The Eight Page Girl and One Sentence Boy

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Submitted by Kay Helbling

You ask a child to write a story and, especially if it’s a boy, you’ll hear more groans and moans then would fill a Super Bowl stadium. Such was my dilemma when raising my two boys and as a teacher when asked to teach a writing class at our private school.

Writing has never been my strength. Numbers were always my love and joy. I could turn out a great research paper or technical report, but ask me to be creative and I run for the hills. As such, I thought of myself as a very unlikely candidate to reach the soul of a writer. Unfortunately, a small private school must stretch its meager funds by having teachers step out of their comfort zone and really, much of writing is technical. You need to use the correct verb form, know the difference between a phrase and a clause and of course avoid those unsightly hanging participles, run-on, or fragmented sentences.

How could I narrow the focus of the “eight-page” girl or broaden the perspective of the “one sentence” boy? How could I bridge the dryness of the mechanics of the subject so that it could reach the creative soul of the writer?

Given the challenge I turned back my memory clock to the days of our own personal “summer schools” at home. We’d spend a couple of hours each morning brushing up on the subjects that as a mom I knew “could have been better”. Having their early school years subjected to “guess and go writing” and “sight reading” we found English, writing, and spelling were always at the top of the list.

The thought of writing a story met with the usual complaints, but when I’d give them a paint brush and canvas and ask them to draw their favorite action figure or scenic hideaway they were eager to start. If only there was a way to “paint” a “written” story. Then the bells and whistles sounded. Why not do just that?

Upon entering the class, my students were given painting pens and a blank canvas. “We’re going to paint a picture,” I said. Already, the slouching shoulders started to come to attention. “Turn your canvas to the landscape position and take up your black paint pens please.”

A sentence has just two words, a noun and a verb. From there it’s given life and energy by adding “colorful” adjectives, adverbs, phrases and clauses. Place one noun and one verb on your canvas, spaces apart. (In doing so, we’d discuss the purpose of the noun and verb.) They would add color to the basic sentence with each new part of speech we’d introduce—adjectives green, adverbs red. You get the idea.

By the end of the week, they had filled the canvas with color. Their weekend homework was to complete their “artwork” of course, but this time not with words. At home, they were to draw pictures and borders and any images of their liking.

The written word—what a priceless work of art. 

(P.S. You’ll get an “A” if you can find all the grammatical and punctuation errors in this written piece.)

Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest with her best friend—her husband.