People often ask me, ‘How do you work with children? Are they not very noisy?’ Well, believe it or not, some children are not noisy. Just as there are quiet adults, there are also quiet children. And I gave a workshop to a group of quiet children recently at a Halloween writing workshop.
As a noisy extrovert myself, a quiet group like this, whether children or adults, is quite a challenge. It can induce more fear in me than a Halloween ghost, because it can feel as if your words are sinking into a black hole. You put your words out into the atmosphere and nothing comes back to you. The diva chorus girl in me shrieks. ‘C’mon people. Give me something. I’m dying in here.’
The scary thing is knowing that my usual highly interactive approach isn’t going to work. My questions will be met with slight movements of the head which may be a nod or a shake of the head. My jokes will be met with ghosts of smiles. Sometimes if I do enough of that, people will see that it’s safe to open up and there’s usually a thaw by the end. With this group of children, that didn’t happen.
The Power of Quiet
But this didn’t leave me as downcast as it would have in previous years. That’s because I read a very insightful book called Quiet by Susan Cain, which explains how introverts process experiences differently and also have a different communication style. A quiet child likes to have time and space to think through difficult ideas or concepts. They draw energy from within themselves and they also tend to be more sensitive than average; they feel things deeply.
I soon realised that the group of children in front of me fit into that category, so I was going to have to change tack. I still let the odd joke escape, but overall, I toned it down. I just told them wat to do for each activity and let them write. When it came to reading afterwards, I only asked the children who put up their hands. I did if anyone else wanted to read, but only to make sure I didn’t miss anyone who wasn’t quite bold enough to raise their hands.
Ultimate Workshop Success
Judging by the volume of writing that was produced, I believe I can safely deem the workshop to be a success. Though they didn’t say much, there was a hum in the air, a hum of concentration, a hum that told me ideas were being born. They wrote a great deal more than children of primary school age would write, and their drawings were full of detail. The sparks of creativity may not have come out of their mouths, but they came out on the page.
I don’t know if I’ve quite mastered the art of giving workshops to quiet people. I feel I know where I am with a noisy group, and as an extrovert, I draw energy from the energy of the crowd. But thanks to reading that book, I feel I can now trust that just because a group isn’t saying much, that doesn’t mean they’re not interested.
In fact, they’re giving what I’m saying a great deal of attention, and the thought they give to their work leads to profound, elegant writing. Their very quietness gives them the qualities they need to be great writers. Who knows; one day I may even get to see this beautiful writing in book form.