By Ellen Leventhal
One teaching partner, twenty-one kids, two weeks. What can you get done in two weeks?! My obsessive, type A, somewhat panicky personality flipped into high gear when I first thought about this. But wait. I was reminded to take a breath (which I often forget to do). Things looked a little better with some intake of oxygen.
But seriously, it’s a good question. What can possibly be accomplished in such a short time? The answer may surprise you. After two weeks, a visitor to any of the several Creative Writing Camp sites across Houston will find anthologies filled with stories and poetry, while culminating celebrations complete with child run presentations are in full swing. There will be folders and journals bursting at the seams with writing and art, and most importantly, there will be happy, confident kids. Is it stressful? Well, as I said, I’m the type who sometimes forgets to breathe, so yeah, it can get a bit wild. Is it worth it? Absolutely! Over the last several years, Creative Writing Camp has become one of the highlights of my summers. Do I enjoy working with the kids? Yes. Do I enjoy meeting new people and reuniting with those from previous years? Sure. Do I enjoy the paycheck at the end? Of course. But what I like best about Creative Writing Camp is that it keeps me going. When I start to question why I do what I do, Creative Writing Camp is the perfect reminder of how much I love both teaching and writing.
Creative Writing Camp, a collaborative project of Writers in the Schools and Rice University School Literacy and Culture, allows kids to explore, create, and dream (which happens to be our class theme this year). Children explore their environment as well as their feelings. They create new and unique pieces, both written and visual. And of course, children are dreamers, and camp allows them to dream. It also allows me to breathe. It’s funny, there are crazy time deadlines and lots of kids, but for some reason, dreaming and breathing come easily during these few weeks.
Campers are encouraged to express themselves without worrying about tests or grades. After all, this is camp, not school. There are no small circles to bubble in, no mandated number of lines, and no red circles around every spelling mistake. Can you hear the collective sigh of relief? We teach campers literary techniques, revision skills, and other important components of writing. Each one of these skills is important, but honestly, giving the kids the gifts of freedom and creative expression is what keeps me coming back year after year.
So, as I begin the second week of Creative Writing Camp 2014, instead of stressing, I will remember what I tell the kids. I will relax, let my mind wander, and try my best to EXPLORE, CREATE, AND DREAM. Oh, and breathe too. I’ve got to say…this is a pretty good gig.