ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — Reading a book can stretch the imagination, encourage thinking 'outside the box,' and expand horizons. Writing a book can do even more. Having children create their own books is one of the strategies many teachers and parents use to help youngsters develop creativity and a love of reading at an early age.
In a third grade classroom at Taylor Elementary school in Arlington, Virginia, the eight and nine-year-olds are busy writing, coloring and talking with their teacher. They are young authors, and today, each student is working on a story of their choice. Avalon Bennett is almost done writing her book. She titled it “Maleficent.” It features the villain from the Walt Disney animated classic, “Sleeping Beauty.” She likes the process.
“It’s fun, designing your own book and being able to color it and being able to pick the topic,” she said.
Her teacher, Paul DiBenedetto, has his students create between five and six books throughout the school year, about whatever they've been studying.
“It’s not part of the curriculum; writing is part of the curriculum,” said DiBenedetto. “You want students to be writing, but it’s a way to express themselves and to be creative.”
Creating a book begins with the children finding the ideas that interest them, writing a draft and then editing what they wrote.
“Once the editing process is done,” he said, “then they go to the final copy, which is on computer. We try to get them on the computer so they are using the technology.”
In the process, he says, students learn to think like an author.
“They start asking the question about whether it’s going along with the topic sentence," he said. "Do I have enough details? And then they kind of figure out once they get to the concluding sentence or the ending of the story, ‘Oh, does that go along with my story?”
No matter what grade level he's teaching, DiBenedetto always assigns his students to write a book.
“From the first grade, I’m expecting one to three sentences,” he explained. “Third grade, we’re talking about paragraphs. I’m looking for four to five [paragraphs]. Then, in the 5th grade you are looking for a lot more than that. They are doing a lot of narrative on pages.”
Children’s book author Holly Karapetkova, a literature professor at Marymount University, says she’s happy that her eight-year-old son K.J. and his classmates are writing books at school.
“I think creating books sends them back to books,” she said. “It encourages them to read more, both the books they are creating and other books.”
Creating books is one of the favorite activities she’s always done at home with her children K.J. and his three-year-old sister, Kalina.
“We have made books about animals, about weather, a lot of books about letters and numbers to reinforce skills,” she added. “One of our favorite kinds of books to make is an alphabet book, just with simple letters, then pictures, either pictures that we print out from our real photos or pictures that the children draw to match those letters.”
She says the key to keeping them interested in creating books is giving them freedom of choice.
“Kalina has been more into cooking with me lately and making things in the kitchen. I asked her what do you want to make a book about, and she said, ‘I want to make a cookbook. So we made a cookbook," she said.
K.J. is into something else. He’s working on a joke book and a comic book. He has written more than a dozen books on different topics.
“It’s just fun to see all the different types of homemade books you can make,” said K.J. “All the books that I create have like different texture, like made out of different things. Like there is a bath book we’ve made it out of plastic bags.”
His mother hopes the skills he and Kalina are developing - writing, reading, thinking, imagining - will help them succeed in the 21st century job market.
“Who knows what kind of skills they’re going to need,” Karapetkova said. “The technology is changing so quickly, but what I know [is that] they are going to need to know how to think.”
And that starts early, by making writing and reading an everyday fun activity.