Mashing the Next Generation 

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You know you’re on the right track when your concept jumps to another generation. After a year and a half of competitions, keywords, and, of course, captivating stories, the Mash challenge is spreading to the pickiest audience: our kids.

Don’t underestimate them.

They may be small, but they know what they like, and if you can hold their attention, you can hold any adult’s easily. Parents are told the importance of reading to and with their kids, but writers have a unique perspective into the higher level of brainwork needed to make stories. Children are creative, willing, and their imaginations are completely free of taboos, traditions, and boundaries. It’s no surprise that the Mash Stories concept, built on providing just enough inspiration and as few limits possible, is appealing.

Masher and shortlisted author, Kristen Ploetz, and her 7-year-old daughter Maddy made the Mash challenge into a fun activity this winter. Kristen told me “I gave her a writing prompt while we were getting ready to be snowed in…. I thought it would be fun to do it Mash-style. Her words were rainbow, octopus, and toast, and the title of her story is ‘Breakfast’.”

Maddy illustrated her story and told it to Kristen, who transcribed it with the pictures to create their own book. Here is Maddy’s story:

Breakfast, by Maddy

One day, an octopus wanted to try something new for breakfast: toast with rainbow butter…

maddys story

The End

Maddy has a firm grasp on how to begin a story, add in some plot events, and bring it to a satisfying conclusion. Her main character has intention, agency, and personality. In 47 words, she achieved the basic foundation of a story with all the essential elements.

Well done, Maddy.

Evan Paquette, professional teaching artist and magician, is an expert in the importance of imagination. He consults with schools and libraries, helping them develop arts-based activities that can be used to enhance education and participationto take the core curriculum and make it stick.

With this article in mind, he provided an activity to help demonstrate to kids what writers think about when crafting a story:

Ask the kids to take out a sheet of paper and make a paper aeroplane. Explain that they have 10 minutes to write at least 5 facts about themselves on the plane and them give examples like, “I love pizza,” or “I’m an older brother.”

When their time is up, have everyone form a line standing shoulder-to-shoulder facing the centre of the classroom. One at a time, they’re going to throw their planes and try to say everything they wrote as fast as they can before the aeroplane lands. (You can do a funny demonstration too so they understand.)

When they’ve all had a turn, ask them these questions:

  • What was the first thing you had to think about when asked to write 5 facts about yourself?
  • What did you think of next?
  • Did you say your facts in any particular order in case you didn’t get to all 5?
  • Did you shorten any of the sentences you wrote?

Connect their answers to the things writers have to consider in the process of writing a story:

  • What do you say?
  • How much time do you have to say it?
  • What do you prioritize?
  • How do you edit it?
  • Will it “fly” (be successful)?

Thanks, Evan.

Kids invent stories that are completely uninhibited, in which everything is possible, and they ask nothing less of us.

To conclude, I’ll bring you into my own household, where my husband undertakes the Mash challenge nightly.

Imagine a three-year-old’s bedroom lit with a blue LED night-light. The whispered recap of the day is done, and it’s time for the last item on the bedtime agenda.

“Okay, honey, what’s our story about tonight?”

“Umm. A kitty. And a girl named Grace. A giraffe. And… a mean shark!”

“What kind of story?”

“A scary one.” (It’s always a scary one.)

“Alrighty…. Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Grace, a kitty, and a giraffe near the ocean…”

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Kate has a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She enjoys all the equipment on the writing playground, evidenced by her many simultaneous projects. She is a freelance writer and editor, author of the poetry collection How to Love an Introvert, and is working on a piece of non-fiction while dabbling in children’s books and flash fiction. She’s the Platform Manager at Mash Stories and the owner of Black Squirrel Workshop LLC.

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