The Joy of Teaching

I recently had an incredible experience—guiding my six-year-old as he wrote his first story. I abandoned my Ph.D. track partially because my time as a T.A. in World History 101 convinced me I despised teaching, but helping my child discover the joy of storytelling was truly amazing. And a lot of hard work, for both of us.

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This journey began when I saw a post about the PBS Kids Writers Contest. I just knew my precocious kindergartner would latch onto a project like that, and he did. I took dictation as he spun an imaginative tale about his stuffed orca coming to life as a real whale. In no time, he had a complete story—or so he thought. But as every writer knows, that’s just the beginning.

The first thing I taught him was the concept of the first draft and that every story you read has been through several rounds of editing and rewriting. His face fell, but he wanted this story to be good. We used worksheets from the PBS website to break down his story structure. His story naturally had a good beginning, middle and end, but the worksheets helped him find ways to strengthen the final problem and resolution for a more satisfying ending.

He still wasn’t done, though. His story was now over 500 words, and the contest limit was 200. That meant he had to do a lot of cutting. We went through every sentence, talking about whether that sentence contributed to the story he’d outlined on the worksheets. He especially hated cutting the paragraph about his little brother’s stuffed seal, but he recognized that it wasn’t really part of the story. We searched for anything that was unnecessary or repetitive until the story was finally under the limit.

There was still plenty of work to do since the contest called for illustrations and Mean Mommy made him write his story out by hand (not required for the contest, but I wanted him to practice his handwriting), but for this post I want to focus on just the writing process. What really struck me was how similar this was to the way I craft a story. Whether it’s a full-length novel or a 200-word children’s story, many of the ideas and processes remain the same.

My child and I both invested many hours in this project, but it was time well spent. It was wonderful sharing something I love with my child. I ordered a hardcover version of his story for myself, and I’m going to treasure that book—and the memories of the time we spent together—forever.


Oh, and in case you’re wondering, his entry took first place in the kindergarten category for our region and also received an honorable mention (second place) in another contest for 6-11-year-olds sponsored by the Springfield-Greene County Library. I can’t wait to see what he writes next!


33 thoughts on “The Joy of Teaching

  1. Beth Carter

    That is SPLENDID. I love this. Ryan’s tale of a stuffed whale coming to life is so good! Did he think of that himself? He may be a natural storyteller. You’re right–the process is much the same as a novel (except much shorter) but I always have several drafts/revisions of my picture book manuscripts. There does have to be a story arc, dialogue, conflict, resolution, and use of the five senses to make it come alive.

    I think this was a wonderful way to spend your time. (I hated teaching, too, except when I taught adults at OTC “The Lost Art of Shorthand.” That was fun.) You and Ryan will cherish the memories and his book. I’d love to read it! Congrats to both of you.

    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Thanks, Beth! Yes, the stuffed whale coming to life was his idea. I taught him how to shape and edit his story, but it was definitely HIS story. Very different from what I would have come up with. And he didn’t always follow my suggestions. Just like a writer, huh? 😉

  2. S.K. Jarkins

    Mean mommies of the world unite! It is a terrific story and I’m sure that both Davises will be published very soon!

      1. Russell keeling

        Maybe you should have that bragging discussion with his Grandfather. I am so proud of my grandson and his mother that I have done a bit of bragging myself.

  3. Tierney James

    Sounds like you are an amazing teacher. I loved guiding my children through discovery. Your son will remember this forever. I hope and pray other parents follow your example.

  4. Chuck Robertson

    All I can say is Yeah, you. A lot of us got started in writing later in life. It’s wonderful that your son is already writing.

    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Who knows whether he’ll stick with it? But I want to make sure both my boys know how to write a good story. It will be up to them whether they do anything with that knowledge or not.

  5. Shirley McCann

    Wow. I’m surprised he didn’t get bored at his age. You must have a knack for teaching, even though you didn’t like it as a profession. Maybe you need to rethink that?

    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      He did a little bit at a time over several months. Writing the story only took a few minutes, and even revising it didn’t take very long, but all the handwriting and illustrations took hours and hours.

      I might have liked teaching under different circumstances, but certain things about that TA job didn’t sit well with me–having to grade papers so quickly there was no time to write comments to explain the grade, leading a discussion session I didn’t have time to prepare for, dealing with students who were unhappy with their grades, etc. The department decreed that we weren’t allowed to spend more than a certain number of hours per week on our TA duties, and it just wasn’t enough time to do the job right.

  6. clankids

    Kids always have such fantastic ideas for stories. Mine are constantly coming up with them. One of these days I plan on writing and publishing a story with each of them. I look forward to the time bonding over writing and sharing ideas. You are an awesome mom! Congrats!

    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      That sounds like fun! I’m hoping to work with my youngest on a story over the summer. I have a feeling it’s going to have something to do with an underwater scooter in Sharkworld. A lot of his stories have started that way the last few months. 🙂

  7. Marc Saint-Ange

    Hi Keeling,

    First: Congratulations to both of you!
    Second: Great Read and Motivation. Sometimes we all need a determination to get through the challenges life throws our way. This was a quick read, but very well-written and inspirational. I would recommend it to anyone I know, especially my friends.

    Last: Email me and let me know when the next one will come out and I’ll help you to spread the word to my twitter followers.

    Marc Saint-Ange

  8. LAnthony

    My eight year old has a project due on the frist day of school next month. We plan to buy art supplies Sunday. I wish I could match your passion…if only. I do love teaching though, and that’s good since I have a brand new freshman course to prep this fall.

    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      I need to gather some of that teaching passion. I will be teaching classes on history and creative writing to a group of homeschooling children this year. Lots of prep to do!


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