Part of what I love about my weekly visits to the refugee and migrant children at Milpera State School is that I never know who will come to my creative writing sessions or which exercises will ignite their imaginations.
Last week one of the boys amazed me when we did some free writing while imagining we were birds flying above the earth. He saw mountains and creatures and felt the fresh air through ”his body, his bones, his face”. He closed his eyes, lifted his young face and spread his arms wide so he had ”the whole world in his hands”. He smelled the universe: ”It smells like something I’ve never seen. Something I want to keep inside me, but it comes out and it feels good.”
We worked his thoughts into a poem together. He talked, I scribbled. He ended the poem looking down from the skies. Everything he sees is beautiful. ”The city, the creatures, the people: all doing what they want to do.”
”That is freedom,’’ he said. He opened his eyes and smiled.
When I work with this boy, I am still and focused. There is something very special, very calm about this child. It’s not something tangible. It’s the way he makes me feel when I’m around him. I know that given a chance he will do great things.
This week I had another mixed group of kids from all over the world. One boy loves the ocean and ran off to get me a drawing of fish underwater. We pretended we were fish but I could tell I hadn’t engaged the girls. So I asked them if they wanted to be birds flying above the earth. One girl started playing with coloured markers, another was doodling.
”OK. I’ve got an idea. Let’s put on our superhero outfits!”
They looked up. And we were off.
Suddenly we were flying to all the cities they wanted to see like Paris and Dubai. One girl had the power to stop time so if she slept in she could still catch the train for school. Another child had super-human strength. She lifted mountains and rocks and made homes for people who have none.
”We can be invisible,” one said.
”We can catch bad people.”
”If someone doing bad things, we have power, we can stop them, we can take them far away to the forest.”
I wrote it all down and turned to the pensive girl beside me.
”What would you do?”
”If I stop time I’ll go back to my country. I’ll stop the war. I’ll help the homeless people find homes and I’ll look after the children without parents. I’ll bring food to the people who don’t have any food to eat.”
I stopped writing and I looked at these kids. My kids. And I was filled with hope. Hope for Australia. Hope for our world.
Because when these children grow up and take their rightful places in education and business and government, they will not refuse to help boatloads of frightened children and women and men as they drift off foreign coasts. They will not ignore the marginalized. They will stretch out their hands. They will work to find humane solutions.
Because they know what it means to be vulnerable.
Thank you to my Canadian writing friends Judy McFarlane and Shannon Rayne for sharing some of their inspired creative writing exercises with me. If you have ideas about creative writing exercises for children who are learning English, please email me.