x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Teen life: A step in the write direction

Teaching bored children about creativity calls for some creative thinking.

For lack of anything else to do, and to break the monotony of long summer days when it's too hot to go outside - therefore leaving me with nothing to do but my holiday homework - I held a workshop for kids. A creative writing one. It was my mum's idea, as most disastrous things tend to be. She had been hogging the computer, talking to her friends on Facebook for most of the summer. This had caused her to come to the conclusion that most of our neighbourhood children were wasting their time at home playing with Barbies or the Xbox. And apparently it's my job to play Bob the Builder and fix everyone's problems, and anyway it'll improve my communication and leadership abilities. So here I was, sending out e-mails to parents of children I know inviting them to attend my workshop. Call me weak-willed for giving in so easily, but there's only so much Boomerang you can watch.

The planning began. It was to be a five-day workshop, and I would be stuck with the kids for two hours every evening, when I could be, well, watching Boomerang. An agenda was drawn up. We were to "explore", as I like to say, descriptive writing, world poetry and story writing. A professional-looking PowerPoint presentation was created describing what we would learn about, and I spent a pleasant few hours experimenting with all the animation you can do on PowerPoint. I thought it all looked quite impressive when a rainbow-striped "Welcome to Lavanya's Creative Writing Workshop!" flew in, then did a waltz around the screen, flashed once, spun a few times, dissolved out, then bounced back in.

The workshop assistants, Lou and Jess - friends I'd persuaded to help me so I wouldn't have to suffer alone - evidently didn't think so. Lou also had her doubts about seven-year-olds caring about poetic devices such as assonance, but I pointed out that seven-year-olds wouldn't actually care about doing a creative writing workshop either, only their mums were making them. The presentation was also e-mailed to the parents. Jess even came up with an, ahem, catchy tagline, but I refused to be associated with anything to do with quills or little squirrels.

Surprisingly enough - actually not, knowing mum's friends - a few children signed up and turned up at my house on the first day, scrubbed faces seeming reasonably eager. The workshop began. I handed out their welcome packs (notebook, pen, pencil, "visual stimuli for writing" - organised, I know) and sat them down, then positioned myself in front of them and launched into a welcome speech. Perhaps my grand speeches are meant for greater intellects, but I quickly stopped talking after one boy saw an ant, got down on his knees and followed it around. A young lady seemed to take more interest in doodling hearts with the words "Justin Bieber" in her notebook than composing haiku, as she was supposed to. She would be around nine.

I tried another approach. "Have a look at your visual stimuli," I told them cheerily. "The postcards with the pictures on them," I explained when I was met with six blank stares. "I want you to think of some vivid, descriptive words that would go well with the picture. Now, could you write them down for me?" They enthusiastically responded by fervently shaking their heads. Is it just me who wishes humans were all born at least 14 years old?

The next day - "Poetry day" - I encouraged them to "go wild" with their cacophonic poems. We had just had an expressive reading of Jabberwocky by one of the children and they were all pretending to be "slithy toves", rolling around on the floor, "gyring and gimbling" away to their hearts' content, bless them. I now fully sympathise with teachers. I received six pages filled with what could be mistaken for Mandarin pinyin. "You still have to write in English," I advised them. "Right, let's learn about rhyme scheme!" I handed out copies of WH Davies' Leisure. Jess was asked to read it out loud so we could all appreciate how the poetry flowed.

The kids were fairly well behaved, until she came to the bit about "No time to see, in broad daylight/ Streams full of stars, like skies at night"'. "Um, how stupid is this guy?" piped up Andy, one of the children. "Stars are, like, in the sky, not in streams, and they don't come out in the day." I was about to get underway with a lecture about imagery and similes, but was interrupted by Andy suddenly remembering that there would be a football match on that he didn't want to miss. In the time it took me to say that "Davies is creating a picture of a sparkling stream in our minds" - he had sprinted to the TV and switched it on, followed by all the other kids. I think the next time I go off in search of summer pursuits, I will try something slightly less taxing, such as course in rocket science.

Lavanya Malhotra is a 15-year-old student in Dubai