5 Things I Learned about Writing from a School Visit
March is reading month, so my kids’ preschool invited parents to come read to the kids during their group time. Although I’ve done this before in “parent” mode, this time I approached it in “author” mode—I wanted to learn as much as I could about these little ones as readers and lovers of stories. Here are 5 things I took away from the experience that will help me further develop my skills as a writer:
1. Consider Attention Span.
Because I have a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, I was lucky to get to read to two very different demographics (or, in author speak, “markets”). These two markets represent the two main targets of my writing (I write both board books and picture books). In the 4-year-old’s class, the tolerance for story was more developed, and the attention span was much longer; a few of the 1- and 2-year-olds were done by the time I got to page two. In my writing, I need to make sure that I am keeping things short and sweet for the younger crowd, while giving the older crowd a more developed story.
2. Incorporate Repetition.
Both age groups loved the repeating phrases of the books. I read the toddler class Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen (picked by my 1-year-old), and the kids enjoyed the repeating phrase, “I’m a pout pout fish, with a pout pout face, and I spread the dreary-wearies all over the place”—they would space out or get restless during the verses of the rhyme, but whenever this chorus came back around, they paid attention and smiled.
In the 4-year-old class, there was also a repeated phrase in one of the books, and by the end much of the class was saying it along with me—repetition gets kids engaged and involved. Sometimes I’m worried about redundancy in my writing, but redundancy and repetition are not necessarily the same thing—it’s all about how it’s executed and the purpose behind it.
3. Make it “Spooky.”
I read two books to the older class, both picked out by my 4-year-old. One of these was The Berentstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree, an early reader by Stan and Jan Berenstain. I was a little worried that it would be too scary for the kids, but they were RIVETED. They loved it, and even asked for me to read it again after I had finished the second book. I had thought it was only my son that was obsessed with Halloween and all things “spooky,” but apparently this is common for this market—I may have to consider incorporating some of these themes into my writing!
4. Be Goofy!
In both classes, text that makes the reader talk or act like a goofball was a big hit. In the older class, this was illustrated when I read Froodle by Antionette Portis, which primarily consists of silly nonsense words spoken by birds—the kids loved the silly words and phrases, and a couple even started jumping up and down saying the silly words together for fun.
In the younger class, the little ones giggled and laughed whenever I read the recurring “Bluub, Bluuuub, Bluuuuuub” line in “Pout Pout Fish”—they weren’t paying attention to much, but they could tell that was silly, and they got a kick out of it. I can’t forget to incorporate silliness, laughter, and fun into my writing every once in a while, kids need that!
5. Find Your Niche.
I’ve described some general patterns so far, but it’s important to note that none of these things were true for ALL of the kids—there were some kids who were enraptured the entire time, and others who never sat still or stopped talking. Every kid is different—they like different things, they have different attentional and cognitive capabilities, and they have different background experience.
If everyone wrote only for that enraptured kid, or only for that distracted one, then we would be leaving all of the other kids out in the cold. Fortunately, we all have our own voice and our own niche, and by identifying that and owning it, we can each contribute our piece to the puzzle of a children’s publishing world that has something to offer each and every kiddo.
It’s amazing what we can learn from our audience, right? Not only did I get to have fun with my kids and their classmates, but I got all kinds of new ideas for my writing.
What is something you have learned from your readers or from a school visit? Post your experience in the comments!