Confessions of a Book Lover: The Early Days

As a self-proclaimed book lover, I pride myself on my love of reading and all things book related. When I was very young, my parents introduced me to interactive, picture, and digital books (I still have my LeapPad to this day). While I admittedly can’t remember an exact instance or moment when, transfixed by the jumble of words and illustrations in front of me, it became clear that this activity would become a lifelong hobby, I do know that I always felt strangely entranced by magical tales of beautiful princesses, handsome princes, and faraway lands.

I was constantly reading these picture books but, at the age of 5, I realized I wasn’t fully satisfied. While picture books painted vivid pictures of distant kingdoms and lifelong friendships, I wasn’t fully convinced that this was an accurate representation of the world; there had to be something more.

That evening, for the first time, I picked up a copy of The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which was 154 pages long. Seated on the couch, with my mother on one side of me and my father on the other, I began to read it aloud. Throughout the story there was a constant clash between good and evil, right and wrong. Along with reading and discovering this book came a newfound feeling of independence and confidence in my ability to read. I started to look for more and more chapter books to spend my afternoons reading, digesting, and absorbing.

The transition, though, was not easy. To go from reading 15 to 20 page books to reading one that is 154 pages in length (depending on the copy you buy, of course) was a big leap for me and daunting at first. Will I even be able to understand it?

How long will it take me to read? What if nobody else is reading chapter books now? These were all questions that ran circles in my mind as I was making my decision. Eventually I talked it out with my parents and realized that the decision to read chapter books would only make me a more informed and better educated, individual—and who doesn’t want that! At that point, my classmates at school were also starting to explore more challenging books; some were even reading chapter books like me. This did make me feel more comfortable making, what I thought at the time was, a drastic leap.

Although challenging ourselves to read more complex, lengthy books is important, children do not transition from picture books to chapter books, never to return. We live in an age of visuals; picture books teach visual literacy like no other teaching tool and every child should always have picture books on the go. Picture books should be read from birth to adulthood, and nowadays publishers cater for this with a plethora of picture book choices for all ages and stages. I started out by reading The Wizard of Oz, but there are so many wonderful options to choose from to make your chapter book debut, and with this in mind I have compiled a brief list of some great books to check out:

The Wind in the Willows (Easy Reader Classics)

by Kenneth Grahame

Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and, of course, Toad of Toad Hall: these characters have captivated young minds for over a century. Kenneth Grahame’s classic cast of animal friends enjoy life on the river, hit the road in Toad’s brand-new cart, get lost in the dark, and have adventures in the Wild Wood. These enchanting and humorous tales provide timeless enjoyment for all ages.

Paddington Novel Series (Love from Paddington)

by Michael Bond

Told through Paddington’s letters to his aunt Lucy back in Peru, this novel written by Michael Bond offers Paddington’s own special view on some of his most famous adventures. From stowing away on a ship to working as a barber, Paddington shares his charming, and hilarious, take on the world.

Charlotte’s Web

by E.B White

This beloved book by E. B. White is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect. Charlotte’s spider web tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

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.

My Experience in a Classroom Book Club

Becoming a book club member, whether at your school or in a local group within your community, provides opportunities to listen to others, meet new people, and explore new things. In my freshman English class, I was involved in a small book club assignment. The class was divided into four groups of approximately six people.

As a member of one of these groups, I was able to observe some of the great things that one can experience and learn when involved in an activity such as this.

1. Listening to Others

Since the core purpose of an exercise such as a book club is to get people to think about and share their own interpretations and questions regarding the book they are reading, you are bound to hear the perspectives and opinions of others in your group. This in turn expands your worldview, exposing you to ideas you may never have considered before and brings you closer to those involved—more on that later. The basis for our discussions when we congregated for book club stemmed from things we’d discovered while fulfilling the duties of the “roles” we’d been assigned, and which we rotated at each meeting. One particular role, which really got my creative juices flowing, was Discussion Director.

As the name suggests, whoever happened to be the Discussion Director would think of questions (usually 10) relevant to the book and the specific chapter being read. When I assumed the role of the Discussion Director, I posed these questions to everyone, and directed the general ebb and flow of the conversation.

This led to a lively discussion where my peers would bounce ideas, theories, and even more questions off of each other. Feeling oddly satisfied that I had stimulated my peers enough to have them actually shouting animatedly at each other over the table about what a character’s intentions really were, I’d even contribute a few ideas of my own and then proceed to the next question. If you can get people talking with one another, there is no limit to the ideas you can discover!

2. Getting to Know the People around You

Chances are that the book club you have joined (or are considering joining) is in your school or community, so wouldn’t it follow that these are people you would be seeing on a day-to-day basis? If so, wouldn’t you like to get to know them better? If the answer is yes, then book club is the activity for you! As a freshman in high school, I sometimes felt like a small fish in a huge pond. It’s in moments like that where you feel that the more people you know and can call friends, the more at home and comfortable you are. However, there will always be people that you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to or would consider being friends with. Personally, I had good friends in my English class, but there were some people I had never even talked to before. Luckily, some of these people ended up being in my book club group.

It was an amazing experience, getting to know them in non-traditional way. Instead of discussion about background, family, life goals, and hardships, I got to know them through the ideas and opinions they put forth in discussion. I found this to be the most intimate way to get to know someone and the most rewarding.

3. Exploring Different Genres

Being randomly assigned books, as many book clubs do, is a great way to branch out and read novels in genres you might never have considered reading before! Personally, I’m more drawn to classics and heavier books, such as Vanity Fair or Great Expectations. I have never been picky about the books that I read, however, so I’m always open to new things (this summer, for example, my aunt introduced me to science fiction, and it was great fun—looking forward to reading Ender’s Game soon!).  For my particular book club group, we read a book called Unwind, which falls into the genre of dystopian fiction. This is not a genre I would naturally pick off a shelf.

Consequently, I was exposed to new writing and new ideas. Plus, dystopian fiction really gets you thinking a lot about what ifs in regard to the systems of government we have in place, the way social rank is determined, the ways that we entertain ourselves, etc. In this way, I explored a new genre and had fun doing it!

4. Broadening your Vocabulary

Expanding your vocabulary, as well as your knowledge of figurative language, is yet another unique advantage of participating in a book club. This will help you to express thoughts, opinions, and ideas more clearly (in conversation or on paper) and strengthen your communication skills—who doesn’t want that!

In our book club, we had the role of Literary Luminary to thank. As the name suggests, the Literary Luminary picks specific, strange, or singular words from the book, researches their meaning, and shares it with the group.

Another part of the role is discovering different ways that the author of your chosen book uses figurative language within the text (things like metaphors, similes, and hyperbole), why they do it, and what effect it produces. It’s quite fascinating.

5. Make Better Connections with the World around You

Being able to make meaningful links between the books you read and your everyday life gives what you read more significance, and—at least I found—it becomes more enjoyable. When a substantial connection is made between your life and what you are reading, the book stops being a random made-up story that someone just came up with and starts to seem like a more thoughtful, meaningfully worded and depicted story. Believe it or not, there is another book club role for this!

The person assigned to this role is the Connector. They are responsible for trying to find as many links as possible between what the group is reading and things occurring in our world today (for example: stereotypes, government policies, controversial topics, and even our own lives).

They then relate their findings to the group for discussion; some people may agree, some may disagree. Either way, there is always lots to talk about with this one.

Hopefully, with a small dose of my experience, you have learned a bit about what book club involvement is like and why it’s so great!

A Student’s Perspective on Homework: Necessary, Evil, or a Necessary Evil?

“Today’s homework will be…,” “We will complete the rest of this handout for homework…,” “The majority of work on this project will have to be completed at home….” These phrases, and similar others, are things I have heard on a near-daily basis throughout my time as a student. Like many of my peers, I also found myself dreading them. Homework is an integral part of any student’s school experience, mine included.

As I wrap up yet another school year, I am reflecting on homework’s importance. Has it been a necessary tool in my academic journey? Or is it an outdated, pointless tactic of academic evil?

Almost every student has probably thought homework to be a waste of time at some point in their lives, and I am no exception. I have found that certain aspects involved in the homework process require a lot of effort without providing much academic payoff. Spending hours gluing together a poster or trying to format a second line indent have not made me better at science or a more proficient writer. The formatting and assembly often involved in homework assignments are, quite simply, tedious, and not something that I believe improves my abilities as a student. What these experiences have taught me, however, is that seemingly tedious and futile work is often necessary in creating a finished product. Further, I have even found academically beneficial homework to be unproductive at times. In situations where I already have a strong grasp of the material, doing countless homework questions can feel pointless. These are the times when I find I have to decide how to best use my time and sometimes that means not doing all of those homework questions.

Homework has helped me to learn a number of important life skills. For most of the homework I am assigned, if I do not get it done, there will be consequences. Therefore, homework has predominantly helped me to develop time management skills.

When balancing homework for a number of classes, extracurricular activities, and personal and social obligations, I must prioritize and divide my time accordingly. In order to get everything done, I have learned how to be efficient. Further, homework has taught me to be responsible for completing my own work and has helped me in developing collaborative skills whilst working on various group endeavours both in and outside of class. Homework has also helped me to learn an unfortunate reality of life: sometimes, no matter how much you don’t want to do something, you just have to do it anyway.

Even if I don’t always want to do homework, I do acknowledge that it has consistently strengthened my academic abilities. In certain subjects, such as math, where you have to learn a technique or formula, homework can be extremely useful. The repetitive nature of doing homework question after homework question may be tedious, but ultimately, I have found that it does a fantastic job of keeping the information in my brain. Practice is a great way to learn, and in situations like this, homework is simply prescribed practice. In writing and research based subjects, such as English and history, homework has helped me to get a better grasp of the material and the world around me by taking a deeper look at it. In nearly every subject, from the sciences to the arts, homework can be helpful in becoming better at the subject, or gaining further insights into the information being learned. Ultimately, by extending my exposure to the subject, homework will help me to perform better.

In recent years, I have noticed that my school has put more effort into acknowledging and accommodating different learning styles. This includes offering different ways for students to complete assignments and teaching in multi-dimensional ways that target auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. I have noticed from personal, firsthand experience and through observations of my friends and peers that providing students with different, personalized ways to learn is immensely beneficial.

Homework can become stressful, however, when there seems to be more of it than hours in the day. I attend a semestered school and have to balance four classes each term. When you put together day-to-day homework, larger assignments, and the time required to study for tests and evaluations, the amount of effort required can really add up. In my school, and at most high schools, students will usually have a different teacher for each subject. Since the teachers are not responsible for the entirety of any student’s academic schedule, it is up to the students to organize their time so that they can tackle responsibilities from each class. As a result, the time commitment required to do well in each individual subject can be rather significant. Oftentimes, I have found myself having to choose between academic success and personal commitments, and have had to sacrifice time put towards recreation and hobbies in order to get everything done.

When I find the time to do my homework, I do reap the benefits. Homework has been a way for me to test-run my knowledge and abilities before evaluations. By doing my homework, I am able to discover where my strengths and weaknesses lie within the subject, allowing me the opportunity to get help and focus on the areas in which I need improvement. I do not always enjoy homework, but it is much better to find out that I do not understand a certain concept while doing homework as opposed to finding out in the middle of a test.

On the whole, homework seems to be a sort of necessary evil, something that can be a bit of a pain, but ultimately, is beneficial. The role of homework in my life has had a number of benefits, and has improved my skills and abilities both within and outside of the academic spectrum. I believe that like any good thing, homework is best in moderation. Take it too far, and it can become overwhelming, but get the balance just right, and homework is a greatly useful tool on the road to success.

Feel free to share your thoughts on or experiences with homework in the comments below!

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/