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The bbc 500 words competition

edited July 2018 in Writing
Most evenings I lie with my 6 year old and make up a story for her, she likes to have books read to her but prefers me making up stories, usually about things that have happened around about her and sometimes totally random nonsense. Sometimes she likes to make a story up, they're usually rubbish but occasionally she comes up with a gem.

Anyway she got some info from school about the bbc 500 word competition that encourages kids to make up a story and send it in. She tried to make me send one of mine but I thought that wouldn't be right so we tidied up one of hers about a tree that thinks it's dying when it's losing its leaves only to be told that it's only autumn and you'll get a whole lot of new ones in the spring. I used her words and her language. She didn't get through to the next round.

Today I read some of the winners in the 5-9 category - a sample -" Olga the first ever Feminist lived in prehistoric Ireland...Olga inhabited a world of relentless drudgery."

No way did a 5-9 year old come up with that. The more I read through the other winners i noticed that much of the language belongs to literary tomes more befitting a booker longlasting! These are adults writing stories and sticking their kids names next to it. I can't believe the bbc can't see that.

Anyway rant over!


  • That's as sad as it is outrageous, datco. If the BBC readers genuinely don't realise that 5-9 year old children don't use that sort of vocabulary, sentence structure or story line(!) then they are incredibly dense.
    Could you not make a comment on the website?
  • edited July 2018
    That is appalling - but then the BBC lost my respect a long time ago.

    ps. Why not make a book of your daughter's stories yourself? It needn't cost anything if you do it on CreateSpace.
  • edited July 2018
    Sorry, but whilst I agree that many 5-9 year-old children might not use the language quoted that is not to say that no child of that age could have written the story. I have read several of the stories in this age group - which really covers a very wide range of development I think - and I cannot see anything that I might not have expected to read during my career teaching that age group. I can recall one seven year old, for example, being raised by her grandparents, who used some very sophisticated language and this was reflected in what she chose to read, too. As datco2014 noted the language she quoted belongs to literary tomes and children often use language and structure from their reading when writing. Having read the whole story, it does not consist entirely of such terms. Even young children before they start school latch on to words or phrases they find interesting and I suspect datco2014 could think of similar examples herself.

    datco2014, I hope you have been praising your 6 year old for having a go. Many thousands of others will not even have entered and sadly many thousands who have entered will be disappointed not to have won. A lesson we all have to learn. I'm sure anyone who has children or grandchildren will be all too familiar with this whether it be in sport, writing, art or any other activity that can be competitive.
  • When I've heard the winners interviewed I've been amazed by their vocabulary. The stories might read as being beyond their years but so do the children. They aren't typical in any way.
  • It must be really hard to judge anything like this. How can a reader possibly know if the story is in all respects the child's work, entirely that of the adult who submits it, or mostly the child's work with a bit of parental tidying up?

  • I haven't seen the entries but it must be impossible to judge. My 3y-o grandson soaks up vocab. He'll say, 'That's an interesting word', and while watching world cup said 'Columbia are cautious.'
  • My three year old granddaughters are the same, ana.

    Nevertheless, I would wonder about a child of 8/9 writing about feminists and drudery.
  • So would I. However, I suspect these children are being tutored for the competition and their parents spend a year immersing them in more mature subjects.

    I remember when they made a Master Chef for children. The first batch were making 'family meals' and then it developed into very advanced menus. They weren't recipes that you would expect children to be aware of, let alone prepare.
  • Pushy parents ruin a child's natural ability
  • LizLiz
    edited July 2018
    Not necessarily, Lizy, they might compliment and encourage it. Depends how it's done; but I don't think it's a good idea to encourage any one area, too much.

    The tree story is a story already, perhaps they thought she had copied it?
  • When I was a teacher, it was always obvious when a parent had 'done' a child's homework, or produced an outstanding project. I was able to know this as I already knew the children's ability and standards. In this competition, the judges don't have that prior knowledge.

    But it's quite possible that a child has asked about feminism, or has been brought up in that context. They could easily come across the word 'drudgery', if not in books, by a moaning mother!

    I would say that the type of child to enter this competition probably comes from a home where literacy is important. Young children often pick up the most surprising vocabulary.

    But I get what you're saying, Datco. In this case, we really don't know.
  • Unless the stories are written in an exam situation we will never know the truth behind their creation. However, those interviews are very telling. When the children explain the inspiration behind the stories it does seem obvious they came from their own imagination. I wonder what their teachers think. They, like TN, would know if the child was capable of the work. Some schools treat the competition as a class project and who knows what suggestions were made.
  • It's really difficult to tell. One year when I wasn't facilitating in schools for the Seamus Heaney awards for new writing, I was asked to make the first selection of poems. I had flagged up one that I really liked but said it seemed very sophisticated for the age of the pupil (can't remember exactly but I think it was around 12-13) Anyway, I don't know how (or whether) they discussed it with the teacher concerned but the pupil went on to win the overall award. A creative writing lecturer who was sitting behind me at the awards ceremony was on the final judging panel and when I said I'd been impressed by the poem on first sight, he commented that the poem was as good as some of his final year students' work. Makes you wonder...
  • I was a judge again this year and personally all the stories I saw were definitely the child's own work. They were just too ''out there" for an adult to come up with! Don't let your daughter be discouraged though. Competitions are very subjective. Type up all her stories and get her to illustrate them too.
  • I don't have a daughter.
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