Life As an 8th Grader and What I Learned From It

When grade 8 came, we were thrilled and excited as it was our final year before high school. At the same time, our teachers, guidance counselors, and our parents began to pressure us. It was also around this time when the pressure of deciding on our “ultimate destination” – that what we chose to study in high school would inform what we did for the rest of our lives.

There were schools that came to promote their specialized programs. I remember when a representative from my home school (a school designated for you based on your address) came to promote their outstanding math, science, and technology program. Another representative from a different high school came and promoted the same type of program. My middle school’s guidance counselor promoted other programs (e.g., arts, French immersion, etc.) whose representatives weren’t able to come. There were also people who came to promote the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), Cooperative Education, and Dual Credit programs.

Then, everyone around me began to change. People who were interested or who were pressured by parents to apply to programs became competitive. They strived to get high marks. They joined many clubs and other extra-curricular activities. They filled out applications, made portfolios, practiced their talents in performing arts, took entrance exams, and prepared for interviews, if there were any.

I, too, did the same. After considering my strengths and weaknesses in my school subjects and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) path, I decided that I wanted to get in to a math, science, and technology program. I became fierce and focused on that one goal. I visited high schools.

I filled out applications and took entrance exams for my home school’s program and my current school’s program. I didn’t get into my first choice, which was my home school’s program, and cried. I thought of myself as weak and stupid at that time, but then, I got into my current high school’s program, which returned my confidence.

In January, guidance counselors and teachers began to bother us more to pick the type of courses we would take in grade nine before the end of the month. There were three types of courses: applied, academic, and locally developed. But for me and my class, the choices were between grade 9 academic and applied courses. Parents urged us to pick academic grade 9 courses, the way to university; because they told us it’s the “right path.” “Applied is for the dumb” became the norm, so almost everyone picked academic courses. But I and others that were in specific programs had little-to-no choice, as majority of our courses were mandatory.

Finally, we graduated and moved on to high school.

Fast forward to today. I’m now in my last year of high school, deciding which university to attend and what program I should choose, as well as aspiring to be a published author. Right now, I’m working hard to keep my math mark high enough for university applications and interning for Ripple Foundation as part of my school’s co-operative education.

I’ve graduated from my school’s math, science, and technology program last year, successfully completing all the enriched math and science courses from grade 9 to 11. I’ve written short stories, poems, a first draft of my first novel, this blog, and I’m about to begin writing my second novel. Since graduating grade 8, I’ve accomplished a lot of things.

Did I arrive at my “ultimate destination?” No. In fact, between grades 9 and 11, I’ve realized that there is no such thing. At points in our lives, we will change our paths and they will lead us to destinations. My path went from STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), and my destination right now is to be a writer.

Did I like the program or did I regret it? There were times when I didn’t like it, but I did not regret applying to it and attending. It taught me to handle pressure and which habits I should fix. It gave me opportunities, like trips to Microsoft and workshops like Think About Math!

Also, looking back, I find it insane and ridiculous to consider people “dumb” if they were put into grade 9 applied courses and “smart” if they were put in grade 9 academic courses. As I moved forward in high school, I realized how close-minded we were. I learned that in life, it isn’t about who is smart or not, or what makes you smart. It’s about if you will find something that will satisfy you and make you happy.

Sure you will have those marks in the 50s and 60s; sure you took those boring high school courses; but later on, those will be traces of ash. No one will care about it or they’ll forget about it.

My advice to eighth graders? Be open to opportunities and change and don’t fall to pressure; life doesn’t end at grade 8.

Challenges and Choices: The Transition Out of Grade Twelve

Some moments are destined to be life-changing. These moments, and the circumstances surrounding them, are often accompanied with an acute awareness of just how much gravity they hold. Personally, I am currently facing one of these moments – completing my final year of high school and transitioning to post-secondary education. This process is one accompanied by much contemplation, decision-making, and ups and downs.

The choices I will make around my educational future are undoubtedly the most important that I have been faced with in my life thus far. These are choices that require immense self-reflection, including my interests, goals, and educational past.

I find myself considering the most important factors that have shaped me—both academically and personally—and beginning to decide how I want these factors to continue to contribute to my future.

As I reached the senior grade levels of high school, I was asked more and more frequently about what I was planning on doing after graduation. I have always planned to go to university, though I was not always entirely sure at which school or in which program. I love a wide variety of subjects, and never felt as though there was a sole educational or career path I was destined to follow. There are so many options available for post-secondary students today, which is great. It is amazing that I have so much choice in determining what and where I would like to study, and so many degrees are easily personalized and adaptable to one’s specific interests; however, the more choices there are, the harder it is to decide.

Many schools and programs may sound fantastic, but it can be difficult to determine if it is truly the right fit without yet being able to actually experience it.

With regards to programs specifically, it can be overwhelming picking a single subject or area of study to focus on. Throughout high school, I have always studied four subjects at a time, each covering different material. The concept of studying a single subject, for at least four years, is very different for me. I am currently looking at business, law, and general arts programs. I am leaning towards these areas of study as I feel I would be able to learn universally applicable skill sets in these programs without having to narrow my focus to precisely or quickly.

Deciding which school to attend is both easier and harder. On one hand, once you know what sort of programs you are looking at, the reputation or availability of those programs at certain schools can help guide your decision. Further, if distance or travel is a concern, schools outside of your geographic range are removed from consideration. Personally, I would prefer not to attend school on the opposite side of or outside the country, so I am not considering schools that would require me to take a plane to visit home. While there can be limiting factors on school consideration, it is still a difficult decision.

There are so many great schools out there, with nearly all of them offering enticing student services, extensive extracurriculars, and welcoming communities. Ultimately, it seems as though the decision comes down to what environment will complement you best as a person, as it is nearly impossible to deem schools simply “good” or “bad”.

The sheer amount of paperwork involved in applying for post-secondary education is a tad overwhelming. This is a process that requires a significant amount of time, as well as great attention to detail. Applying for university and preparing for everything else that comes along with it is nowhere near a one-step process. Many schools require supplementary applications alongside general applications, and completing all applications require transcripts and other paperwork. There are an immense number of scholarships, both school-specific and general, available to students. This is fantastic, as these scholarships provide students with opportunities to be financially rewarded for their hard work throughout high school. There is no reward without effort, however.

Most scholarship applications require students to demonstrate organization and initiative skills, not just within the body of the written application, but in the completion of the application itself.

By this I mean that without properly applied time-management and organizational skills, it can become very easy to miss application deadlines or components. While it is very important that all ts are crossed and all is are dotted when it comes to university and scholarship applications, the opportunities that may come about as a result of these applications are entirely worth it.

What I have found to be the most important sentiment to remember throughout this process is to make these decisions for myself. Ultimately, I am the one who will be attending the university, studying the program, entering the workforce with the degree, and living the experience I choose. There can be a lot of pressure to choose a school or program based on others opinions. Many students feel as though they should attend a prestigious school to appease or impress their family, friends, or society at large. I truly believe, however, that students, myself included, will be most successful if they make choices that are right for them, not right for others.

The transition out of high school to one’s next steps is a process that every grade twelve student has to undergo, so it is comforting to remember that everyone is in the same situation as I am.

I have found that there are plenty of resources and support, friends included, to help students make it through this process. While it can be an overwhelming and stressful time, I also recognize that this is a very exciting chapter of my life, and I am looking forward to continuing to enjoy this ride.

The March Break Literacy Race

March Break–it’s a great time to relax with your family, catch up on sleep, and make room for recreation. However, amongst the fun and games during a week off, kids tend to lose their motivation to accomplish anything school-related. That’s where the March Break Literacy Race comes in! This race challenges participants to complete a new literacy-related task each day, and offers opportunities to develop both reading and writing skills. The best part? It feels like fun, not school!

This race is adaptable to nearly anyone’s March Break schedule. Kids who are relaxing at home can challenge themselves when they start to feel bored with their newfound free time and kids on exciting family vacations can busy themselves when the beach gets too hot or the lines get too long. Encourage your kids to stick with the race by getting the whole family involved, or suggest they use it to stay connected with their friends. Kids can share what they read and write with each other, allowing them not only to develop their own literacy skills, but learn from others as well. Additionally, by challenging their friends to participate, kids’ competitive natures will kick in and motivate them to see the race through to the very last day.

Day One:

March Break is just beginning and the possibilities are endless! Being as creative as possible, write a short paragraph detailing your dream vacation. There are no limits on time or money spent on this vacation and it does not have to be realistic.

Day Two:

Read something non-fiction for fifteen minutes. It can be anything from a book, a newspaper, a magazine, or even a brochure. Get comfortable, find something that interests you, and focus completely on enjoying and absorbing what you are reading.

Day Three:

Find a friend or family member who can help you out. Together, you will co-write a twenty-line story. Alternate contributing single lines and do your best to work with each others’ ideas. Try to create a clear beginning, middle, and end to your story. The catch? You cannot communicate with your co-author in any way outside of providing your lines for the story.

Day Four:

March Break can be full of new experiences, so take this opportunity to learn a new word. Have a conversation, flip through a book, and look at billboards. When you come across a word you don’t know, find out the definition, and try to use it in at least two sentences throughout the day.

Day Five:

Teach someone else a new word. Sharing is instrumental to learning, so today, you will help spread some knowledge. Think of the most interesting word that you know, and tell someone who does not know that word. Share the spelling and definition, and show them how to properly use it in a sentence.

Day Six:

Read aloud to someone else. A great way to practice both literacy and communication skills is by reading out loud. Pick something that interests both you and the person you are reading to, and have fun playing around with things such as volume, tone, expression, and character voices.

Day Seven:

The week is coming to an end, but hopefully, it has been a lot of fun! Write a poem detailing your favourite experience of this March Break.

While this race is specifically designed for March Break, it can be adapted to any time off. You can make it an annual challenge, and compare the progress made on each task year-to-year. March Break is a great time for kids to improve their reading and writing skills, but oftentimes, that can be difficult to do. This race is both manageable and engaging, so it won’t feel like another tedious school assignment. When kids are faced with the inevitable, “what did you do over March Break?” assignments upon their return to school, this literacy race will give them something interesting to write about.

Share in the comments below if your family plans on participating in the March Break Literacy Race!

2017 Resolutions to Help the Whole Family Improve Their Reading and Writing

Every January is met with a variety of different resolutions, covering everything from personal health to self-improvement. Two months into the new year, are you still keeping up with yours? Take the opportunity to encourage the whole family to improve their reading and writing. As your kids hit the midway point of the school year, a New Year’s resolution could be the perfect challenge to revive their enthusiasm for academics. The follow suggestions are manageable resolutions that will help everyone–from the young to the young at heart–enhance their literacy abilities.

Take ten minutes every day to read or write

A little goes a long way! Introducing ten extra minutes of reading or writing each day is a low-commitment resolution, but sums up to approximately 56 hours over one year! This is a great resolution for kids to improve their reading and writing skills beyond the curriculum. Parents can take up this resolution alongside their kids to keep them motivated and have ten minutes of personal time each day!

Read one book each month

Reading an entire book every month may seem daunting, but it is doable! Pick books that you’re interested in, as you’ll be more likely to stick with a resolution that seems recreational. Encourage the kids to do the same! Monthly reading will be immensely beneficial to them academically and by letting them chose books that appeal to them, this resolution will also help them foster their own interests and ideas. Get the whole family involved by resolving to start a family book club. Every month, a different family member can select a book for everyone to read, or you can each read books of your own selection and share them in a monthly meeting. This will help your family motivate each other to stick with the resolution and gives you an opportunity to reconnect in a special way each month!

Write thank you notes

After the holidays, you and your kids likely have many people to thank. Writing thank you notes is a great way to get your kids to exercise their penmanship and writing abilities. Mostly importantly though, your kids will be reminded of the importance of expressing thanks and appreciation, which never goes out of style.

Write your own story over the course of a year

The thought of writing a story, even a short one, can be intimidating. However, by breaking up this task over one year, it becomes something anyone can do! Write at least one line each day, and by the end of the year, you will have a 365-line story! Challenge the whole family to take up this resolution, and look forward to reading each other’s stories at the end of the year!

Enter the Kids Write 4 Kids Annual Writing Challenge

If your kids are interested in writing, encourage them to enter the Kids Write 4 Kids Annual Writing Challenge! Kids from Grades 4 to 8 can enter their original stories and have the opportunity to get published. Entries are being accepted until March 31, 2017, and the full details of the challenge can be found here.

These are just a few suggestions as to how you can encourage the whole family to improve their reading and writing this year! The key to sticking with a resolution is to make sure it is achievable, so feel free to adapt these recommendations to fit your own lifestyle. If you decide to stick with one of these resolutions, or come up with your own literacy-related goal for the New Year, please share in the comments below!

The Twelve Days of Creative Writing Challenge

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a festive writing challenge! The holiday season is in full swing, and while it’s a busy time, it’s also a great time to get creative. There’s something quite inspiring about the love, joy, and sparkle of this festive season. The challenge below is perfect for kids who have started to get restless with their time off from school. It’s a great way to keep them busy and stimulate their minds in an exciting way. Even better, the whole family can get involved, starting a new festive family tradition!

This challenge involves writing a short piece of writing progressively over twelve days. For each day, a festive word has been provided, which your child will have to incorporate into their writing. The piece can take on whatever form you choose: a short story, a letter, a diary entry, or even a poem–the possibilities are endless!

Words

Day 1: Celebration
The word “celebration” is a perfect fit during the holidays. What might be celebrated in your writing?

Day 2: Joy
Feelings of elation are constant throughout the holiday season. Why might your characters be joyous? Why might they not be?

Day 3: Food
It wouldn’t be the holidays without endless festive treats. What role does food play in your writing?

Day 4: Sparkle
The holidays are full of glittering imagery, from lights to tinsel. What sparkles in your piece?

Day 5: Wonder
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! What might be wondrous in your writing? Might a character be wondering something?

Day 6: Snow
Snow is one of the most iconic aspects of wintertime, and allows for endless fun. Is snow important to your characters? How might it benefit or challenge them?

Day 7: Wish
This season is certainly a hopeful one. Do your characters have something to wish for?

Day 8: Beginning
Approaching a new year means new beginnings. While it does not have to be the New Year in your story, what might be beginning in your plot?

Day 9: Sleep
During such a busy season, everyone is bound to get a little tired. How might sleep contribute to your plot? Why might a character want to or not want to, sleep?

Day 10: Giving
It’s fun to receive, but it’s rewarding to give to others. What might be given in your piece?

Day 11: Spirit
The term “holiday spirit” is often heard this time of year. What does this mean in the context of your writing? What does it mean to your characters?

Day 12: Family
At its core, the holiday season is about togetherness and family. How does the concept of family play into your writing?

Prompts

If you’re having trouble getting started, try using one of the following prompts for this writing challenge:

  • “It’s Christmas Eve, and Santa is sick! How will everyone in the North Pole come together to save Christmas?
  • Someone is trying to get home for the holidays, but they encounter an obstacle that prevents them from doing so. What is this obstacle? How might they overcome it?
  • Everyone has forgotten that it’s the holidays! Your main character, however, remembers. Can they convince everyone to celebrate with them?
  • What is life like for an elf or reindeer during the holidays?
  • The snowmen and snow angels that the children make during the holidays have come alive! What might they do?
  • Retell a favourite holiday memory in a creative format, such as a poem, song, or letter.

This challenge doesn’t have to end with the writing. Once the pieces are complete, you can have fun sharing them with family and friends. You could host a cozy literary evening, complete with hot chocolate and holiday snacks, where each family member reads their composition aloud. If your family tends to be a bit more dramatic, you could create theatrical renditions of each piece with creative costumes and props. These are great ways to spend time with your family over the holidays, beyond the typical dinner and gift exchange.

Feel free to share your experience with this writing challenge in the comments below!

Creative Writing Prompts and Challenges

Let’s face it: inspiration can be difficult to find. Most writers, old and young alike, have found themselves at a loss for ideas when trying to start a new project. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources that can help encourage writers’ imaginations. Listed below are some creative writing prompts and challenges that you can pass along to your kids to help them get started. These can be used for school projects, recreational writing, or to help them write an entry for the Kids Write 4 Kids contest!

Short Story Concepts:

Short stories are arguably one of the most universal forms of writing. They can be enjoyed by all ages, provide a temporary escape from reality, and often teach important lessons. Writing short stories can also be a great way for kids to develop their creativity. The ideas below are great for getting started, but feel free to encourage your kids to take them in different directions.

  • Write a short story about a typical day in your life. Now, imagine that you have a magic power. Rewrite your story about what would happen during that same day if you were able to use your power.
  • Your pet or favourite animal can now talk! Write about what you would do with them for a day if you could speak with them.
  • You are an astronaut who just discovered a new planet. Describe what this planet is like, and what you find there. Write about what you decide to do on this new planet.
  • One day, you wake up to find that you have suddenly become famous! Write about how this happened, and what you decide to do about it.
  • Imagine that you and your best friend have swapped bodies. You wake up to find yourself in your friend’s body, what happens next?

Week-Long Writing Challenges:

These week-long writing challenges can be a great way to encourage your kids to practice their writing. They are fun and spontaneous, so it won’t feel like just another homework assignment, but sticking with them for the entire week will be very rewarding. Try doing these challenges alongside your kids, as a way to boost your own creativity while motivating them!

  • Each day, write a poem in which you use a metaphor to explain something that happened to you.
  • Choose a different object each day of the week. For each object, write a description of it without ever saying what the object is. If you are doing this challenge with family members or friends, swap descriptions and see if you can guess what it is about!
  • Take on a daunting writing task by breaking it down. Every day, write one half page of a short story. By the end of the week, you will have a three-and-a-half-page-long story!
  • Try keeping a personal journal for one week. Write daily about things that have happened to you, your thoughts, and your feelings.
  • Create a unique character, and pretend that they are with you as you go about your daily life. Each evening, write about how the character differs from you, how they are similar, and how they would react in whatever situations you experienced that day.

Inspiration from the Outside World:

The best ideas are often hiding right in front of us. From the news, to popular culture, to our own backyards, the opportunity for imagination is everywhere. Encourage your kids to look for things that inspire them in their everyday lives and write them down in an Inspiration Journal. The following ideas can help them get started, and soon enough, they will be coming up with plenty of their own!

  • Choose characters from your favourite books, movies, and TV shows, and use them in your own writing.
  • Write a new ending for a story you have read or a movie you have seen.
  • Write a short sequel to a book you have recently read.
  • Pick an event that you hear about on the news. Use your imagination to continue the story.
  • Expand the theme of your favourite song into a short story.

These ideas are a starting point for endless creativity! The Kids Write 4 Kids contest is now officially open for entries, so this is a great opportunity for your kids to challenge themselves to write. If you or your kids feel inspired and come up with any original prompts, feel free to leave them in the comments below!