How my students made me a writer

The major character in the play I’m currently writing is named after one of my students.  Every class, amidst the pandemonium, she would sit there with that wise 6 year old Buddha look on her face like she new more than every adult in the school.  The class would be climbing the walls, I would get a bit tense, and she would look at me like, “What?  There’s nothing wrong.”  Then she would run around pretending she was a pony and all was well.
Kids are awesome and can be a great inspiration for writing.  Tonight I watched a British movie called Toast.  If you watch it, bring some tissues.  It was fantastic;  an honest depiction of a crumbling family from a young child’s point of view.  The end was a bit contrived, but since it was based on the true story of Nigel Slater, I guess I can’t complain, since it actually happened.

Why I think writing child characters are totally the bestest super duper thing ever:

1. Adults don’t make sense:  Not because children are dumb.  Oh no.  I actually find from my classes they are much more observant than most adults.  Things that we can choose to ignore never get past kids.  They’re brutally honest, and are then told a million times to not be rude and to keep honesty to themselves.  When I was doing children’s theatre one summer in high school, I was shushing a group of the younger kids before the curtain went up.  I probably wasn’t doing it in the nicest way possible.  One 7 year old turned around and said “You’re scary!”  Fair enough.

There are so many shows I’ve seen where the characters have to make extreme choices just to stand out among the other new plays, but the simplicity of reality is lost.  I think sometimes we get so jaded about what is shocking or dramatic.  In turn, the stories end up beating the audience over the head with an idea to make show seem more edgy.  But take a more realistic situation and throw a kid’s logic in the mix: one which isn’t jaded, and suddenly the adults look like the fools.

Kids are enthusiastic:The 3 year old I babysat today discovered tape.  It was like I showed him the holy grail of craft supplies.  We were playing with some cardboard socks from a board game.  I grabbed a roll of blue painters tape and held it up like a clothes line so he could stick the socks to it.  After he did this, he looked at me, nearly exploded with joy and went, “Blaaaaaahhhhhh!”

New things are exciting to kids.  But the older my students are, the more I have to convince them that a new type of classroom routine is worth trying.  And though I know many people my age who are willing to try things, I know it takes a lot of convincing for me to even take a new path to work.  I don’t even realize how long I will get stuck in a routine.  Then I will discover something I’ve never done, like blog writing, and everything looks different.

It’s also easier to up the stakes with child characters because of this.  I told the same boy today that I couldn’t pull him around in a cardboard box anymore because I was tired.  Trust me, to him, it WAS the end of the world.  And he let me know.

They tell awesome stories:  If you have the patience of a saint, ask a 7 year old to tell you their favorite story.  It may not totally make sense, and it was have the words “And then I…And then….And then” about 50 times in it, but they will be the most excited story teller you’ll ever hear.  So for my writing…excellent story tellers= excellent additions to a story.

They do actually care: Today on the playground near my camp, one of my students slipped and scraped up her ankle pretty badly.  We went to the nearest bench and a swarm of mothers came to my rescue with ointments, bandaids, sanitizer, and so forth.  EVERYTHING.  It was incredibly helpful.  What was more helpful was one of the mother’s very young daughters who came to chat with my girl from camp.  I was trying my best to calm her down but this girl was such a wacky awesome 3 year old, that she snapped us right out of the awful situation.  This little girl was brilliantly rambling on and my student was no longer looking at her cut.  Meanwhile, I was getting judgmental glances from mothers about my band-aid skills.  The mother eventually shooed her daughter away.  Upper East Side.  Ugh.

So to say it bluntly…kids aren’t full of bullshit.

I will leave you with some words of wisdom and hope that you remember to give your childlike enthusiasm a go this week.  From the mouth of the 4 year old girl I also babysit:

“You ALWAYS…have to be awareness.”

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