As part of her Masters in Creative Writing at UCC, Aoife O’ Leary an English Lecturer at Tralee Institute of Technology became a Writer in Residence at the Paediatrics Department in the ‘Puffin’ ward at Cork University Hospital (CUH).
Aoife started her residency in late June and will continue in July 2016.
Aoife explains, “Working with kids and teenagers in the Puffin Ward. I had lots of different writing activities prepared for different age groups. I was pleasantly surprised at how engaged the kids were and how much they enjoyed it. One of the activities was ‘story bags’ where the kids got a bag filled with random objects. They had to use the objects to come up with a story. Another activity was ‘comic book strips’. Kids created their own superhero and put him/her into a comic book story. For older children, I had writing prompts and dialogue activities. It was fantastic too see the children using their imaginations to create new worlds and characters”.
Edelle Nolan, Arts Officer at CUH accompanied Aoife during the workshops, “As it was Aoife’s first time working with young people and also in a Healthcare setting, I wanted to personally introduce her to staff and parents and offer on-the-spot support if she needed it”. However Aoife had lots of research done and with all her experience in teaching adults she transferred her skills to young people so easily and I was amazed that almost all the children and teenagers that she approached, immediately said yes, when invited to participate. Some children, who had said no, then changed their minds in the shared wards, when they saw and heard other children having so much fun.
Aoife had made Story bags, with interesting & sometimes mysterious objects in brown paper bags, children were invited to chose a bag, and then to make a story about the objects. Some parents joined in to offer encouragement to younger children and Aoife helped by asking questions such as ‘what is your favourite colour, superhero’. Most of the younger children went straight for the enticing story bags, then designed their own Cartoon superhero and some made cartoon strips. Some of the girls who were quiet shy at first, and watching TV or I-pads when first approached, were laughing and playing happily with the objects in the story bags, soon after starting the workshops.
One boy in particular was so excited when he heard about the cartons as he already had experience in animation, and he produced the most beautiful drawings and story. He engaged so well with Aoife and explained his detailed cartoon strips story, and his mother was delighted and this activity gave her an opportunity to go and make some phone calls while her son was occupied. He would have happily continued all day, but we had to tell him that the workshop was finishing, and left him more cartoon worksheets to fill in on his own time.
Another older teenage boy, who was playing games on a laptop, when approached to participate, his father said jokingly, ‘yes. He would love to do it, he needs a break from the computer’, the boy didn’t protest and gladly started. Aoife asked him to select a random handwritten note form a glass jar full of notes. It contained a dramatic and humorous start of a story, such as ‘There was a loud noise in the basement’, or ‘the whole family were told they were moving to Alaska!’ and then participants can make up the rest of the story from their own imagination. The teenage boy took to the writing straight away and his father seemed relieved that he was using his own imagination instead of watching a screen. Aoife left him to write and came back later to talk to him about the story.
I introduced Aoife to the principle and another teacher in the School in CUH and she explained the methodologies of the workshop and showed them the writing prompts. The teachers agreed that it was a great way to get Children involved in creative writing and story making in a fun and gentle way. They would like to have more time in the school and resources to use this technique in the future but at present they are so busy with helping patients keep up with their school curriculum near the end of school, especially during the exam season, that they didn’t have time to engage in this activity at present in the classroom but were delighted that it was happening on the wards at patients bedsides.
An advantage of the workshops is that it can be modified to suit all ages and abilities, for instance if participants have literacy difficulties they could still participate and tell their story or hear a parent or Aoife make a story up, if they had speech difficulties. Some children with broken arms who could not write, still joined in, as the workshops were all about stimulating the imagination and we are looking forward to more fun in the next few weeks ahead.