One morning I woke to find Asher engrossed in the first book of Harry Potter. I wasn’t quite sure what to think, and wondered if it was a bit too dark and scary for him. After assuring me that it really was okay and not too scary*, he promptly said, “Petrificus totalus! Mummy you cannot move anymore!” Followed by gleeful laughter.
In the days that followed he would burst into the house when he came home from school and cast the body bind spell on Ellery who gamely froze up each time. We decided that a kiss would remove the spell and I managed to save Ellery for a few days. That was until Asher came home and put the body bind spell on both Ellery and I. Yes, during that period it was not safe to be in our house at 7.10pm everyday.
Imagine Asher’s excitement when I told him we would be going for a workshop where he could design his own spells!
We were invited to Spell CraftINK, a creative writing workshop for children by Monsters Under The Bed (MUTB). INK stands for Imagination N’ Knowledge, and INK Workshops are three-day creative writing programmes that stimulate children’s imagination and passion for writing. Participants engage in role-playing, group discussions, and physical activities that expand their creative space. Each INK Workshop has a unique theme, from zombies and Greek mythology, to investigation and in this run, magic!
The fun started even before the first day of the workshop. We received an email from Monsters Under The Bed a week before the workshop with a letter from Professor Double-X, the Principal of the Mundane School of Monsters and Magic. In it, we were told that Asher was provisionally accepted into the Mundane School of Monsters and Magic because he displayed some innate magical ability. As a result, he was invited for a trial course to assess his capabilities at wielding his latent magical powers. Depending on his performance, he would either be accepted by the school or rejected. We learned that ordinary non-magical people were known as Mundanes, and Mundane children, Munlings.
Along with the letter came a sheet giving detailed explanations of the different types of magic: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Chaos. We were told each Munling had an affinity with a particular type of magic depending on their month and year of birth. Asher was so excited to discover one of his affinities was Fire magic because it is the magic of destruction. Uh huh. Like, so happy. Metal was his other affinity and he thought that was cool too since it was the magic of transformation.
Professor Double-X had tasked them to start thinking up spells related to their affinities in preparation for the Munling trial course. Munling Asher (with sidekick Munling Ellery) plunged into the pre-workshop activity with so much excitement that I regretted telling them about it just before bedtime. Even after lights out they kept talking in the dark about the spells they wanted to create. I had to go in to cast the powerful, “OR ELSE” spell to make them sleep.
The day of the workshop was one of those rare days that I didn’t have to nag at the boys to get out of the house. The children met Professor Double-X, an artificial human that did not possess any imagination. This was unusual because only those who had imaginations could cast spells. So even though she was the principal of the Mundane School of Monsters and Magic, she could not cast any spells! She spoke in a robotic voice from the moment she introduced herself, and I wondered if she was going to continue to do so the entire time. Halfway through the day one of house masters cast a spell on her to let her speak normally, but you gotta give her credit for staying in character though!
The excitement of all the children was palpable, and they sat with rapt attention as Professor Double-X introduced the different houses and their unique characteristics. The kids were sorted into houses (which corresponded roughly with their age groups), and met their house masters. Asher was in the youngest group, called Muse house, and he was thrilled because one of the main types of magic used by this house was, you guessed it, Fire magic!
On the pretext of thinking up some magic, the kids were led through some warm-up activities to get them primed to think out-of-the-box and be totally free to dream up anything they wanted. This then led nicely into the process of ‘scribing’ their spells. They had to come up with one of each type of spell, and give details like what words to say, what the effects of the spell are, how widespread its effects were, and how long those effects lasted for. Through the process of scribing, the children learnt how to systematically develop their ideas, building on it bit by bit. They were encouraged to be as detailed as possible, as that would lead to more powerful magic.
All the kids plunged into the activity, and even Asher eagerly scribbled away at the table, writing down his ideas for one spell after another. Normally it’s very hard to get him to write if it’s not for school work, but here he was eagerly doing so!
When everyone had scribed all their spells, the house masters demonstrated how the different spells could be used by having a duel! They picked various spells from the kids and used them on each other to the kids delight. Turning everyone into rabbits, shooting fireballs, creating monsters, blasting zaps…the kids had such a good time feeding the house masters more and more spells to use.
The highlight of the day came when the kids could exchange the ‘essence tokens’ they had earned through the course of the day for a magic wand! Asher took this very seriously and really studied all the wands before picking his. I must say the facilitators really put in a lot of effort to make each wand unique – every single wand was handcrafted with a different style!
The kids were tasked to go back and work on their spells some more because they would need them the following day.
Day 2 was an action-packed day with lots of magic flying around everywhere! First though, the kids walked into the room to find a warning message written in…blood? From who? Who wanted the Munlings to leave? The mysterious writer left no clue, so the kids had no choice but to move on with their Munling training.
There was to be a tournament among the houses to see which house could get past all the magical protective layers of the opponent’s house and retrieve an orb in order to control the opponent’s house pet. Not your average pet please, but a dragon phoenix, a shape-shifting cat, and a zombie mermaid. The houses split up to discuss their defenses and build their imaginary fortresses. I appreciated how the facilitators made sure to let each kid contribute ideas so that they all felt included in the process, no matter how wacky the idea. The facilitators really listened, and where needed they made suggestions to tweak some of the ideas to better suit the story.
Once all the houses had built their imaginary dungeons, the tournament commenced! The houses went to each other’s dungeons to try and break in using the spells they developed previously. The opponent’s house master acted as the story master, telling them what was happening and the obstacles they encountered. The kids would then have to agree on the best course of action to tackle the hurdle. Teams were awarded extra points for active participation and cooperation.
So much excitement, so much drama and magic, and lots of ideas tossed about! The facilitators were really excellent. They encouraged all the children to speak up and share their ideas, they made sure everyone was listening to the idea, and after hearing a few options, they let the children decide what they felt was the best decision. Sometimes the decision led to them overcoming the obstacle, sometimes it didn’t and the kids would go back to discussing options again. The tournament took up the rest of day 2, but the kid’s energy levels did not wane. They were so eager to infiltrate the opposing house’s fortifications, and cheered when they finally retrieved the orb!
The final day was less dramatic, but was very useful for consolidating all the ideas and stories the kids had created and role-played the day before. Day 3 was spent writing down their experience of breaking into one of the opposing house’s dungeons. They had to write down how they got past at least two of the obstacles in as much detail as they could.
You would have thought that the kids wouldn’t been so interested in day 3’s activities, but the whole room was filled with the quiet buzz of kids writing, thinking aloud to themselves, double-checking with each other what had happened at a particular battle, etc. I was completely floored by the amount that Asher wrote. I have never in my life seen that boy write so much. And with such neat handwriting to boot. His school teacher has mentioned how his handwriting needed a lot of work. She would have been so impressed with him! Seriously, even the spacing between words and letters was good! I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was clear to me that when a piece of work was important to him ( and I made a mental note about how important school work was to him…) he can do things very neatly and nicely. Ok, on the bright side, at least I know he’s capable of it :)
The kids then compiled their spells and stories into a little booklet that they could bring home. There was also the final tally on the house points, and Asher’s Muse house won!
And then, the grand finale! I was revealed that one of the house masters wanted to shut down the school because he didn’t believe Munlings should learn magic. He wanted to finish off Professor Double-X! Oh no! The Professor couldn’t defend herself because she couldn’t cast magic! What now? All the kids whipped out their wands and started casting spells to try and defeat the house master, but he deftly overcame them all. Until someone hit on the idea of giving Professor Double-X the gift of imagination! Now able to cast spells, she put a powerful spell on the house master and defeated him!
The kids left the workshop still yammering away about the spells, the stories they wrote, how they defeated the bad house master, and playfully putting spells on each other. Suffice to say that they had a blast.
If there was one thing I thought could improve the workshop further, it would be for the facilitators to perhaps talk a little bit more explicitly about writing techniques, perhaps on the last day. I believe they were trying to let the children absorb the techniques on their own, which is fun but it’s uncertain whether the children know what techniques they have learned from the workshop. While it could be useful to state the purpose of the activities, even in passing, so that the kids understand how what they are doing could relate to future writing activities, I can see how that could interrupt the flow of the activities and dampen the momentum. Perhaps what can be done is for the facilitators to sum up the techniques learned on the final day before or after the kids get down to writing their stories (before as a guide to their writing, or after to summarise the key takeaways).
Nevertheless, it was a very good workshop indeed. Asher was very proud of the story he wrote and eagerly showed it to Jon at night. The workshop succeeded in showing Asher that he capable of writing longer stories and that story writing is fun. I hope this translates to more interest in writing in school, and neater handwriting too! If nothing else, it was really a lot of fun and Asher had a great time at Spell CraftINK! He’s already looking forward to joining another INK workshop in the year end holidays!
Monsters Under The Bed are organising two more workshops at the end of this year. HowlINK run from 25-27 November and has a spooky werewolf mystery theme, while INK to the Void runs from 14-16 December and had to do with space adventures (the new Star Wars film is opening afterall).
***Up for Grabs***
MUTB are generously offering three 10% discount vouchers for three readers for the upcoming HowlINK. It will be a case of first come first served, so hurry and be the first three to leave a comment below! All you need to do is leave your name, email, and say “Aaaahhhwwwwooooooooo!”
You can register for the workshops online, call them at +65-61004363, or email them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: Asher was given a complimentary invitation to attend this workshop, but all opinions are my own.
For the discount voucher, winners will be contacted by email to confirm their win and must respond within 24 hours, failing which, the next person in line will be given the voucher instead.
*After discussion with the hubby, we’ve drawn the line at book 1. Asher is clamouring after book 2, but he has been told to wait and not borrow it from the school library even if it was available. General consensus among those I’ve asked is that book 2 onwards is too dark for kids his age.