Today I visited with the entire fourth grade class of South Marshall Elementary school. I made the connection via an old mascoting sponsor and my sister’s coach’s wife—Amy Purifoy. It was a great day. I was asked to motivate the students to write. I really struggled with my angle for weeks, but when Jason and I took our 10th anniversary getaway God granted me a great topic: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me…=FALSE!!!!
Upon arriving and setting up this morning, Mrs. Purifoy introduced me to the kids and I started things off right—I immediately gave the children sugar. Mind you, my presentation was at 8:30—first thing Monday morning. So after passing around the bucket of gum, and trashcan for their papers I asked the kids to write down 5 words to describe their gum to someone who had never chewed gum, didn’t know what it was and had never even heard of it. They did great. I got some really good vocabulary from them—words like tart, smooth, extraordinary and many more unexpected jewels. After this exercise I transitioned into introducing my main topic on how words are powerful.
I quoted the ole sticks and stones saying to them, and told them that I was there to show them that this was a lie—that words can do a lot of things and harm is indeed one of their powers.
I asked for 9 good sports willing to be volunteers. The kids were eager to help. I chose nine and they lined up along the front of the room for me. I had prepared a bag full of candy with endearing and offensive names. I shook each child’s hand, asked their name and said it was nice to meet them then I said you know what I think you are? They each looked at me with both a bit of fear and excitement in their eyes--they knew something was coming…
I told the first child, “I think you are a NERD” and I handed the child a box of nerds. The next child I repeated the same banter and gave them cry babies. This continued with candies such as runts, air heads, goobers and dum dums. The kids went bezerk! They enjoyed it just about as much as I did. But I had 3 more to go. I had smarties, sugar babies and a BIG HUNK! You should have heard them howl when I handed their classmate his candy and told him that he was a big hunk. It was adorable.
After passing out all of the candy, I pointed out to the kids the effect my use of simple words had upon them and their classmates. They laughed, they giggled, they howled and THEY LOVED IT! I asked them to help me make a list of things that words can do. They listed words like teach, help, make smile, make laugh, hurt, harm, make angry and encourage.
From there I moved into telling them a bit more about myself and my writing experience. I told them that I was an abuse survivor, and as an adult I went through several years of hard times and healing. I told them that as I was healing I wrote some things down and over time those things turned into a story. I told them about how my story was very private and personal and how it was hard for me to share it with others but I realized that maybe, just maybe what I knew could help someone else. I told them my testimony about how my books came to be illustrated and finally published and how what began as one single book had morphed into a series of books.
I then told them that we all have a story and that their story could be happy, or sad, or funny, or scary, or it could teach something or just simply make someone smile. But somewhere inside each of us there is something that we can give--something that we can pull out of our hearts, lay down on paper and give to someone else. While this is a very vulnerable act it is also a very rewarding act. You are in a way letting a part of yourself exist outside of your body so that someone else can read it and allow it to become a part of them in a way that nothing else can—not TV, not Video games. Books make you create the images. Books make you see the colors. They make you think.
I told these kids to relax and take it easy. I told them to know themselves and just be themselves. Writing shouldn’t be something rigid or difficult. I told them to have fun with it and give themselves over to it fully. While the correct order and just the right structure in the sentences is all well and good, the heart and soul of writing isn’t in the logistics—it is in the authors comfort with the pen. I told them that to score a 4 (the highest writing score on the test that they were preparing for) they didn’t just have to remember all the rules but they also had to open their hearts and give something of themselves to whatever topic they were to write about.
I then told them that to be a successful writer they didn’t have to make a lot of money, or win an award, or sell thousands of copies. I told them that success in writing comes from their desire and ability to use the power of their words in a manner to communicate something good, something worthwhile and something helpful--that in helping just one person they then become successful writers.
To close I told them that I realized that as 4th graders they may sometimes feel powerless like nothing is in their control. They can’t vote. They can’t drive. They can’t earn a paycheck and even sometimes they aren’t even listened to. But I encouraged them that regardless of all of these things that they indeed do have power—they have words. Their words have influence and their words can change things. I told them to look inside, find their story, write it down draw it up and take a chance to make a difference and to be heard. I told them to be themselves, just be themselves on paper.
It ROCKED! The kids were respectful and fun. The school is getting each student a book writing kit and they are each going to write their own story. The teachers are then going to send them to me to pick one from each class to submit to my publisher. The kids were STOKED about that.
When all the pleasantries were done and the kids were heading out the door I kid you not—I HAD TO SIGN LIKE 88 JOURNALS!!!! Each kid had their journal with them to write and they each wanted me to sign it. It was fun!
Hope I get to do it again soon!