How to Run a Great Children’s Writing Camp

For the first time in over two years, I ran a children’s creative writing camp. After such a long gap, the prospect of this camp was quite a challenge. Especially since I had changed the format of the camp. Previously, I had run the camp in five two-hour sessions. But this year, I decided to run a three-day camp, with each session lasting 3.5 hours. Feedback from parents told me that this would be much more convenient for working parents.

The thought of holding children’s attention for that long, and indeed keeping up my own energy levels, was quite daunting. What’s more, the children who enrolled were a mix of ages and abilities. Three of them were boys, and my experience with them was more limited, as it’s usually girls who show more interest in the writing camps I run.

Here are three things I did to help me overcome these challenges.

Prepared Well

I spent a lot of time thinking about ways to hold the children’s attention. As well as my usual writing activities, I thought of word games and picture based activities that would offer a bit of variety and hold their attention. I also had to think about what we would do during the break, rain or shine. In the end, I didn’t need the extra activities. Since the length of time for the camp was more or less the same as in my previous camps, I had enough material with my main writing activities to last for the entire camp. And the children’s concentration never flagged.

Asserted Authority

This is the most challenging aspect of running children’s camps for me. You’re not the children’s teacher or parent, so you can’t discipline them. But you’re also not their friend. Creating a warm, trusting relationship and giving clear instructions for activities wards off a lot of issues. But when issues did arise during this camp, I made it clear what I didn’t like and how I wanted the children to behave, I also took any actions which I felt would be in the best interests of the group. As a result, I felt more in control, and the children didn’t step outside the boundaries.

Set Concrete Tasks

This group of children responded better to activities that had a clear outcome at the end. The more whimsical activities went down less well because they couldn’t see the purpose of them. The boys in particular were more likely to switch on if there was a clear end in sight. As a result, when it came to writing a full-length story on the last day, they were very focused, and you could see their skills starting to come together, they began to see why we had been doing all these activities, and took pride in the end result.

Children's Summer Writing Camp 2017
Children at writing camp hard at work creating stories.

 

Outcome of Camp

Dare I say it, this was my most successful children’s creative writing camp. Much of the credit for this goes to the ten lovely children who came to the camp. They were open, creative, kind and respectful to each other. The children not only wrote their own original stories, but read them in front of an audience of their parents. They may have forgotten about it all by now, but I can only hope a little seed of creativity was planted, which will bear fruit in later life.

If you run a children’s activity, what do you do to make it fun and fulfilling for them? If you’re a parent, what benefits do you hope your children will gain from attending a camp?

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Children’s Writing Camp

Just in case you’re wondering where I’ve disappeared to, and I’d feel extremely privileged if you did, I’ve been buried under a mountain of writing, including a children’s creative writing camp that I gave over the Easter holidays. The camp lasted for three days and took place at Southpaw Writing Studios.

I roped Southpaw’s artistic director Martin Fahy into helping me supervise the children and he rose to the task beautifully, particularly since a last minute booking meant that 11 children squeezed around his large table, with its brightly coloured table cloth.All of these children, bar one, had done camps with me before, which gave me quiet satisfaction. They ranged in age from eight to almost 13.

Here’s a flavour of what we did.

Day 1. Senses and Character

On the first day, we journeyed through the senses, describing unfortunate looking oranges and inventing life stories for interesting objects. Then the children created a character and did some method writing, doing actions as if they were their character such as walking or holding a pen, then describing what they did.

Day 2. Setting and Plot

Today was all about creating worlds, as the children created countries and tried to entice us to visit these countries with alluring descriptions. They particularly enjoyed describing celebrity bedrooms, and the others had to guess which celebrity’s bedroom they were describing.

Finally, the children created a Chinese Whispers story. Just like the game, the story would start in one place and finish somewhere completely different.  They divided into groups of three. They started their own story, then continued a story started by the second person in the group and ended the story started by the third person in the group.

Day 3. Writing A Story

It was now time for the children to put their skills to good use and put together a story. Since it was Easter, I figured an egg themed story would be appropriate, and what egg is more famous than Humpty Dumpty. In their story, the children had to figure out what Humpty Dumpty was doing on that wall, how he came to have a great fall and whether all the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men were in fact able to put Humpty together again.

The children went away clutching pieces of paper containing their full length stories, and a cover design for their story, in case it ever becomes a book. Result!