekOnline offers some interesting story starters for older kids. The first part of the story is written by a well-known author, but it’s up to the student to finish the adventure.

Your child might write using the story starter, or it might inspire him to develop his own storyline. Either way, story starters are a great way to get kids thinking — and writing!

Photo by kakisky

Writing Camp

A couple of weeks ago, a friend approached me about putting together a writing camp for the homeschoolers in our area. I was able to get in touch with another friend, author Pam Zollman, who has taught writing classes for years. This week we met to decide the details, and I think the camp is going to be really good.

Pam has written over 40 books for children, and she also worked as an editor at Highlights Magazine. As I listened to her talk during our planning meeting, I could tell she has a knack for getting the information to across to students.

During the camp, we’ll follow a similar schedule each day. To begin, we’ll read a favorite picture book, then together the class with discuss the story elements found in the picture book: characters, setting, and plot. This camp will focus on illustration, too, so we’ll look at the pictures to determine the medium used and the mood created.

Then Pam will start with the writing instruction, and the kids will work on their own original stories. Next, I’ll give the children some drawing tips so they can develop illustrations to go along with their books. Throughout the camp, Pam and I will be available to help them out as they work on their projects.

One of the best things about this camp is the educational experience it affords — and during the summer, too! Kids will spend five days learning, reading, writing, drawing, and putting their own book together. It can certainly be counted as school time, even if the children are having too much fun to realize it!

Do you have a friend who likes to write? Does she enjoy teaching as well? If so, encourage her to set up a class for the homeschoolers in your area. It doesn’t have to last all week — even one or two classes can inspire a young writer to start creating.

Beautiful Covers

This week, I worked at a local art camp teaching a writing class and helping with the crafts. Because we were working on stories in the writing class, the children spent time making books during art. These were conventional-looking books — with very unconventional covers.

The books themselves were small, about 4″ x 5″, though you could make them any size. The covers were made out of pieces of mat board, and for this project, a light color would work best — either white or cream. After cutting the paper to size, the art teacher then place a cover on either end of the paper stack and drilled two holes all the way through using a small bit. String was then threaded through the holes to hold the pieces together.

What made the covers so pretty, however, was the way in which the kids decorated them using tissue paper. We did this before putting the books together.

First, we mixed up a small amount of white glue with water. Each child then took a paintbrush and “painted” the mat board cover of their book with the mixture. Next, they chose from the colorful scraps of tissue paper we had on hand and placed them on the now sticky surface of their covers. They went over the tissue paper again with a little more of the glue/water mixture, making sure the tissue paper was lying flat. Overlapping the paper was fine — it created even more colors.

The mat board worked really well with this technique, as it was strong enough not to bend or warp when the glue mixture was applied. If you don’t have a drill, however, you can still use this technique to make an accordion-style book that you just put together with glue instead of string. To do this, have your child fold the paper like a fan, then glue each end to a rectangular piece of mat board that the child has decorated.

Whatever method you use, try making one of these beautiful books this summer. It will be a keepsake to last a lifetime!

Writing Opportunities for Kids

Write2Ignite revised2

There are some exciting writing opportunities coming up soon!  Here are a couple of them:


I am already gearing up for the next Write2Ignite! Christian Children’s Writing Conference (www.write2ignite.wordpress.com). It will be held in Greenville, South Carolina in February 2010. And the best part is, it’s not only for adults, but for teens as well!

I have the privilege of being on the planning committee again this year, so I get to find out all the details right away. This time, author Jonathan Friesen will be back to teach the teenagers how to get their stories on paper.

Jonathan’s classes cover a range of topics, including characterization, plot, and emotion. Two of my children attended his classes at the last conference, and they both came away from it inspired to write. That, and they really enjoyed staying in a hotel overnight.


If you enjoy writing fiction, then you’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Some of my family members and friends participated last year. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel from start to finish during the month of November. No revising —  just writing, writing, writing.

I don’t think I’ll be trying it this year, as I already have many projects on my plate, but I might just sign up my son John for NaNoWriMo. Students 13 years old and up can participate through the regular site, but they have to stick to the 50,000-word goal. However, there is also a Young Writer’s Program (www.ywp.nanowrimo.org) set up for children 17 and under. Here parents can set the goal for the word count based on the age of the child. After that, the plan is the same — to write and write during the month of November with no revisions at all.

What’s the purpose? To encourage creativity, build confidence, improve writing skills, and teach time management techniques as students work to reach their word-count goal. You know, I just might sign up all my children!

Stories for Dad

jaredmike001About six years ago, my sister told me about a gift her children gave to their dad on father’s day. It was such a good idea, we tried it the next year, and we’ve been doing it ever since. Each year, my children write a story for their father.

The characters and plot of the story is the child’s own creation, and it’s fun to see what they come up with. We’ve had stories that range from mysteries to wildlife to a bee in the trash can.

The story is as short or as long as the child wants it to be, although I’ve found that even with younger children, it can be quite long as their adventures goes on and on with many (often unrelated) twists and turns. For my little ones, I type up the story as they dictate it to me; they’ll pause every so often so I can catch up. I like to write it down exactly how they say it – I don’t correct the grammar or word choice.

My older children type up their own stories, and when everyone is done we go back and make it even fancier. I let them choose the font and color they want to use for their stories, and we print them out. But the gift’s not quite done yet.

I purchase a folder for each story (preferably white), and the children draw the covers for their stories on the front of their folders. Then we type up an author’s biography and glue it inside the back cover. The biography states the child’s full name, his age, what his interests are, and what he want to be when he grows up. Above the biography, I include a recent photo of the child.

These stories have been so much fun!  On Father’s Day, we wrap them up individually, and each child gives Dad his or her story. He reads them out loud, and we all enjoy them. Even more fun is pulling out the stories from years past and reading them again. What a great idea my sister had: a low-cost, enjoyable gift that will be treasured by Dad in the years to come.

Nature Journaling

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter Lillie came running in from playing outside.

“Mommy! Mommy!” she shouted. “It’s spring! It’s spring! I saw one of those yellow flowers in the front yard!”

It was still pretty chilly outside, but she was right — the daffodils were starting to bloom. It was a good reminder to pull out our nature journals.

We started working in our nature journals again last fall, then with the busyness of the holidays we tucked them away for a while. But new life in the spring presents the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. 

Fridays are our least busy day, so that’s when we set aside some time to go outside. If you’d like to start a nature journal, here are a few tips for getting started. 



Paper: An ordinary tablet, sketchbook, homemade journal, composition book, or spiral notebook 

 Pencils and erasers

Colored pencils or watercolors

Field guides of birds, snakes, lizards, mammals, rocks, trees, etc.



The date, time, place, and weather conditions

What you see, hear, or smell. You can try to identify the objects, plants, and animals and write about what you find.

Drawings in pencil, pen, colored pencils, or watercolors.



The scientific names and common names of specimens

Interesting facts about the specimens you find

Special poems, scriptures, or hymns

A brief description or story about what you’ve found

Pressed leaves or flowers 

Leaf rubbings


There aren’t any set rules to nature journaling — one child may want to include only butterflies, while another is interested in trees. Or, a child may want to include everything he finds. As you head outside with your child, though, be sure to take a notebook and pencil for yourself. You never know what you might find!