Last week I talked about raising my rock star son and highlighted 5 informal goals that help me do it. This week I will plug my daughter’s studies into those points, primarily to illustrate that these goals are applicable to many interests and abilities.
In general, when I’m creating our home education environment, I take cues from my kids’ play time, which is most often “playing grown-up” in one version or another. They parent baby dolls, teach stuffed animals in pretend classrooms, and battle invisible enemies on imagined battlefields. They don’t study different roles in structured units – they playact them.
When I began actively nurturing Eva’s story-telling abilities, I had a choice. I could have her write stories and file them away in a drawer as a classroom exercise, or we could play author. I chose the latter and more fun option. We would do all the things that authors do. Eva would write a story from beginning to end, illustrate it, and we would use the plethora of free internet resources to self-publish and sell her creation. We would have release parties. There would be tasty food.
I have blogged a bit about her experiences before, but this is how her story plays out in my 5 goals to nurture my kids’ interests:
1. Pay attention to what my kids are interested in.
Eva has told stories from the get-go. Her dad and I read tons of picture books to her when she was a toddler and preschooler, and by the time she was three, she was play-acting many scenes with her myriad dolls, as was normal for her age. But as she grew into the 4 and 5 years, she wasn’t just making her dolls have conversations; she was narrating the story in between. She would say things like “‘Let’s go to the park,’ Mary said. And then Jill said, ‘ok.'” By this time she was reading on her own, and apparently she was paying attention to the structure of the storytelling, and not just the stories themselves. This was my “aha” moment.
2. Find quality teachers and mentors to help them pursue their interests.
I get to cheat on this one, because Jamie and I are or have been professional writers in our adult lives. I was a professional grant writer and fundraiser for five years, and Jamie is a fiction writer and professor of English at a local university. Though I no longer write professionally, I do (obviously) still enjoy the craft of writing. So we didn’t have to hire outside teachers to help Eva pursue her potential.
3. Provide the material resources our kids need to develop their interests.
This marks our third year using National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to help Eva create her stories. NaNoWriMo is a free online resource that challenges people to write a book in 30 days. You set your word count goal, and then update the site with your progress throughout the month. At the end, you get a hearty congratulations and a digital award symbol if you make your goal. And they are very funny. Perfect for us.
NaNoWriMo offers wonderful printable materials that help participants to develop characters and story outlines. Each year I print out their workbook and present it to Eva as a gift. That first year I told her that I believed she had the ability to be a storyteller, and that by working with NaNoWriMo, she would have the opportunity to write her own book. We would play author! She was thrilled. This was right up her imaginative alley.
We do have difficulty with physical dexterity. At 8, Eva is still a relatively slow writer and typist. Though she practices these skills outside of NaNoWriMo, I don’t want these difficulties to stand in the way of her marathon book writing. For now, I let her dictate to me and commit to writing down everything exactly as she says it, errors included.
4. Provide ample structured and non-structured time for our kids to pursue their interests.
From October through March, I turn our entire “language arts class” over to NaNoWriMo and the book creation process. Every day we work on the book together, me offering general guidance and serving as her typist and publisher, she doing the hard work of story creation and telling, editing, and illustrating.
There are times each year that she doesn’t want to continue, and we allow enough of a buffer to take some days off when needed. For two years now, she has been successful in achieving her goals. It’s terribly exciting.
This exercise has amazing benefits for Eva. She not only creates a story, she learns spelling, grammar, punctuation, and tense all at the same time. She studies other published books – how the illustrations are spaced, if they have a title page, where the dedication goes, whether they include a glossary, etc. She uses this research to design her own work. By May of each year, thanks to the self publishing site lulu.com, Eva holds her very own book in her hands. That first year, on the day she opened her first self-authored book, she told me that she used to want to be a princess. But now she wanted to be an author.
5. Take our kids’ talents and interests seriously.
We could stop with the publication and simply share the lulu link with family and a few friends. But that’s not what a real author does! So neither do we. We trumpet it all over our social media networks, throw release parties (there is of course tasty food), and show it to everyone who will look. That first year we took her to Winnipeg to see Neil Gaiman at an event there; she gave him a copy of her manuscript and he stood up to shake her hand.
This year, she showcased her author business at a kids’ entrepreneurial fair called Marketplace for Kids. And the release of this second book of hers coincided with my husband’s first published novel. And so last summer, we went on a family cross-country book tour.
This year we also created Eva’s very own website to promote her books. During the book tour she became inspired to teach other kids about writing and to encourage them to write their own stories. When we returned from the tour, she and I co-wrote a five-part series of 2-minute lectures about the craft of writing. We filmed them in our basement and uploaded them to her website. She hopes that teachers all over the country will use her videos in their classrooms to inspire other kids. Next up: audio books.
This whole experience has challenged Eva to learn public speaking skills as well. As Eva is put in situations in which she has to talk about her books, she is becoming more comfortable and confident. In two weeks, she will be showcasing her videos and books in the exhibitor’s hall at the North Dakota Educator’s Association convention. She will spend the entire day pitching her videos to passerby teachers, encouraging them to use her brief messages to inspire their kids. I can’t wait.
By playing author with the support and investment of her family, Eva has become one. Our home education environment allows us the flexibility to meet Eva’s intellectual needs and to nurture her dearest passions all in one. For us, school time and “extra-curriculars” have no distinction – they are all a part of her big picture education.
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