“You don’t have to be famous or old to write a memoir. We all have life stories to share at any age.”
This is what I told Grade 5 students in Calgary last Wednesday. I was giving a memoir presentation to five Grade 5 classes thanks to the 2014 Writers In Schools Program (WISP). It’s an initiative by the Canadian Authors Association – Alberta Branch that connects authors with young writers in schools across the province. I filled out an application in the fall and was chosen to go to Chris Akkerman School and talk about memoir writing.
Giving memoir writing workshops are no big deal for me – when I’m talking to adults. The adults who attend my classes are there because they want to write their life stories. They have paid for the course and are interested in learning the tools in which to write their personal tales. Kids are another matter.
Since I don’t have children I was a bit nervous about what to share and what to say. It’s been a long time since I was in elementary school and the world has changed a lot. Students these days live in a wired world. They’re plugged into computers, mobile phones and games. They’re constantly in touch with friends through a variety of social media and always looking for the next greatest thing online. They don’t want to a miss a thing. How do I connect to them and have them think about forming a relationship with the past?
Easy – through their memories.
Asking a simple question made the kids’ hands shoot up into the air.
“Who remembers one of their best days ever so far?”
Of course I couldn’t call on every student to describe their fun-filled moments but the ones I did point to had lots to tell me. And the stories weren’t about TV or the latest game. The anecdotes were about when their baby sister was born or when they travelled to a different country, the country where their parents had been born and raised.
All these experiences and memories were bursting to come out. The energy from the kids was positive and they were excited and bouncing around. But when it came to the last writing exercise — write their own memoir — they became so quiet and reflective. Some children took a minute or two to think about what they were going to write before putting pencil to paper.
It’s too bad I didn’t have time to hear all the stories but the ones I did hear were well-written and interesting. There was a happy story about going to Calaway Park on a summer day; there was a sad story about being sick on Halloween and almost missing trick-or-treating; and there was a scary story about a possible ghost sighting.
The students had such diverse experiences and everyone wanted to share their accounts of life from the perspective of a 10 or 11-year-old. I don’t think we need to worry too much about these students losing sight of history. They’re going to be a strong voice in the future with a definite connection to the past.