One of my favorite parts of last school year was getting to know the youth of the Four Oaks community in Cedar Rapids. So when I heard that Iowa Youth Writing Project was returning to Cedar Rapids for some more creative fun, I jumped on the opportunity to see some familiar faces.
As Lexi drove the other volunteers and me toward Cedar Rapids, the sky grew stormier and stormier. Our original plan was to hide red and blue cards with words written on them around the playground before we went inside for Writing Club. Then we would split the kids into a red team and a blue team before taking them outside to hunt for their team’s word cards. But the further North we went, the more obvious it became that we wouldn’t be able to go outside.
Luckily, Jane Boyd Community House has a gymnasium, so there was still somewhere that the kids could run around safely without being disruptive. However, there weren’t really any good hiding places. Even if there had been, how could we hide the cards without the kids seeing where we hid them?
I know these problems seem to have easy solutions but when there are twelve expectant children waiting for instructions, such problems seem less easy. And when I say, “expectant,” what I mean is, “seemingly indifferent.” And when I say, “waiting for instruction,” what I mean is “running around the gym.”
In such moments of hesitation, I always feel as if there is so much riding on the day’s activity. The stakes feel so high to me because I know how it feels when everything goes successfully. I have such an enthusiasm for words, and I have seen what kids can do with words when they are given an outlet to express their own creativity.
Of course, I also want to help kids improve in quantifiable ways—I hope IYWP helps each kid read at grade level and pass all the standardized tests ahead. But those aren’t things that consciously cross my mind, especially not while I’m volunteering. I have faith that, if kids learn to trust and enjoy the creative spaces in their own brains, they will be better for it, and that even the numbers will be positively impacted.
So standing there in the gym, I was thinking, how can we make sure these kids have fun with words today? How can we show them how awesome writing is?
I think we successful at both of these things on Friday. We decided to have the red team wait in the hall while the blue team hid the red cards around the gym, and vice versa. Then the kids ran around collecting nouns, adjectives, prepositions, and more. The kids had a blast, even though the cards were super easy to find.
After the kids found all the words, we all sprawled out on the gym floor and made silly sentences, such as, “The big old library books like sea friends.” After about ten minutes, the kids seemed ready to for another activity, so we borrowed a box of pencils and some notebook paper. The kids picked two word cards and created sentences or stories using those words as inspiration. Looking back, I don’t think they would have been focused enough for the last exercise if we hadn’t included the active element first.
Although our time with the kids flew by, the storm outside lingered. The other volunteers and I raced through puddles to get back to our car, but it was no use—we all got soaked. I think we’d all agree that the morning made it worth the soggy car ride back to Iowa City.