Looking for something to do with your kids? Zoologist & author Jess Keating has some writing tips for you

Writing is a powerful way for kids to process things and a great self care tool for them to have, says Jess Keating.
Jess Keating is an author, illustrator and zoologist. Eat your Rocks, Croc!, is written by Jess Keating and illustrated by Pete Oswald. (Orchard Books, Jess Keating)

Jess Keating is a zoologist who writes and illustrates both fiction and nonfiction books for children such as The World of Weird Animals series and the upcoming Eat Your Rocks, Croc!, illustrated by Pete Oswald, which comes out in May 2020. 

With parents at home with their children while schools are closed because of COVID-19, Keating wanted to share a series of 10 videos that she created on YouTube to help kids of all ages start writing.

Each video, which are about a minute in length, answers a question like "What's the secret to writing?," "How do I get story ideas?" and "What if all my story ideas suck?"

Keating originally made the videos in 2016, but resurfaced them recently for families looking for creative activities while at home because of COVID-19.

Keating believes that writing is an important self-care tool for kids to have, and that kids sharing their voices and stories can be powerful.

How to support children with their writing at home

Keating says that modelling behaviour is one of the best things parents can do. "If children see their parents taking time in their day to reflect with a notebook or a journal, even briefly, it can inspire them to do the same."

Other tips by Keating for supporting children to write at home include:

  • "Give them somewhere special to put their work. Whether that is a small stack of printer paper, a shoe box, or a notebook." 
  • "Tell children not to worry if their ideas aren't perfect the minute they write them down. All writers rewrite.
  • Ask them to listen to themselves and their thoughts. What did they find great about the day? What is something that captured their curiosity?" 
  • "Create an idea garden. Every morning draw a simple flower shape on a piece of paper and ask your kids to look out for something that inspires them throughout the day and then write it in the flower. It could be anything from seeing an animal on TV that they'd like to learn more about, to looking for rocks outside. These ideas are the perfect seedlings for writers."

Suggested writing prompts

Writing prompts are words, sentences or a picture that provide a starting point to help you begin writing. Here are two suggested writing prompts from Keating to help get children started:

  • "You find a whistle in the woods with a note attached saying that if you use the whistle, something is going to happen. You look around and decide to blow the whistle. What happens next?"
  • "Imagine you are an explorer in one of the most remote places on the planet and you discover a brand new animal. How would you write an announcement about this new animal, to introduce it to the world?" 

Keating urges parents and children not to forget about writing nonfiction. "Nonfiction writing is another way of expressing what is important. A way of asking and answering questions about life and experience, just in a different way." 

If children are writing top ten lists about their day, or sharing facts about their favourite animal, it is still writing, says Keating, and just as important. 

A powerful tool

"Writing is a powerful way for kids to process things, to reflect, to imagine, and to build a concrete artifact of what they value," says Keating. 

"Kids will often email me and ask what the secret is to being a writer. The secret is there is no secret. Just keep writing. You already have what you need to be a writer, it's just a case of putting it into practice. Let your curiosity take the lead and write what you love."

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