by Laura Hill
I am often asked to speak about how my daughters, then 5 and 8, tricked me into to writing a book series with them about a land where all the stories ever written come to life, The Great Story World Mix-Up. I have to admit it’s been a huge undertaking. Now two years and eight books later the process has given me a lot to reflect upon, much of which I feel is relevant, even in step with the ideas surrounding changes being implemented in progressive schools around the globe.
When my daughters first asked me to write with them my initial reaction was, NO! How do you write with children? What ideas could they possibly have that would develop into a good story arc? What I found was that their ideas were much more relevant than mine as they were the same age as the market we were writing for. Time and time again they bested me with their ideas even with the series title, The Great Story World Mix-Up, which I had proposed be called The Rainy Day Club.
This got me thinking. How many other artists and authors have gotten their great ideas from children?
Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series began as bedtime stories for his son. Mary Pope Osborne thanks two children for their ideas and inspiration in her first Magic Tree House book Dinosaurs Before Dawn. Martin Scorsese made the book Hugo into a movie at the suggestion of his 12-year-old daughter, Francesca. Walt Disney made Mary Poppins into a movie at the urging of his daughters. And Harry Potter was originally published because a book executive's child begged him to do so.
So what is it with kids and their great insight?
I think it’s that kids see what “is”. They don’t necessarily focus like adults do, through lenses colored by what is “supposed” to be. They don’t try to fit an idea into their long term goals or a set of tasks. They are living in the moment and they know a good thing when they see it. I also think kids give more freely and emotionally connect more deeply than adults. Any parent with a child who has a stuffed animal collection knows what I am talking about. I believe this is because they are just starting to empathize and develop the emotional intelligence that makes us become compassionate or hard, ruthless or kind; and they are not yet jaded by the world’s definition of success.
The question that persistently pesters me is how then can we expect kids to be creative and emotionally connected when we constantly tell them their ideas aren't correct. We start in kindergarten and pre-K when we tell them to use a blue crayon to color the sky. I’ve seen fiery sunsets filled with purple, orange, pink, red and gold, so have you. Why isn’t this an option? As we continue trying to develop ways to educate a student body who is more adept at technology and more adaptable to thoughts that will foster new invention, we are going to have to try really hard to balance our listening and guiding.
My daughter’s are ready to go out and execute their own ideas but they still need help, and they are forward thinking about what they want to accomplish. We are now adding video components to our books that magically appear on the page to give young readers another layer of experience that gets them excited about reading. My daughters are brainstorming ways to update our website to make it more interactive and to bring each land in Story World that our heroes Penelope and Jilly have fixed to life. The more I step back and give them the opportunity to run with it, the more they will.
We need to open our minds and give kids credit for the great ideas they come up with.
If we want to foster a generation of great thinkers we need to be guides and listeners who not only applaud good ideas but who help children get those ideas into the world AND give them credit for it. To do this we need to shake loose from the shackles that conform our thought to set routines so that when flashes of brilliance arise we are flexible enough to steer off the beaten path and try something new. And fail. And try again.
My older daughter is moving up to middle school today. She will not be recognized for being the student who taught her classmates how to present with Prezis and websites. She will be one of the many who are not recognized because their talents don’t conform to those measured in our district, despite her excellent grades. She is well grounded because she knows first hand that her talents are valuable. But what about the kids who don’t.
Today, next year, while you are teaching, you have the opportunity to not only celebrate the talents in your classroom but to create a culture of learning that will lead to amazing ideas that you can help students execute upon. We are so close! You as educators are doing so many amazing things in your schools, but it's not enough, be bold! I don’t want my daughters to grow up feeling like they are wasting their time because they are bored in class. I want them to feel that they have had the opportunity to come in contact with extraordinary educators and peer groups who helped guide and shape their great ideas into reality.