This month's theme is very heavily inspired by NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month! NaNoWriMo is about a billion things - it's an online platform for starting a new novel, tracking your goals, and building a community of writers; it's a nonprofit that supports all writers from as young as kindergarten on up; it's in-person write-ins in bigger cities in small coffee shops; and soooo much more. So, it's like all the things... exceptttt, writing with pre-writers (which makes sense because you wouldn't really expect someone who doesn't write yet to write a novel)... and that's why I'm excited to experiment all month long on writing as a family! NaNoWriMo's Young Writers' Project has amazing resources for writing with grades K-12 and I highly encourage you to register your class and try this out if you're interested, or at very least, register yourself as an educator and check out their writing workbooks - it's all free (you can buy hard copies) and high quality and wonderful! If you want to play around with writing a novel of your own, a) GO FOR IT! b) sign up for NaNoWriMo. If you want to write with a littler kiddo, if you're looking for some short ideas you can modify if you teach in a place that undervalues writing, or if you're excited about writing with your family as a whole, check out the Month in Moments calendar below! If you'd like to register a wee one in my "class", my class code in the Young Writers' Project is URPABJUX. This will give you a digital way to track your word count and meet your family writing goals! Soooo, now on to the "Why on Earth are we writing novels with toddlers?" question and some other tips!
Open the Google Doc of November's Month in Moments Calendar here!
(If you would, please comment on your favorite idea OR ask a question in the document. To do this, you put your cursor where you want to comment and then select the little square speech bubble with the + sign in the toolbar (right above the 5 on the ruler tool). Sign your comment with your initials. This will let me see how many people use this calendar and it will let me use your feedback to improve these calendars! Google Doc not working for you? Here's a PDF!)
Why on Earth are we writing novels with toddlers?
I value an "already ready" approach to reading, writing, and all learning. Old school ideas led us to believe that children were blank slates. Over time, we've realized just how incorrect that assumption was. Children are sponges, they take in everything and they bring so many rich experiences to the table. They are immensely capable, especially so when we give them the space, tools, and inspiration to have at it. They've already got stories to tell! Listen to any baby who has figured out how to make sounds or any toddler beginning to figure out words or any school age kiddo - they've got lots to share :). Young kiddos are very much still forming their identities. The more opportunities we give children to play at reading, writing, math, science, art, civic engagement, sports, etc. the more fully they can imagine themselves doing those things later and the more likely they are to think: "I'm a writer"; "I'm a kind friend"; "I'm a voter"; "I'm good at solving tough problems", etc. So, if you simplified all of the ideas from this month's calendar, you'd get to the root invitation to write together. Scribble, draw, tell, act out, and write stories together. You may do all the writing. Each day might be about a different story or cast of characters entirely. One week, your kiddo might just scribble and you add on words all on one day the next week. Anything goes. Let your kiddos see you writing their very valuable words. Let them write in whatever way the can :).
I also LOVE writing with little ones because it is so interactive. We have to get down on their level, sit or snuggle together, pull out our favorite writing supplies, and chat. It's such a lovely way to connect and boost literacy skills all at the same time :). And, the pride on a kiddo's face when they finish their story or share their work with a loved one is simply so joyful. It is a lovely reminder of just how skilled every kiddo is.
What does writing look and sound like with little ones?
Last year in Story Time Yoga we had a blast using A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka, a beautifully expressive story with no words. Each little learner got one page of the story to to tell based on the pictures. Planning this lesson reminded me of general patterns we can observe in pre-writing skills. You can see a document of pre-writing stages and examples here.
As for what this sounds like, you can see a conversation about writing a story between HG and I in the calendar :). With one of our older friends, they often draw and use a blend of scribble writing, mock letters, and random strings of letters (moving more and more toward random strings of letters). Then, when the drawing is complete, I listen as our friend dictates the story, and I write... soooo fast because kiddos are FAST story tellers :). Here are some ways to approach writing your "novel" with your kiddo/s:
Talk like writers about stories you read. Notice what makes the characters special. Point out the different places the characters go to. Imagine how a story would be different if it took place somewhere else. What if they thought they were going to the beach and ended up at the doctor's office? What problems do the characters face and how do they overcome them? Say something like, "At the beginning of the story Trixie couldn't talk. In the middle, she was scared because Knuffle Bunny was gone. At the end, Trixie and her family were happy and Trixie said her first word!" after reading Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Willems. ``
Watch what characters they act like or toys they play with frequently. Ask if they'd like to tell a story about that character.
Use a scene of play as the start of a story. Either write what your kiddo says or take pictures. Print the pictures and ask your kiddo to tell you what they were doing.
Focus on the drawings!! Anywhere where I've written "write", know it means however your kiddo puts marks on paper - whether they're under a year and you're writing down what they play with, whether they are twoish and scribbling picture shapes and word shapes and kind of telling you what the represent, or if they are writing scribble words, it all counts. Ask your kiddo to draw and then ask what the drawing shows. Write this down, read it back, take any edits, repeat :). What is FASCINATING is when kiddos start to tell the same story to different people rather than a different story each time they talk about their work :). Look out for that!
Give a kid a notebook and say, "Will you write me a story like ______ (insert favorite book and author)?" and see what unfolds! HG loves walking around with a pen and notebook in hand doing little scribble words.
Once your story gets started and you know your kiddo's character, ask about this character throughout the day as if they were a friend. Maybe you're walking the dog and ask, "Do you think Purple Bunny has a pet? Would she have a dog?". Maybe you're at dinner and while everyone shares about their day, you ask what the Magic Queen did all day. Then, before bed, jot down those stories you heard. Read them back to your kiddo and see what they add on.
Create a writing nook or corner of the kitchen table with all the supplies you need.
Bring a small notebook everywhere you go. If your kiddo/s are anything like the ones I work (and live) with, you'll never stop being surprised at what connects to their story or triggers a new character to come alive :). The car is a great time to chat about characters and stories! If the stories really start flowing, if someone in the car can safely record the story as a voice memo that might help!
Slow is fine. It doesn't matter if your kiddo's novel is 20 words long at the end of the month :). Simply scribble together, talk together, and read together :).
Have a very little baby and want to do this? Try letting your kiddo put marks on paper in any way you feel is safe (we liked to smear washable marker dots with water on our fingers :). Then, you get to imagine what the picture is of :). Think of this as a warm up for all the wild stories headed your way when your kiddo starts talking :).
Do I need fancy equipment?
Absolutely not! You can sign up on Young Writers' Project with NaNoWriMo, but you don't have to (and I don't advise having kiddos attempt to type their stories, that sounds maddening - just count their words and manually add their word count if using the online platform :). All you need is paper and something to write with. I recommend a notebook. You could make one by stapling or hole punching and tying paper together or you could get a notebook or blank book. I love having blank books on hand for any stories that arise :). At the end of the month, your family will publish their books. I recommend a different notebook than the one you wrote in all month. Fold and stapled/laced paper is perfect :). However, if you'd like to boost story-telling play, Angie of @hookandyarn_crafts and I have you covered!
We would love to turn your kid's characters into peg people or crocheted toys! Reach out to us on Instagram or use the Get in Touch tab above!
So, what's the game plan?
For the first couple days of the month, you'll focus on noticing what you like about stories and setting yourself up to write as you get Ready to Write. Then, you'll jump into Character Development. Who is in your story? What do they like to do? In the next week, you'll Set the Scene and think about the settings in your story with some hands-on creative tasks. Next, you'll begin the process of refining your story with Story Structure. Finally, you'll Refine and Publish your story! You can share your families' stories with loved ones using a book walk and videos :).