How To Turn Playtime Into Writing Time

It’s Parent/Teacher conference week in the school district I work in.  I love talking with parents!  It’s one of my favorite parts of the job.  While conference week is exhausting, in the sense that I don’t get home until 8pm on several nights of the week, I find it so inspiring.  I get to talk with parents about who their kids really are and give them suggestions for building their learning environment at home.  As I was chatting with a parent on Monday, she was telling me how her daughter isn’t loving the writing process at home.  I shared several FUN ways to incorporate writing into everyday life, and this post popped into my head.
Here is the original post.
My daughter LOVES her horses.  We bought this beautiful barn/stable at a garage sale last Spring.  It was the best $15 I’ve ever spent!  My little girl will spend HOURS playing ponies and really loves the barn.  Over the weekend, she got out the blocks and made an arena for the ponies to do their tricks in.
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She’d set the ponies up and start her story telling. Now, you should know that my daughter is a story teller.  For some kids, story telling does not come naturally.  They rely on their parents, friends, caregivers, or older siblings to model story telling.  My daughter, on the other hand, tells stories in her sleep.  Literally.  She talks all night long.  She talks to stuffed animals, friends, family, and one time even held a full conversation with a fairy, all while still asleep.
As her barn and stable play was starting to wrap up, and I was ready to start a new sewing project, I decided to push her story telling to the next level.  It went something like this.
 “Hey, if you’d like to, you could grab the extra camera off the counter and take some pictures of your ponies. That might be fun.”
She looks at me with a puzzled look.
“You could tell the same story you were just creating, but this time take pictures of your ponies in action.  I’d be happy to print them for you and maybe you’d even like to make a book.”
Let the story telling begin!  My daughter spent the next hour, or so, taking about 100 pictures of her horses.  Her story telling was quite elaborate and she posed each horse for their own action shot.

When she was finished, she chose the 12 best photos and we printed them on the mini photo printer.  I’ve had this little printer forever and it’s great when the kids what to be in charge of their own projects. You could, just as easily, upload them and send them to your local drug store for pick up.  Our local Bartell Drugs has on-demand printing that we use all the time.
Then came time for the book.  I really thought she’d want stickers, fun paper, or lots of markers.  Instead, she chose a simple, pre-made, book from the writing center and a pink marker. (I have a writing center set up in the house, filled with pre-made blank books, stationary, cards, envelopes, scrapbook paper, and lots of art supplies.)
She glued each picture into her book.  Most of the spelling was done in her own “kid writing” but when she came across a really tough word, she’d ask her brother.

 I didn’t hover.  I didn’t “play teacher” and tell her to fix things.  I didn’t even remind her to use capitals at the beginning of sentences.  (Obviously!)  I just got out of her way and let her do the work of an author.  This was her book, her story, her photos, her way.

 When my daughter finished her book, she took pride in reading it to each of us.  I was thrilled that she was so proud of herself.  She knows that writing is hard work, especially when you’ve just finished kindergarten.  It really would not be appropriate if I asked her to correct her spelling, capitals, or go back and make revisions.  This experience was about building the confidence of a young story teller.  It was about play time turning into story time, and then to a writer’s workshop.  I know there is a time and place to talk to her about the capital I, but this wasn’t it.
When a woodworker goes into their workshop, they find raw materials and create something beautiful.  Kids need a writer’s workshop to use in the same way.  My first grader built a story telling platform out of simple blocks and toy horses.  She created stories in much the same way a woodworker envisions the piece they are about to make.  Finally, she became a writer.  She used the story she had told through play, pictures she had taken, and a blank book to become an author.  She took raw materials and made something beautiful that she could hold in her hands.
What stories could your kids tell through their play?
Happy writing!

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