Three Resource Books To Help You Support Writers at Home and at School

06 Apr

Today I’m sharing three resource books that I often recommend to parents and teachers in my workshops. All three books develop both creative and critical thinking skills which are the stepping stones for good storytelling. Rather than focus on workbooks, I’ve chosen books to spark curiosity as I consider this to be a fundamental learning skill across all curriculum levels. All three books cater for a range of ages and stages so lots of possibilities for families. I come back to these books time and time again for planning my workshops. I will flip through the books on my Instagram stories so you can see what’s inside.You can always request that your local library buy the books, if they don’t have them already.

‘Chasing Ideas
The Fun of Freeing Your Child’s Imagination.’
By Christine Durham

This book has kept me company on my parenting journey. It’s a book both parents and teachers can use to discover the joy of chasing ideas with children. It’s easy to read and full of thought-provoking tips for developing curiosity and creative thinking. Christine Durham shares many accessible thinking strategies and tools to enable children to open up issues and explore ideas. I use many of these tools in my critical thinking workshops. This book is also full of personal anecdotes, photos and quirky illustrations. Unlocking creativity and developing thinking skills doesn’t have to be ‘sit down and get serious’ either. The process can be playful and naturally arise from your everyday interactions with children. This book guides you through the thinking process in an easy, natural way. It is worth checking whether your library has a copy of this book. My edition is published in 2001 but there is a later edition.

‘How To Be An Explorer Of The World: Portable Art/ Life Museum’
By Kerri Smith

“At any given moment, no matter where you are, there are hundreds of things around you that are interesting and worth documenting.”
These lines appear on the back cover of this book and it strikes me as especially relevant for where we find ourselves. Our environment and daily life may have changed rather dramatically but if we pay attention, our curiosity still has the opportunity to flourish.
I love this book. It’s art meets science. It’s full of interesting assignments and tasks you can complete to document your life. This book has the power to turn your daily walks into interesting lessons and research projects. The book’s layout is easy to read, quirky and instantly appealing. It provides lots of prompts and assignments as well as templates you can use to record your answers in creative ways. I often come back to this book for teaching inspiration but sometimes I’ll complete assignments myself, especially if I need to spark new ideas. These tasks don’t need fancy equipment. You could do these exercises in your backyard, your street and your neighbourhood. The exercises will prompt real life writing. Writing with purpose. This is the best on the job writing training you can get. It beats worksheets every time. If you want to add detail to your writing and to bring your stories to life, you need to start paying close attention to your daily life and that’s exactly what this book demands of young writers.

‘Show Me A Story: 40 Craft Projects And Activities to Spark Children’s Storytelling’
By Emily K.Neuburger

This book travels around in my car, especially when I’m presenting storytelling workshops in schools and kindergartens. It is literally brimming with ideas that teachers and parents alike can use to inspire creative writing. I think one of things I like best things about this book is the fact that there are activities here to engage writers from 3+ so it’s super versatile. There’s also some really valuable information about storytelling and writing to guide parents in the right direction. Some activities, such as story dice and story blocks create storytelling and writing resources that can be used for years to come. Other activities get kids outdoors and observing life around them. Many activities require some preparation in terms of sourcing materials, but some just require basics like paper and textas. If you are in the market for ordering art materials, check out Riot Art online or Zart Art.

Make History: Keep A Diary

02 Apr
Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash
Dear Teachers and Families,

Over the last weeks in my newsletters I’ve shared ways to use writing as a vehicle for self- expression reflection, and escape. Today we are going to talk about writing as a way of recording history. Yes, diary writing is an important primary source. It’s an original piece of information about a particular time in history. So start collecting your ideas, feelings, impressions, drawings, art. Collect it all. 

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Last week I dug out the box that lives under the stairs full of art and writing completed by our girls in their younger years. They are now 21 and 24 years old. 
We parented in a time before devices. We didn’t take daily photos or have videos of our girls as they grew up. I wasn’t one of those super organised parents that kept snippets of hair and my child’s first tooth but because I was always writing, I encouraged my children to do the same and now I’m so glad I did. When that box comes out, so do all the memories.

But yesterday when I was out in the garden, mulling over these strange times we find ourselves in, I realised that box of writing is more than memories. In fact, those pieces of writing are a very real account of life growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s when we lived in an area where our girls played with the kids in our street, put on backyard concerts and spent more time outdoors. Even the fact that our kids had ‘A Grateful Book’ speaks volumes about the nineties. Gratefulness has always an important value, but it really came into its own in the nineties. Inspired by Oprah, many of us started keeping grateful lists. These snippets of childhood writing also provide e a snapshot of our family life. Our girls knew that poetry could get them out of trouble. If they had done the wrong thing, they wrote a poem and propped it up somewhere visible and waited for mum and dad to read it and eventually calm down.

The Corona Virus Pandemic will eventually pass. The sooner the better. It will become part of our history, both personally, nationally and across the world. As a writer, I always think I’ll remember all the details, but I never do. Our lives and our heads get full and the small details get squeezed out. Usually we’re left with impressions and feelings. When I was in secondary school, I remember writing a fictional diary of a family during the Great Depression in Australia. It was an eerie feeling watching the news last week and seeing the long lines of desperate and anxious people waiting outside Centrelink as a result of losing their jobs. History repeating itself.

A visual diary (unlined) or a lined exercise book is all you need.
Diaries need dates so record the time and date at the top of each entry. These two details are important.
Below I have some prompts to get writers started but you can also just keep a record of how you spent the day and how you felt. There is no right or wrong here.  
If your children are not writing independently, let them draw their responses. You can scribe their words on the page for them. 
You could do this as a family or independently.
Obviously, as a writing teacher, I’m going to encourage you to keep a written account of this time but if writing isn’t a medium that works for your children, keep a visual diary or a vlog or record an audio file. All of these provide first -hand, valuable accounts of living through this time in history. In years to come, these diary entries will provide us with a rich source of information – Life in The Time of Corona Virus. 

Keeping a diary could lead nicely into exploring a range of autobiographical books written for children. For children in Years 3+, I can recommend ‘Boy’ By Roald Dahl. I often read snippets of Dahl’s personal stories in my writing workshops. The Great Mouse Plot is one such story in this book that never fails to get a group of kids hanging on every word.
Ugly by Robert Hoge (children’s edition) is an inspirational read. Older readers might enjoy ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. You will find a list of autobiographical books in Goodreads. Your local bookshop may still be working online so give them a call. If there is a kindle version of the book, request a free sample and read this first to see if the book is a good match for your child.

12 Writing Prompts To Inspire Diary Writing

What do you miss most about not being able to leave your house?

What do you like most about spending time at home with your family?

What’s scares you most?

What surprising thing have you learnt during this time?

What are you looking for to when this is over?

What are you grateful for?

What would you say to Corona Virus?

What would you do if you were one of the country’s leaders?

What laws would you make to keep people safe and happy?

How do you feel about home-schooling? 

What’s your favourite memory so far?

What’s you least favourite memory so far?

What’s the best advice you’ve heard so far?

What advice would you give someone who might face a pandemic in the future?

I am enjoying reading snippets of writing so feel free to send me an email or share on the Facebook page. (link below) I’d also love to hear from any parents who are writing alongside their kids. 
Happy Writing!

Beth Cregan 

Remember please email me if you have any questions at all or for special requests. I will also post links on my Instagram (write. and Write Away With Me’s Facebook Page. You’ll find social media links in the newsletter. Feel free to post ideas and inspiration so we can all help each other.  

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Meet Emilie Zoey Baker and Bernard Caleo!

24 Mar

 Ten Quick-3

Our next Masterclass for young writers will explore the power of words.

Now writers know that words are powerful, but sometimes, getting them to do exactly what you want them to do, can be tricky. In fact, let’s face it, it can be downright frustrating! But when we practise what I call, ‘writing small’ (that is capturing details and creating vivid word pictures and imagery), our writing can really surprise us. So if you’re thinking poetry and comics are lightlight players in the writing department – think again. Mastering the art of playing with words makes the difference between good and great writing and writers!

And of course, if we’re exploring and mastering a new artform, we need to work with people who have walked the path before us. (You can read about the positive benefits of working with authors here.)

Enter Bernard Caleo and Emilie Zoey Baker.

Two writers who make a living out of writing small: Bernard Caleo does this through the genre of comics and Emilie, through poetry

Together they refine words down to their very essence and ignite our imaginations with powerful imagery. Today, they both visit the blog to answer ten quick questions about writing and life. Continue reading →

The Word Picture Gallery

17 Nov

Welcome to Monday’s Muse! Every Monday morning of the school term in 2014, Write Away With Me posts an open ended writing and/or storytelling activity that you can try with your class or your children at home.

This term at The Writer’s Club, we are focusing on developing strong imagery in our writing. Our warm up activity last week was adapted from a great resource book titled, ‘Unjournaling’ by Dawn DiPrince and Cheryl Mille Thurston.

I asked our young writers to imagine they are walking through a gallery of framed canvases. The first canvas is white. The title of the work is called:

Polar Bear Eating Ice Cream in a Blizzard.

The next canvas is black.

Create a title. Set a timer for 2 minutes. Encourage students to write more than one title if they have time. Share writing.

The next canvas is red. Create a title.

Now picture a canvas of any one colour of your choice. Do not tell anyone the colour you have chosen. Now write a title.

Have your classmates guess the colour of your canvas by the title you have written.

Display titles and celebrate your gallery of word pictures.

Happy Writing!

After 25 years teaching experience, from Early Childhood to VCE, Beth Cregan combined her passion for books, writing and storytelling to launch ‘Write Away With Me’. Now in its fourth year, Write Away With Me offers a wide range of original and creative storytelling and writing workshops across Victoria. Our high energy workshops cover a wide range of writing styles/genres and a flexible approach, means it’s possible to tailor the experience to match the needs of your students and your school. Interested in booking a workshop for your class? Check out the range of storytelling and writing workshops today! Workshops for secondary classes and Professional Development programs are also popular.

I Remember

26 Oct

Monday’s Muse has taken a short break this term as I have been overseas, attending The Readers and Writer’s Festival in Ubud, Bali and taking some time out to focus on my own writing projects. I must say, I enjoyed every minute of it and have returned, full of new ideas to try.

Natalie Goldberg is one of my favourite writers. I tucked a copy of ‘Wild Mind – Living The Writer’s Life.’ into my backpack. I love the way Natalie  talks about her writing practice – that space and time she carves into every day to move her arm across the page and simply write. This book is full of short poignant stories about her writing life and lots of writing exercises to try.

One of the exercises Natalie suggests, which I have tried many times over the last weeks, is to start a sentence with “I remember…...” Those two simple words force you to open up those tight spaces in your mind and see what’s behind closed doors. Sometimes I would give myself a theme such as Kids I Remember at Primary School. It’s been forty odd years since I have attended primary school but when I sat patiently, the images would start to come and I would quickly capture them with my pen. Other times, I would just start with “I remember” and keep writing – about anything and everything. It felt more like playing with images than writing and when I read over my words later, I could see all these wonderful little details appearing before my eyes; like the red shirt worn by the boy who threw a piece of wood that collided with my head and floral pattern on the blue couch where I lay afterwards, waiting for my mum to pick me up.

But Natalie goes further to suggest that after you finish your I remember writing, you have a quick break, maybe a drink of water and then pick up your pen. This time start with, “I don’t remember…” Look at your image closely. See what’s lurking beneath it. What is it that scampers off and tries to hide when you pick up that memory?

I used both writing prompts to start our first workshop of the term at The Writer’s Club which resulted in some original and wonderful writing. Memories like the birth of a little sister or the way you actually believed fairies existed, all spilled out onto our pages. And then the underbelly, the parts you can’t remember. It not only generated some detailed writing but some lively discussion and lots of ” Yeah I remember that too!”

So this week, I invite you to try this writing prompt with your students.

I remember


I don’t remember.

See where it takes you…

Happy Writing!

Beth Cregan