There Are No Answers in the Back of the Book for Life’s Tough Questions

As you journey through your school years, you will be faced with a number of different problems that you will be told you need to provide an answer for: math homework, history tests, where to go to high school, where to apply for university, and almost definitely what do you want to do when you’re older? Unlike with math problems, there is no formula that you can use to make decisions in regards to your life’s path. As someone who’s been through it, I’d like to say that not having a formula isn’t always a bad thing.

School can be a stressful experience in itself; it requires you to balance your academics with your social life and your extra-curricular activities. As you get older, you might start to experience some added pressure from your parents, your teachers, or even your peers to have a confident response for the question, “what’s next?”

The truth is, you won’t always know and you don’t always have to; it’s perfectly okay to go with the flow.  In grade eight, you will have the opportunity to apply to a specific high school, or to your feeder school. The feeder school will automatically accept you, whereas any other schools you apply to may require a specific set of requirements for your admission, such as academic scores or high achievement in a sport or the arts. Everyone has their own reasons for applying outside of their feeder school, but it is important to remember that all hope is not lost if you don’t end up at the high school you thought you would. In Canada, we are very fortunate to have access to a strong public education system, and for the most part, your education is what you make it. Two people could have an identical education, but it is your responsibility to apply yourself in a way that is most productive for your goals. If you commit yourself to learning the material, you will be prepared for post-secondary. It’s important to remember that not getting into the school you thought you would shouldn’t change your dreams; it will only change the course you take to achieve them. There are many possible paths and outcomes that you won’t be able to predict, no matter how hard you try.

When I was in grade 12 and the time to apply for university rolled around, I was farther from knowing what I wanted to do than I had ever been. For at least two years leading up to the application deadline, I was sure I would go to the University of Ottawa. I was strong in French in high school and thought that since I did well in it, I should continue to study it in a bilingual city. I visited the campus and found out that Ottawa was not for me. Even though French was my best subject and it might have been in my “best interest” to follow this path, I didn’t like the campus and I wasn’t in love with the city like I expected. Learning this set me back to square one. I visited guidance counselors and took aptitude tests to try to figure out what program suited me best, but in the end, I didn’t apply for any of them.

Instead, I took a look at what I actually enjoyed, not only in school, but also what I liked to do in my free time. At the suggestion of one of my teachers, I concluded that critical media studies might be something I was interested in, even though I had never heard of such a program before.

Not having a solid idea of what I wanted to do in terms of study–or for work once school was over—gave me the opportunity to explore a variety of options when I started my first year of university. I learned that I didn’t like film classes in the way that I thought I would and that I really liked political science. Your first and even second years of university are an opportunity to explore what you actually enjoy learning about. I think it is important to look at it this way because in my experience, you need to be open to the possibility that your life plans will change. For this reason, I want to reassure you that not having a plan at all is okay too. For me, I started university in a program I applied for because someone suggested it to me, not because it was my strongest subject or because I thought it would lead to a job.

I then spent four years figuring out what I wanted to learn, instead of struggling with concepts I didn’t enjoy; instead of asking myself, “what job do I want after I finish my degree,” I was asking, “what do I want to do after completing my degree.”

What I found was that I loved learning and being in the university environment, so instead of applying for jobs in my fourth year, I began applying for graduate school. Was a Master’s degree a part of my plan when I was choosing where to go to high school in grade eight? Absolutely not. It wasn’t even on my radar in grade 12 when I was applying for university. In all honesty, it may have seemed like a last minute decision, but in the end it worked out anyway. I now work in the charitable sector doing work that I enjoy, with skills that I didn’t even know I would have when this journey started. If you don’t know what skills you’ll have in the future, how can you be expected to have a plan for it before you’re even 18!

You have more time to plan your life than you think and there’s no need to rush into the “real world.” Some people take more time discovering themselves and their interests than others, so don’t feel like you’re in a bad place just because your friend already has her major picked out. Instead, enjoy your time in school – it really will be over before you know it!

My Journey as a Writer

Growing up, I loved reading books and magazines, writing in my journal, and English was my favourite class; however, it never occurred to me that writing could be my career. I thought the only way to become a writer was to come up with the next Harry Potter and become an overnight success.

Since then, I’ve realized writing is everywhere. From tweets to advertising to websites to articles to blogs, words are an essential part of our day-to-day life. Across industries, there is a demand for writers.

I had my first taste of copywriting when I was working my way through university at a local restaurant. My boss asked for my help with social media, so I began posting on Facebook and Twitter about our menu offerings, events, and specials. Within a year, I doubled our Facebook following and gained valuable experience in community management and copywriting. I dabbled in journalism at the school newspaper, submitted poems to the university’s annual publication, and wrote press releases for the campus reading series events.

After graduating from university, I went on to work at an advertising agency where I wrote websites, commercials, and brochures for clients in real estate, finance, hospitality, and more. Today, I work at a fashion company where I write ads, social media posts, and scripts for video and radio. It’s a lot of fun!

Despite what some might say, there are many career opportunities in creative fields such as art, design, and writing. Look around: the books on your shelf, the name of your hand lotion, the voiceover in your favourite video game, and the dialogue in movies are all made possible by writers.

Don’t get discouraged. As a professional writer, I’m learning every day. I sometimes still have to look up spelling and grammar, and I welcome feedback from others. You don’t have to be perfect.

If you get writer’s block, try flipping through a magazine or book. Take notes on your favourite words, themes, and ideas. Expand on those with related words, connecting themes, and bigger ideas. Mix and match them to see where they lead.

The deadline to enter Kids Write 4 Kids is on March 31st, 2018 and it’s a great opportunity to get creative and practice your writing. I encourage all youth with an appreciation for language and storytelling to enter and show off your skills.

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.

An Open Letter from Last Year’s Kids Write 4 Kids Winner

Since I began working on Kids Write 4 Kids, one of the most rewarding experiences for me is the positive feedback I receive from kids, parents, teachers, and volunteers. Sometimes they are in the form of a phone conversation, but most of the time, it’s just a sentence or two in an email.

Last weekend, I received an email from Olivia Simms, one of last year’s winners, who wrote How to be an Abbott. After reading the email, I just knew it was something I needed to share since the letter wasn’t address just to me but to the Writer of the Future:

Hi Ivy,

I’ve been back in school for about a month now and although things have felt a little hectic, I can’t begin to explain how much the KW4K experience has helped with my self-confidence in dealing with new challenges (like starting high school!).

 Also, I put this together quickly. It’s a letter, not a blogpost…I just wanted to say something to this year’s participants.

Dear Writer of the Future,

Congratulations, you’ve found one of the best opportunities for young writers in Canada! Kids Write 4 Kids absolutely changed my life and I firmly believe it will continue to help kids across the country realize their writing dreams. But enough about me. What does this mean for you?

Maybe you’re doing this as a school assignment, maybe you’re chasing your dream of becoming an author one day. Maybe you’re doing both! In any case, being published “one day” doesn’t have to mean a trillion years from now. It can mean in a couple months. It can mean by the time summer rolls around, you’re a published author. And if you’re like me, those two words make your heart race and your head spin.

Though some people might question you, make you wonder what business a kid under the age of fifteen has publishing a book, let me tell you: you have every business. If you have a story to tell, you are no different from the Rowlings and Hemingways that came before you. Your experiences in this world are inexplicably unique, not because of the things that happen to you, but how you think of them.

If you take part in this challenge, please don’t do it to impress anyone but yourself. Yes, maybe your teacher is making you do it and you “don’t think you have it in you to write well.” But here’s the secret I’ve learned in talking to authors and becoming an author: everyone feels that way sometimes.

 Don’t just write what you think everyone else will like. Write something that you think is funny. Write something that you’d like to read yourself. Write something that changes the reader, but more importantly, changes you. Because if by time you submit your story, you’ve grown as a person and as a writer, you’ve already won.

What are you waiting for? You’ve got writing to do!

Olivia Simms
Author of How to Be an Abbott

Thanks Olivia, it’s fabulous to hear Kids Write 4 Kids has given you such a positive experience. I believe that it’s powerful for kids to inspire other kids, so thank you, Olivia, for your encouragement to this year’s participants!

About Kids Write 4 Kids

The 2017-2018 Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Challenge was officially launched on October 1st.  This will be our 6th annual writing contest for grades 4 – 8.  There’s still plenty of time for students to get started in writing a great story as the submission deadline is March 31st, 2018.  All the details can be found on Ripple Digital Publishing website.

Would you like a chance to meet one of Kids Write 4 Kids first published authors and win a copy of her book?  Safaa Ali, author of Why Peacock have Colorful Feathers will be reading from her book on Wednesday, October 25th at Indigo’s Manulife Centre location in Toronto. Click here for more details.

From Contestant to Judge

My Kids Write for Kids journey started when my grade 4 teacher urged me to enter my Pourqoui tale* from an assignment to the competition. The story was about a peacock who, through a miracle, gets transformed into the most beautiful creature in the world.  The book titled Why Peacocks Have Colorful Feathers.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that my story would be adorning anything other than the classroom bulletin board, let alone the school library bookshelves.

Everything changed while I was on a school trip to Ottawa. While still in my pajamas, a student knocked on the door of the college campus we were staying at and informed me that my teacher was calling me to his room. Petrified that I had done something I shouldn’t have, I walked across the floor to his room. All of my anxiety evaporated when he told me that my story had been chosen to get published. With a large smile on my face, I returned to my room. Ever since that point, I wondered exactly how my story was chosen and who chose which of the incredible Ripple stories were to be published. This is why I was ecstatic when I got the invitation to be part of the judging panel for this year’s contest.

The chance to give children the same opportunity I had was certainly an inspiring moment. Although I didn’t meet the other judges, knowing that some of them had either won the competition or judged my story was very motivating.

All of the ten stories were judged in three categories – creativity of the plot or themes; the story structure; and the style and tone – with the percentages of the final grading varying between categories.

From the first story to the last, my jaw constantly dropped with amazement. After finishing, it was nearly impossible to imagine that it was kids no older than I behind the pen.

The stories varied in genres — from action-packed adventures to marvelous mysteries; fascinating fables to fabulous fiction — and were so good, they would make J.K. Rowling proud.

They say that a reader lives a thousand lives and by being part of the judging panel, this proved true for me when I go to experience so many settings, characters, and plots in a short space of time. I would encourage anyone to take on any writing opportunity that comes their way, whether it’s a homework assignment or a full-blown masterpiece. Who knows, you may find yourself on the shelf in the school library!

*A pourquoi tale describes the origin of something, creating a story to tell why.

Creativity: An Outlet of Expression for ALL Children

In today’s society, children engage their creativity through a number of ways: art, drama, and writing to name a few. Creativity is a form of expression, and can be possessed by all no matter an individual’s capabilities. Our bodies provide us with tools that help in expressing ourselves and our creativity to others. For example, our hands help us write an imaginative story, our eyes to read, our voice to read a personal poem, our muscles to act out a dramatic scene. However, a lack of such capabilities doesn’t prevent creativity, but forces children with certain disabilities to think of a new way to engage in certain activities. An experience that has opened my eyes to the different methods of creative expression was when I began to tutor an incredible little girl, Sophie Sullivan.

In February 2012, Sophie Sullivan, a healthy eight-year-old girl, suffered from a brain hemorrhage due to an eruption of an arteriovenous malformation. As a result, her fine and gross motor skills were affected, as well as her ability to communicate verbally.

After the incident Sophie couldn’t speak and as time passed, she began to make sounds, although still not words. Being a friend of the family for the past five years, I became Sophie’s tutor in October 2015. My first task was to try and develop an easy and convenient way for Sophie to express her thoughts and ideas. With help from her speech therapist, we created cards with letters on them that I taped onto a large board. From this alphabet board, Sophie used her eye movements and sounds to pick out letters to spell words and form sentences.

This strategy emphasizes how seeking alternative forms of communication can allow children with certain disabilities to effectively communicate and show their creativity. This opened up a whole new way of communication for Sophie and allowed her to express her opinions and ideas to myself, her family, and her friends Before, all those who interacted with Sophie had an idea of what she wanted or how she felt. But now, the board allows Sophie to explicitly tell us what is on her mind, her goals, and her dislikes—we know without a doubt. Her first Christmas card to her parents in 2015 emphasized how much Sophie appreciated her family and everything they did for her. It was extremely moving and made me realize that there is probably a lot this little girl has to say.

Children with disabilities should be able to participate in creative activities like their peers. A child’s ability to express themselves helps in development, but also gives them the opportunity to show others who they are as an individual – their values, beliefs, passions, and goals. Following the Christmas card, I encouraged Sophie to use the alphabet board to help her with her writing.

Over the summer of 2016, I discovered Sophie’s love of stories and fairy tales and thought it would be fun for Sophie to create her very own and wow, did she not disappoint! Princess Sophie’s Amazing Adventure is a fairy tale about family and coming together. It is full of excitement and adventure, and is centred around Princess Sophie, a princess who embodies love, forgiveness, and courage. Seeing Sophie’s excitement as she wrote and the creativity that progressed made me finally realize how writing can be about personal expression. It is a way for individuals to communicate to others their morals and important messages that are deeply rooted in who they are as a person. This story doesn’t only show how important Sophie’s family and friends are to her, but it also portrayed her as a caring, adventurous, and forgiving girl.

After reading about Sophie, I hope you see how anything is possible when there is determination and perseverance. Sophie’s accomplishment shows that anyone can reach their goals and be whatever they desire with the right attitude and support behind them.

Her disability did not stop her from pursing her love for writing stories; instead, it made those around her come up with a suitable, alternative form of communication that she could easily use to show her creativity. For families with children that have disabilities similar to Sophie or any disability in general, do not be discouraged.

It might take time to figure out a suitable method of communication for your child, but time does not correlate to impossible, rather, to patience. When the incident first happened in 2012, Sophie’s eye gaze and her ability to make sounds were not as nearly developed and controlled as they are today. Time is what Sophie needed to get to a place where she can effectively communicate with others and engage her inner creativity. Her story is a testament of how far she has come and proof that children with disabilities can engage in creative outlets that will make them feel heard and acknowledged.

How Kids Write 4 Kids Winners are Chosen

Over the last five years, I’ve been asked many times how winners of the Kids Write 4 Kids contest are selected. Let me start by saying I’m actually not involved in selecting the winner.

We have a judging panel that consist of twelve people. Of the twelve, six of them have been on the judging panel since the inception of Kids Write 4 Kids in 2012. They all come from different professional backgrounds – writer, marketer, lawyer, doctor, director, and a production artist. But the one thing they all share is that they all read a lot of books–as much as one a week–and to me that’s very important. You need someone who has read a lot of books to recognize originality and what’s consider a good story. The rest of the panel is made up of guest judges that changes year after year.

They consist of previous Kids Write 4 Kids winners, accomplished published authors, such as Karen Bass, Margriet Ruurs, and Joyce Grant to name a few, and people in the publishing or education industry. You can visit our website to view profiles of our recent judging panel.

It’s with this mix that I believe we are able to select the best story for the masses. To date we’ve published ten titles and all of the stories are very different, ranging from murder mystery, humour, fantasy, fable, and even a collection of poetry.

The judges don’t actually read all the entries, only the top ten stories. We have two very important ladies that go through all the entries to identify the top ten stories for the judges. They are professional editors that work for a big publisher so they know what they are doing! All the stories go through a checklist that we also include as part of the entries submission. Here’re story checklist items:

  • Does my story have a title?
  • Does my story have rising action, a climax, and falling action?
  • Does my story make sense when I read it out loud?
  • Are my sentences complete? Have I checked the spelling and punctuation and grammar in my story?
  • Is my story consistent? Are places, people, and things described in the same way throughout?
  • Is my story fiction or a collection of poems?

Once they have identified the top ten stories, each story is formatted in Times New Roman font, and blinded (that is, all author information removed) with only the title included, so that all the stories are presented in exactly the same format. This is to ensure there is no bias on whether this was written by a 9 year–old-boy or a 13-year-old-girl.

When all the judges finish reading the top ten stories, each judge rates the story online. The judging panel never meets to discuss the stories, so no one is influencing one another.  Each story is rated based on three criteria:

  • Creativity and originality of plot and/or themes – 40%
  • Story structure, characters, and setting – 40%
  • Style and tone; the quality of writing – 20%

All the scores are then entered into an Excel spreadsheet with a formula that allocates the percentage from each of the criteria to produces an accurate score. The story with the highest score wins and gets published. Over the past two years, we’ve published the two titles with the highest scores.

Official winner announcement is made on June 1st and it’s posted on our website. This year, the two winners are Summon The Magic written by Emily Little, a grade six student from Northport Elementary School in Port Elgin, Ontario and How to Be An Abbott, by Olivia Simms, a grade eight student from Glashan Public School, Ottawa, Ontario. We also post the list of runners up to encourage these kids to continue their writing journey.

As a not-for-profit organization, we are 100% volunteer run so all of our judges and editors give their time without any compensation. There are no words that can express our gratitude for their contribution. If you are a published author or someone that works in the educational industry and are interested in being part of our judging panel for 2017-2018 Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Challenge, you can reach out to me at ivy@ripplefoundation.ca

About Kids Write 4 Kids

Kids Write 4 Kids is an annual writing contest that celebrates the best creative stories written by grades 4 – 8. The winning stories are published both in print and digitally for the world to read. All the books are available at Amazon, Apple iBookstore, and Kobo. To support youth literacy in communities across Canada, Ripple Foundation has committed to donate the annual proceeds from book sales to that year’s winner’s schools. For more information, visit our website and sign up to be notified when the next contest start.

 

 

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!

Shaking the Back-to-School Slump

Our brains react to new sensory stimuli in our surroundings, forcing us to be more attentive. So, after the holidays or even after the weekend, when students are least likely to be motivated to learn, you can encourage engagement by doing some brain stimulating activities in class. Here are some ideas for the first week of school after the holidays:

Let students have their way

After a holiday, there are lots of stories students want to share. Allow them to tell their holiday stories but add an extra requirement: for every story involving a gift they received or a trip they took, have students share something meaningful they did for someone else. Or you can have them create a holiday memory book. Tell students to draw or bring in a picture of their favorite event, outfit, or gift from the holiday, then ask them to write a few words about the image.

Do a physical activity

Physical activity stimulates the brain but to really get those neurons shooting, do exercise that involves brain. A common way of doing this is to hold up cue cards with words requiring a physical activity, like “jump” or “skip” or “wiggle down,” and asking your students to do what is written on the cards while reading the words out loud.

Go outdoors

Taking your students outdoors for the beginning of class (or for the whole lesson) can create a memorable experience for students because of the change in learning environment. As a bonus, most people will agree that doing a creative activity outdoors will be an unforgettable class. A simple creative activity could be doing a quick grammar game (get some ideas for a grammar game from our previous post).

Go on a field trip

Why not start the new school term with a field trip? Okay, so budgets may be tight and that can impede the likelihood of one, but it does not have to be a costly trip. Is there a monument close to the school grounds or on the school grounds that would help the lesson? Are you discussing flowers? Why not go out to look at some? And if nothing is available close by, why not go on a visual field trip? Watch a video or go through an interactive tour of a place, allowing students to guide you while you discuss.

Be weird, be creative, have fun

As the teacher, why not get involved in the back-to-school fun by dressing in an unexpected way–maybe in a period piece or costume if you are doing a historical study—that is sure to get your students’ attention. Or, you can play games with your students to review work they were doing before the break, perhaps in a gameshow format. And don’t forget to let students be creative–can they explain the lesson in story form? Or act it out?

Don’t forget, the Kids Write 4 Kids creative challenge is still open! The deadline is closer than ever now: March 31st. Remind your students to send in their stories!

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Which of these do you plan to try out? Do you have suggestions for some games?

Resources used to create this post that might be useful to you too:
http://www.teachhub.com/post-holiday-classroom-activities
https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jan/03/how-engage-students-lessons-after-holidays
http://minds-in-bloom.com/10-ways-to-make-learning-fun-and-engaging
http://minds-in-bloom.com/20-three-minute-brain-breaks
http://www.stressrelief4teachers.net/getting-students-revved-back/