Sitting on New Quay beach in West Wales, while our children build Shrimp Paradise (don’t ask), we have been discussing school visits. My wife, Lisa is a Child Counsellor. My friend, Zoe works as an Occupational Therapist in a school for children with Special Educational Needs.
All of our jobs involve visiting schools and working with children, but, unlike teachers, education is not our primary goal. Zoe helps children with physical and cognitive problems to cope with the requirements of school. Lisa talks to children with anxiety, trauma and other mental health issues.
As for school visiting authors, most of us see our role as providing inspiration, aspiration and conveying a love of the written word. Sometimes a school has something specific they want us to address, such as a group of reluctant readers or a perceived lack of creativity in one of the year groups.
But what do the children want from us?
Zoe and Lisa have to manage teacher and parent expectations, but each of them is also required to ask the children to set their own goals. It isn’t always possible. Some are too young or have disabilities that make it impossible but, taking children’s needs into account is a key part of what they do.
With authors, Q&A sessions give children a chance to tell us what they want to hear. Some of them want us to be famous - or to support a particular football team – or to have a writing shed like Roald Dahl’s. Their teachers might want us to talk about editing and perseverance, but children mostly hope we will measure up to their idea of what an author should be like.
One aspect that Zoe, Lisa and I did have in common was that we all felt like we had a different relationship with the children to that of the teacher and pupil. We see them in a different light and so they often step outside their usual behaviour with us.
A visiting author may not be there to provide counselling or coping strategies but I’d argue that creative writing can be profoundly therapeutic. What is writing if not problem solving? Stories (whether read, written or told) broaden our experience of our world. They encourage empathy and help us relate to one another.
This week, I have an author tour to mark the publication of my Project
mini-series for Reading Planet
. The four stories are based on a simple premise: an ordinary child with ordinary problem comes up with an extraordinary solution. My plan is to get the kids coming up with their own stories using this structure.
I am hoping some will find the exercise useful in ways that go beyond the targets of a literacy session. The positive effects of an author visit should involve more than improving writing or winning over reluctant readers. Through fiction (and as authors) our job is to present alternative ways of looking at the world. We are there, not primarily for the education of children, but for their well-being.
Gareth P. Jones is the author of a new Reading Planet series for age 9-11. The series features four books: Project Grandma
, Project Pet
, Project Time Travel
and Project Fame
. Follow Gareth on Twitter @jonesgarethp
Follow the tour online using #ReadingPlanetTour
or find out more here
Learn more about Reading Planet here
Reading Planet Author Tour from Rising Stars on Vimeo.
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