For those of you with school-aged kids, do you know about 826 started by Dave Eggers? It's a free tutoring program, usually language-arts specific, for all-aged kids. The original is in San Francisco, but they've branched out to many major cities. The building he originally rented for the tutoring/publication space was a retail-only space, so he had to come up with a shop idea, as a facade. They turned the front part of the building into a pirate supply shop. They sold handmade peg legs and evening-wear eye patches, all types of funny and clever pirate things. The store is really just a front to the meaty, inspirational stuff that goes on in the back, though the store does very well now apparently. Eggers' old Brooklyn neighborhood then demanded an 826 center, where one then sprouted with a super-hero supply store facade. The one in LA, in Echo Park, has a Time Travel convenience store front. I've posted a TED clip of an Eggers lecture about the whole deal at the bottom of this post. It's long (20 min), but definitely worth it, especially if it will help you steer your kids in the direction of a (hopefully) local 826 center, which are all around the states now.
So, as Maya is getting more interested in writing and Mina has been overly worried about the level of writing now demanded of her in fifth grade, I signed them up for an 826 workshop last weekend. The fantastic workshops are also free. This one was called Writing for Pets, where kids of all ages wrote a story specifically for an animal. In fact, volunteers brought in two dogs, a cat and fish as inspiration. Kids read their stories directly to the animals. I chose this particular workshop because it boasted that even the shiest of writers would feel inspired, and this was most important considering Mina's building anxiety about her ability to express herself well enough on paper. But 826 was right on the money. Mina bounced out of the workshop squealing and pumping her fists. Oh my gosh, I was over the moon. The workshop was a little young for Maya, but she still enjoyed it and we all got a huge kick in the pants about the time travel mart. Here's an online sample of what they sell there. It's all so thoughtful and hilarious.
While the girls were in workshop, I went next door to the cozy Stories Books & Cafe where I scored a $4 used copy of Mrs. Dalloway illustrated with a great 1970's cover, complete with coffee-ring stain. I love it. I then wrote for over an hour until a group met in the cafe planning how they were going to fight some Medieval Renaissance battles around the Echo Park Lake. Not even kidding. I saw velvet costumes on hangers.
I snuck back over to the kids' workshop and they told me I could listen in on the last of the readings. I heard pip-squeak voiced kids reading tales of Jonesy the Dog and whispers of fish adventures. Pure heaven. After workshop, the girls ran to me rattling their stories so I'd read them right away. I wasn't allowed to stand up until I had read every word. Their stories were funny and great. Mina was relieved and pumped. Here are the first few lines of her story:
Once there was a princess cat named Lucy and she lives in China. Lucy loves to torture any animal that lay foot in her castle. One of the things that she does for torturing is to make the dogs dance a hard dance or clean the castle until it is cleaner than her.
Maya's was about an Egyptian cat that became a detective to solve mysteries of the pyramids. Both so great!
After mulling around the time mart, we headed across the street to a thrift shop and I scored a light grey men's suit vest. It was made for a small man and it had pockets high and low. Maya got an owl t-shirt, and Mina tried on 80's crocheted dresses. As much as I love the Echo Park neighborhood, it was one thousand degrees on the street so we headed home, towards the ocean, for lunch and to plan which workshop they'd take next.
Check out Eggers' awesome talk about 826.