10 Things I Learned From First Graders…

28 May

Well, since you’ve all been dying to find out whether or not I got eaten alive by a den of hungry first graders the other day at my event as a guest speaker, today’s post is about that.  (About the event, rather — not about me getting eaten alive.)

Thank you, everyone who gave me encouragement and advice and ideas!  The event went well, especially considering I don’t baby-sit often and the only kids I see on a regular basis are the ones who treat the Starbucks café like their own personal zoo.

These kids, though?  These kids were adorable.  Maybe it’s fun-aunt-slash-kind-grandmother syndrome — they were adorable because I had no responsibility and was only around them for a very limited amount of time? — but whatever.  It was fun.

I’ll spare you the details of what I said, since I did pretty much what I told you about in the last post.  Instead, I thought I’d give you a fun list of the stuff they taught me.

(As usual, I feel I should advise you to click over to the actual post, rather than attempt to read it on the main page — the list below is much less cramped that way.)

10 Things I Learned From First Graders

  1. Six- and seven-year-olds are way more articulate than I thought they were. They expressed themselves with confidence and clarity when they spoke.
  2. They aren’t afraid to ask questions, and they asked some really good ones! Among the questions: Is it hard to write a novel? (Yes and no.) How many books do I plan to write? (Several, since I’m hoping this will be the first in a series.) Am I going to be rich? (Hahahahahahahahaha.) Where do I write? (Starbucks, or home, or anywhere quiet.)
  3. While many questions were surprisingly articulate, there were a few that were so adorably first-grade: “What is the cover made out of?” Not, “Who gets to design it?” — but what is it actually made out of? Um…thicker paper?  Thin cardboard?  Cardstock?  (Forgot to put that on my list of answers to prepare.  Silly me.)  Also adorably first-grade: “Do you have to write a lot of books when you write a book?”  Translation: “How do so many copies get printed?”  The sweet girl thought authors had to make, by hand, every single book that makes its way to a store.
  4. First-graders, these days, are not sheltered kids. They were all already familiar with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, which totally surprised me.  Like, not just familiar with the names, but they recognized the cover from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Plus, at least three of them are currently reading the third Percy Jackson book.  Huh.  Good thing I didn’t bust out Dora the Explorer or Magic Schoolbus and expect them to think I was cool.
  5. They like to talk.  A lot. It’s probably more like they just enjoy the attention, but that meant lots of talking.  They were well-behaved, though.  The talking made things easier for me, because they were neither bored nor disinterested, and the Q&A time went on for longer than expected.
  6. I learned that I do, indeed, have a catchy title/main character name. I’ll call him “S.H.” for now, because at the rate my edits are going, someone might be able to whip up something with his name before I get the chance, and that?  Would not be good.  I didn’t even mean to bring his full name up, but I opened my notebook to the title page and they all read it out loud!  From then on, it was, “S.H. this,” and “S.H. that.”  Something about hearing his name said over and over again by strangers just warmed my little heart.
  7. Along with that, they are idea generators! My book is geared more towards the YA audience (though with first-graders reading Harry and Percy, I guess anyone could end up reading it one day), but if I ever decide to write for six-year-olds, I am now well-stocked with ideas.  “Miss Olson!” they exclaimed, “You could write ‘S.H. and the Missing Eyeballs’!” [giggles] “Or, ‘S.H. and the Missing Cheeks’!” [cue adorably freckled kid covering his cheeks as if they’ve fallen off] “Or, ‘S.H. and the Missing Freckles’!!”  I guess, to six-year-olds, all it takes to make a hit is a good name and something that’s missing.
  8. They’re perceptive without really knowing how perceptive they are. I asked them, “What tools do you need to write a book?”  Among the usual — pencil, pen, paper, computer — I got an interesting answer: an eraser.  That was fun to work with, because it led to a conversation about revision and multiple drafts.  I learned how to explain revision to them on the fly, and it was part Stephen King and part luck: “When you’re writing, you want to share the ideas in your head with someone else,” I told them.  “After I finish writing them down, I read them.  If I look at what I have and go, ‘Nope — other people won’t see the ideas in my head like I do,’ then it’s time to write it again.  I change it until it’s able to make other people see what I see.”  They got it.  Miraculously, they got it.
  9. In case there was ever any question, kids ABSOLUTELY DO CARE if their parents show up for things. After the Q&A time, the kids were herded to the library, where they got to read the books¹ they’d written in front of guests and family.  It’s a great idea, actually — very bookstore-book-signing-esque, where they get to be the author for the day, complete with refreshments and flowers.  Anyway, I had to console a little girl whose daddy told her he was coming, then didn’t show up.  Sigh.  They notice.  Yes, they do.
  10. The tenth thing I learned?  Even though it didn’t take much to impress these kids, their enthusiasm was contagious and motivating nonetheless. “I’ll buy all your books, Miss Olson!” one kid said, with the others nodding.  “Will you let us read it when it’s published?”  Count on it, babes.  You may be in fourth grade by the time it’s out of manuscript form and covered with whatever a cover is made from, but when that day comes?  Heck yes, you can read it.  Your library will get the first signed copy.²

All in all, you can probably tell I had a blast.  Who knew I liked interacting with kids so much?  Not me.  Maybe one day I’ll have some of my own.  (Sigh of relief heard from my parents, in-laws, and husband, I’m sure.)

Now: on to writing!  I’ve got ambitious goals for the day, to accompany my heightened motivation (and to make up for my less-than-stellar rest-of-the-week), so here goes.  How’s the writing going for all of you guys?  We’re several weeks in to the Creativity Workshop — are you guys hanging in there, or are you discouraged, or somewhere in the middle?  How’s the writing going for those of you not participating in the Workshop?

¹Illustrated non-fiction books about sea horses, starfish, octopi, and sharks. (When I saw these books, it became clear where the “What’s the cover made out of?” question came from.)(Construction paper, in their world, FYI.)

²By the way, nothing after the part about them being in fourth grade when it’s done actually met sound waves.  Kept the rest in my head.  Didn’t want to frighten them with happybabble.

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5 Responses to “10 Things I Learned From First Graders…”

  1. Linda Cassidy Lewis Friday / 28 May 10 at 10:34 am #

    I have served as teacher’s helper in many pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade rooms, so I relate. These little kids can be amazing. What an opportunity these early teachers have.

    I’m doing fine on this first set of workshop goals, but looking ahead, I’m not sure I want to write some of the stories I planned.

    I hope your enthusiasm carries you through the day.

  2. Melissa Friday / 28 May 10 at 1:16 pm #

    I worked with kids for years & years growing up. Like – YEARS & YEARS. I loved my job: play with kids, laugh & have fun, then SEND THEM HOME. Having one of my own was akin to cutting off a limb. Nooooo thank you.

    & God is a funny God who likes to just make things happen anyway. But my daughter kicks ass (most of the time… when she’s not whining… OMG) so it’s gravy.

    Nevertheless, I’m glad you had such a great time :) & all this does is drive me even more crazyyyyy about your book! Gosh darnit! I want to know all about S.H!!! Hurry with those edits, woman!

  3. Natasha Friday / 28 May 10 at 3:02 pm #

    This was great, and it took me waaaay back. I taught kindergarten and first grade a long time ago, and then I wrote my doctoral dissertation on kids learning to write.

    In all cases, I learned SO MUCH MORE from the kids than they could possibly have learned from me.

    I’m way behind on workshop goals because (I know — excuses, excuses) I had to travel last week for work and I’m still catching up.

  4. Merrilee Friday / 28 May 10 at 6:27 pm #

    That must have been a blast, Kayla! How gorgeous :) I would have loved to read their stories :)

  5. joyofdawn Saturday / 29 May 10 at 4:42 pm #

    Sweet! Sounds like you had a great time! Kids are so much fun. Ummm… what are book covers made from? :)
    Happy Writing!

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