Managing a Children’s Writing Workshop

I’m still doing my Winterval creative writing workshops for children, and last Saturday, nine children came to the workshop. Keeping order in a group of that size or larger can be a challenge, so it was lucky that I had a volunteer on hand to help. The challenge for me and for other children’s workshop facilitators is that we’re not their parents or their teachers, and also the workshops are meant to be fun, not like school. But we still have to maintain discipline, to be the bad cop.

Even though it’s not a school environment, children need to feel there’s someone in charge. It gives them a feeling of security and they’re more comfortable in this new environment. They’ll be more confident and at ease, and more likely to absorb the skills you’re teaching them. You’re there to befriend you, but not to be their friend, and they’ll respect you more if they feel that boundary is in place.

Keeping order helps children write.
Keeping order helps children write.

Here are a few insights I’ve picked up about how to create a disciplined workshop environment.

Establish a presence

The first 5-10 minutes of a workshop are crucial. This is when you size up the children and they size you up. You need to get the message across to them that you are the leader. By all means, laugh and joke with them, and through your banter, you can demonstrate that you can handle whatever they throw at you. Make sure they know that you are the one in charge. You can do this explicitly, by outlining a few simple rules, or indirectly, through your body language and tone of voice. You can also use this conversation to suss out who your ring leader might be and get them onside, or who will need a little extra encouragement.

Preparation is half the battle

One of the biggest causes of disruption is when children don’t know what’s expected of them in each exercise. They’ll become frustrated and switch off. Be clear about what end result you want to achieve with the workshop and about the aim of each exercise. Work out how to explain the exercises to the children, and how to break each exercise down into steps so they’re easy for the children to do.

Keep up the pace

One of the other big causes of disruption is boredom. I work with 8-12 year olds and their attention span is quite short. So with this age group, you need lots of activities that change every 5-10 minutes. They also tend to work very quickly, so you need to have fillers on hand. I ask them to draw pictures to accompany their story, which is particularly useful if some finish before others. I also have a few classic games like Hangman and Chinese Whispers on standby, which allow them to let off steam after all that writing.

What do you do to maintain order in your children’s workshops? These could apply to all workshops, not just creative writing ones.

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