On Thursdays, I teach creative writing to a group of 1st and 2nd graders. We’re having a great time and I am always impressed with their abilities to come up with unique and fun ideas. The best thing about this age group is that seven and eight-year-olds are rarely laden with doubts about what they’ve created. I’ve yet to hear one of them utter, “well that could never happen.”
We are just wrapping up a huge multi-week project where they kids created their own country. The kids developed an entire packet filled with maps and flags and descriptions of what it’s like to live in their country, what their title is (as they were all the leaders of their countries, naturally) and other similar activities. But their favorite part, by far, was the section where they wrote out the laws for their countries.
When we began working on this project, their laws were tentative, they weren’t sure what they could say – would their parents approve? Would I?
But here’s the thing – how much power do seven or eight-year-olds actually have in this world? Not a whole heck of a lot. So I gave them a world where they could rule absolutely. My mantra for the past three weeks has been, “Your country, your rules.” They didn’t trust me at first – they’d say things like, “what if there was a law that you had to eat just candy for dinner?” Your country. Your rules. Then they moved on to pushing the envelope, just to see how serious I was. “What if the law says you can’t use the bathroom in my country?” “Well, you might want to think through the ramifications of that, but your country, your rules.” Pretty soon they weren’t asking me anything anymore, instead they were writing. With intent and purpose and without limitations. It was a sight to behold.
After class was over, I even wrote their parents and emphasized that they should use the same mantra as I, no matter what their student wanted to write.
What my students figured out in that moment is that words are powerful. Their words are powerful. Even if just for a few minutes when they each made their presentations, no one questioned what they had imagined and wrote. Your country is shaped like a narwhal? Of course. In your country, there are lollipop trees? Aren’t they beautiful this time of the year. And if you tell me that no big brothers are allowed in your country at all, I will stand at the border and defend it right along with you.
I’m hoping this is something they hold on to and take with them throughout their lives. Words are powerful. They can bring people together or tear them apart. Words call people to action, convincing some people to think differently and inspiring some to change the world. That’s a lot to take in when you’re seven or eight and I don’t suspect they realize even a portion of that yet. I just hope they learn to love writing, in part from our small time together on Thursday afternoons so that when the time comes when they can understand just how powerful their words can be, they’re ready to hear that message.
If I had my own country, that would be my law.
This is bog post #7 in the 30 day “National Blog Posting Month” series of challenges. Stop by every day to see how I’m progressing.