Earlier this month while conducting a workshop with children at Mumbai’s National Centre for Performing Arts, an argument I have often made about writing reaffirmed itself. I believe that children write with a sense of joy only when they are truly engaged with the subject of their writing. And this experience becomes more enjoyable for them when they are in a supportive
community of writers.
What was the workshop about? It was called ‘Dear Diary’ and was offered from May 2 to 4, 2012 as part of NCPA’s Summer Fiesta.
Here is a brief concept note I wrote: “Are diaries only for wimpy kids? Can diaries become friends who listen without advising, who understand without asking all the embarrassing details, who can hold secrets without spilling them? This hands-on workshop will get participants to explore how they think and feel about themselves through games, activities, music and stories. Participants will be encouraged to express themselves in inventive ways, with and without words. What if a secret diary is found? We`ll learn about code language too.”
The 11-and-a-half to 14-year olds I worked with wrote about various things – the stories behind their names, places they want to visit, what they love about themselves, secret spaces of their own, things that scare them, things they wished they could do, what they feel like doing when they are angry, and much more. I got to know them as writers, and as people. That helped create a bond.
It was great to read what they came up with, and I also wrote along with them. I have done this before with other groups of students, and I think this is really useful. Children get to see that adults face similar hurdles while trying to express their thoughts. Adults get to step into the shoes of the children they are working with, and learn to empathize with their struggles. There is a feeling of equality that comes from this. And it gets even better when a workshop of this nature, and classrooms in schools, make time and space for children to share their work with each other. Just this simple act of sharing can be powerful in spaces where adults alone get to determine the ‘worth’ and ‘value’ of something a child has created.
Where does one begin? How does one get children truly engaged with the subject of their writing? That’s simple! One needs to find out what excites them, moves them, bothers them, makes them think. The most reluctant of writers might feel like writing if it’s going to be personally meaningful for them in some way, beyond pleasing the teacher and getting a good grade. Anyone who has sincerely worked with children even for the shortest period of time will vouch for the gems of creative brilliance and insight they can come up with. And this, I feel, is remarkable when their creative urges have to battle with thousands of mass-produced images coming at them from everywhere.