Children’s Workshops: Nurturing the Next Generation

One of the lovely elements of Writers Week is the way that the children are not only involved, they are encouraged to dream about the possibility of being a writer, artist, photographer. They’re exposed to an environment where children are recognised as the next generation of artists who will continue the creative legacy.

Earlier, I blogged about the inclusive nature of Jeremy Strong’s event and yesterday, I heard travel writer Manchan Magan ask, “What about the future of travel writing? I wonder…who is going to be the young kid that’ll take over?” Good question. So, to get a feel for Writers Week’s efforts to nurture the next generation, I dropped into a few of the workshops to see what was going on.

Oisin McGann

I got to Oisin McGann’s illustration workshop in the X-istence café just as he was demonstrating the basics of drawing portraits. After discussing the elementary ideas behind position, expression and our expectations as viewers, he then presented the children with the outline of a face to adapt to improve its character, explaining ‘you don’t have to stay within the lines, there are no limitations’. Afterwards, Oisin addressed perspective and backgrounds, questioning how we see and how an artist needs to think to be able to recreate that in a 2D medium. There were twenty-two children aged between 10 and 14 in attendance, some having travelled from as far as Cork and Dingle. Outside of the workshop setting, a small group of teenagers sat listening just as intently, discussing some of the ideas between them. The session culminated in an illustration demonstration where, once again, Oisin deconstructed an artist’s knowledge, providing skills useful to any of the children’s future artistic careers.  As the children were leaving, I heard one say ‘that was the most awesome thing ever.’ The statement speaks for itself!

Sarah's captive audience

Sarah Webb’s nursery rhymes session was aimed at a much younger audience, attracting a huge group of three to five year olds, all eager for some singing and action songs. Straight away, the importance of stories and rhymes was apparent, with the children making requests and sharing their personal favourites. Through traditional rhymes, including Incey Wincey Spider, Arabella Miller and Row Your Boat, Sarah made the session high energy and heaps of fun. Paying particular attention to the actions, rhythm and rhyme, she subtlety enhanced their awareness of value of the spoken and written word. It’s not the easiest task to keep a group of around 30 children under five occupied, but Sarah had the whole group joining in with everything from balancing and singing to dancing to finger shapes. The atmosphere was electric, and it was amazing to witness another generation of book lovers enjoying their early exploration of literature.

Roisin Meaney
Roisin Meaney

Roisin Meaney’s writing workshop for 8-13 year olds made it clear from the start that each child in the room was considered a writer. Going round the room, the children shared their current works in progress and chatted about who they’d shared them with and what reactions they’d received.  Launching into the topic of characterisation, Roisin introduced three very interesting facts about herself; facts which had the kids enthralled then turned out to be fake. She explained, “I did this purposely to demonstrate where I get ideas from.” The children then took turns to invent their own untruths, with Roisin pointing out positive aspects and highlighting bits that didn’t quite work. Think gems such as ‘my father climbed Mount Everest last year’ and ‘my granddad’s horse went to war.’ As I left for another event, they were all really into the swing of things and I managed to slip away. But once again, I left feeling amazed at how much had been conveyed in such a short space of time. Within the first twenty minutes of the workshop, the children had already been exposed to; the importance of the opening sentence, hooks, character believability, the submission process, the possibility of rejection and the qualities a writer needs to keep going.

These were just a selection of the workshops available; there was also drama, juggling and mural making, amongst others, each designed to nurture the next generation, whatever their creative preferences.  Hats off to the organisers, is all I can say – and I’m certain the kids attending the workshops would agree.

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