Online Class: How to Write Short Stories for Children

In this course we'll teach you how to write stories for children by looking at the elements that go into an effective children's story, from initial idea to finished manuscript.

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  • 12
  • 26
    Exams &
  • 4,361
    have taken this course
  • 11
    average time
  • 1.1

Course Description

Do you long to write but feel like you're too busy? Writing for children can be the answer. Children's stories are generally far shorter and simpler than stories for adults. You can draft an 800 word children's story during a couple of lunch hours or during your child's nap times. Many noted children's authors started writing in short bursts when their own young children were sleeping or playing nearby.

Writing for children is by no means easy, however. Children's book and magazine editors expect well developed characters, engaging plots, and vivid description, all in a very small package. Good children's writers learn to make every word count. Communicating effectively with kids means using language they can understand but not talking down to them, and this is easier said than done. In this course, we will look at the elements that go into an effective children's story, from initial idea to finished manuscript. If you've always wanted to write but don't know where to start, we'll cover that too. And once you have a few good stories under your belt, you'll want to find publishing outlets for them. We'll go over the basics of submitting to publishers and even of publishing books yourself.

Writing stories for children can be a fascinating hobby or a challenging career. You can write for your own kids, or publish stories and books that will reach thousands of eager readers. Either way, you will gain the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a difference in the lives of children who hear or read your words.

Course Motivation

Finding Time

"I would love to write if I could only find the time." How many times have you heard yourself say that? For every time saving device modern technology invents for us, there are at least two new ways to waste time: reality TV, the Internet, video games. Our society is rushed, harried and running late. So how do you find the time to write?

The short answer is, you'll never find time; you'll have to make time. No matter how busy you are, though, I guarantee that there is some way to make writing a part of your life. Here are some strategies for carving a few minutes out of the busiest day.

  • Get up earlier or stay up later. Easier said than done? Yes, but worth it if you can manage it. Ideally, a writer needs quiet time alone to work, so what better time than when the phone is done ringing and everyone else in the house has gone to sleep? Of the two, many people prefer staying up late to getting up early, but give early rising a try. You might find that your mind is clearer in the early morning and that problems and hassles that have accumulated during the previous busy day have faded into the background.
  • Carve ten or twenty minute chunks out of your daily routine. If you can't find an hour or two to work, try claiming a couple of shorter time periods. There's no law that says you should have one writing time per day. Write for twenty minutes during your lunch hour, ten in the car just before you come home from work, and ten more just before you go to bed. That's forty minutes a day, and that's enough time for you to really accomplish something if you do it every day. The true magic of this approach, though, lies in the fact that between writing sessions your subconscious mind will continue to mull your story over while you are doing other things, and when you sit down for you next brief writing stint, you may find a new idea or plot twist that had escaped your notice before.
  • Make use of chore time. Ariel Gore, author of The Mother Trip, started her writing career as a single mother. She learned to get much of her writing done while driving. She would compose sentences in her head as she drove, and jot them down during red lights. Pretty extreme? Yes, but she shows us that if you really want to write, there's always a way to find time. You don't have to have a pen in your hand to be writing. If you are waiting in line, driving, or vacuuming the floor, think about your story. What would the next scene or sentence be if you were writing right now? When you think of something, make a note or two in a notebook or dictate to a voice memo recorder. When you do have time to sit down with your pen or laptop, you can expand on the notes you've made rather than trying to remember what you thought of earlier.
  • Turn off the TV. People who say they're too busy to write often watch an hour or two of TV a day, browse random Internet sites, or click every YouTube link their friends send. You can find all the time you need to write just by doing it before you turn on the TV or check your e-mail. Make these activities a reward you give yourself after you've spent some time writing. If there's a TV drama you simply can't live without, set your VCR to record it, write while it records, and watch it after you've written.
Is Time Really the Issue?

Many people who say they're too busy to write are really saying something else. They are afraid that when they finally sit down to write, they'll discover that they aren't as brilliant as they hoped they'd be; that the stories they write won't be good enough to publish, or even good enough to show a loved one. In essence, they are afraid they'll fail. It is much easier to pretend you don't have time than it is to put your ego on the line and actually get some words on paper. The simple fact, though, is that if you want to be a writer you must write. Give yourself permission to stumble at first. Tell yourself that even lousy writing is a step in the right direction. If it's bad, throw it away and start something else, or try revising it. Ernest Hemingway was said to have rewritten sentences dozens of times before deciding they were just right, or at least close enough that he could live with them.

You probably won't be a great writer right out of the box, and that's okay. Keep writing and you'll improve. Keep claiming you're too busy and you'll never write a thing.

Your Inner Critic

We all have one. A voice inside that tells us our work is no good causes us to doubt ourselves. You may draft a short story and realize that it hasn't come out quite as you wanted it to. "Told you it wouldn't," your inner critic says. "You're no good at this. Might as well give up. Turn the TV back on, it's safer that way."

This voice means well, believe it or not. It's the same voice that keeps us from sticking our hand on hot burners or skating on thin spring ice. It's the voice that says "Don't do that. You might get hurt." While there's no physical danger in writing or creating other forms of art, for some reason this survival instinct still kicks in. Perhaps somewhere in our hindbrain there is no distinction between real danger and emotional danger. Perhaps on some level, the letdown of a rejected story carries the same weight as the pain of a physical injury.

Whether it means well or not, the inner critic is a major impediment to creativity. If you want to learn to write stories, you have to learn to quiet down your critic. First, hit it with a little rational thinking. The fear that dire things will happen if you write a second-rate story is an irrational fear. Should you try to write something and fail, the world will keep turning and your limbs will be intact. Give yourself permission to write the worst drivel in the world, and realize that even really bad writing is a step on the road to good writing. If it's really so bad, no one but you will ever see it.

Give your mind the chance to throw out ideas, no matter how far-fetched they are. Honor your crazy ideas. They are the stuff from which creativity is made. Somebody once said "you've got to sing like you don't need the money." Write like you're the best writer on earth. Throw your self-doubt in a strongbox and lock it up for an hour a day or so, and you'll be amazed at what you can achieve. The cure for lousy writing is practice, so to paraphrase Bobby McFerrin, "Don't worry, be writing."

Finding Ideas

"Playing is still the greatest training you can have, I think, for being a writer. It helps you love life, it helps you relax, it helps you cook up interesting stuff in your head."
-- Cynthia Rylant

Another hurdle that stops would-be writers before they even start is the feeling that they don't know what to write. You might read great stories by authors you admire and wonder where they could have come up with such great story ideas while you're sitting in front of a blank computer screen without the foggiest idea what to say.

The ability to generate ideas is a skill that can be learned, just like riding a bicycle or hitting a golf ball. Creative writers develop habits that help them find ideas everywhere. You can learn to do this too. Here are some strategies for turning your mind into an idea machine:

  • Read, read, read. Read the kinds of stories you want to write, and any other stories you like. All great writers are avid readers. Reading great work fills your head with words, and shows you the kinds of characters and situations that make for engaging stories. Beware of judging yourself against the great work you read. Your inner critic is not welcome here. Let yourself be inspired to follow in the footsteps of writers you admire.
  • Carry a notebook. Your mind is working all the time, and chances are you do get story ideas, but they come while you're daydreaming in a meeting or driving to work. "That's a good idea," you tell yourself. "I have to remember that." Only you don't remember. Carry a small notebook or folded piece of paper and a pen or pencil around with you, and jot down ideas when they happen. If you are gadget-friendly, a PDA's note pad works well also. If you work at a computer, you can have a document open in the background. Alternatively, you can carry a tape recorder or digital voice recorder, and dictate your ideas. If an idea for a plot or character or perhaps a title or line of dialog strikes you, jot it down or record it. Don't judge it at this point; you can always ignore it later. If you make this a habit, you'll find more and more ideas coming to you, so many that you won't have time to put your notebook away. Not all of these ideas will be useful, but some of them will be. By honoring each idea with a place in your notebook, you will encourage them to keep flowing.
  • Develop "writer's ear." Listen to the things people say to you, and eavesdrop on conversations on the bus or by the water cooler. Talk to your co-workers and friends about their kids and the things they are going through. People love to talk about the drama in their lives. If you hear someone talking about a funny or a difficult situation, jot a note in your book. It could be the makings of a short story.
  • Listen to children. If you have kids of your own, try to see the world through their eyes. What kinds of things matter to them? If you don't have kids, find ways to interact with them. You will need to know a few if you want to write effective children's stories. A few professions afford the opportunity to work with kids. Teachers, of course, and some doctors. Spend time with nieces, nephews, or grandchildren. Spend time with friends who have kids. Even listening to neighborhood kids playing outside can help you learn how they talk. Take down things they say in your notebook.
  • Ask "what if." Kids do this all the time, and so do creative writers. "What if you were playing in the sandbox and a dinosaur came wandering by?" Let your mind roam free. Ask the craziest questions you can think of. Unlike many adults, kids are perfectly willing to suspend their belief when it comes to stories. Well, what would happen if there was a dinosaur by the sandbox?


  • Completely Online
  • Self-Paced
  • 6 Months to Complete
  • 24/7 Availability
  • Start Anytime
  • PC & Mac Compatible
  • Android & iOS Friendly
  • Accredited CEUs
Universal Class is an IACET Accredited Provider

Course Lessons

Average Lesson Rating:
4.6 / 5 Stars (Average Rating)
"Extraordinarily Helpful"
(3,230 votes)

Lesson 1: Let's Go!

One of the biggest obstacles writers face is finding the time to write. This lesson provides some strategies for finding the time to work on your writing projects. 136 Total Points
  • Lesson 1 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Writing Experience; Reasons for Taking this Course
  • Complete Assignment: An Introduction
  • Complete: Lesson 1 Assignment: Creating Your Writing Schedule
  • Assessment: Lesson 1 Exam: Let's Go!

Lesson 2: Just Do It

The way to become a writer is to simply sit down and begin to write. This lesson will provide some strategies for doing this. 150 Total Points
  • Lesson discussions: Do You Write Regularly?
  • Complete: Lesson 2 Assignment: A Writing Exercise
  • Assessment: Lesson 2 Exam: Just Do It

Lesson 3: Creating Characters Kids Will Love

This lesson will show us how to create characters that our readers can relate to and thus become interested in. Additional lesson topics: Creating Characters 130 Total Points
  • Lesson 3 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 3 Assignment: Create Your Own Characters
  • Assessment: Lesson 3 Exam: Creating Characters Kids Will Love

Lesson 4: And Then What Happened? Plot and the Children's Story

In this lesson, tools for creating an engaging plot are described. Additional lesson topics: Story Writing Tips 150 Total Points
  • Lesson 4 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 4 Assignment: Creating Conflict
  • Assessment: Lesson 4 Exam: And Then What Happened? Plot and the Children's Story

Lesson 5: Setting and the Art of Description

In this lesson, you will learn the importance of creating vivid descriptions and how these descriptions will help to engage and captivate your reader. 140 Total Points
  • Lesson 5 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 5 Assignment: Creating Descriptions
  • Assessment: Lesson 5 Exam: Setting and the Art of Description

Lesson 6: He Said, She said. Dialog in the Children's Story

Dialog is an essential part of any story. This lesson provides dialog-writing tips. Additional lesson topics: Writing Dialogue for Children 145 Total Points
  • Lesson 6 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 6 Assignment: Writing Dialog
  • Assessment: Lesson 6 Exam: He Said, She said. Dialog in the Children's Story

Lesson 7: Modeling

This lesson describes how modeling can help aspiring writers to practice and perfect their craft. 145 Total Points
  • Lesson 7 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Your Influences
  • Complete: Lesson 7 Assignment: Modeling Applications
  • Assessment: Lesson 7 Exam: Modeling

Lesson 8: The First Draft

In this lesson we will discuss strategies that will help you hang in there and get your first draft written. 150 Total Points
  • Lesson 8 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 8 Assignment: Taking the First Step
  • Assessment: Lesson 8 Exam: The First Draft

Lesson 9: Writing is Rewriting

In this lesson, we will discuss some techniques that will help you revise and improve your own work. 140 Total Points
  • Lesson 9 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 9 Assignment: Revising Your Work
  • Assessment: Lesson 9 Exam: Writing is Rewriting

Lesson 10: Don't Despair, Share!

In this lesson, we will learn how seeking other people's viewpoints can prove to be valuable to your finished story. 150 Total Points
  • Lesson 10 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Your First Reader
  • Complete: Lesson 10 Assignment: Find a Support Group
  • Assessment: Lesson 10 Exam: Don't Despair, Share!

Lesson 11: Target Practice: Studying the markets

In this lesson, you will learn how getting to know the markets you are aiming for can increase your chances for publishing success. 140 Total Points
  • Lesson 11 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 11 Assignment: Finding the Right Market
  • Assessment: Lesson 11 Exam: Target Practice: Studying the Markets

Lesson 12: Don't Give Up

In this lesson, you will learn how patience and perseverance are two important keys to becoming a successful, published writer 440 Total Points
  • Lesson 12 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Ready to Start?; Program Evaluation Follow-up Survey (End of Course); Course Comments
  • Complete: Lesson 12 Assignment: Submission Log
  • Assessment: Lesson 12 Exam: Don’t Give Up
  • Assessment: The Final Exam
Total Course Points

Learning Outcomes

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:
  • Describe creating characters kids will love.
  • Define plot in the children's story.
  • Describe setting and the art of description.
  • Describe dialog in the children's story.
  • Define modeling.
  • Create a first draft.
  • Describe the revision process and what to look for.
  • Describe ways to handle rejection and learn from criticism.
  • Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.

Additional Course Information

Online CEU Certificate
  • Document Your Lifelong Learning Achievements
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Document Your CEUs on Your Resume
Course Title: How to Write Short Stories for Children
Course Number: 9770549
Lessons Rating: 4.6 / 5 Stars (3,230 votes)
Languages: English - United States, Canada and other English speaking countries
Availability: This course is online and available in all 50 states including: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.
Last Updated: July 2022
Course Type: Self-Paced, Online Class
CEU Value: 1.1 IACET CEUs (Continuing Education Units)
CE Accreditation: Universal Class, Inc. has been accredited as an Authorized Provider by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
Grading Policy: Earn a final grade of 70% or higher to receive an online/downloadable CEU Certification documenting CEUs earned.
Assessment Method: Lesson assignments and review exams
Instructor: Dana Kristan
Syllabus: View Syllabus
Course Fee: $95.00 U.S. dollars

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Student Testimonials

  • "I feel like writing again! I will tackle my original book of quotes first then move on to writing for young adults." -- Amy F.
  • "Easy to follow and was clear and concise. Excellent!" -- Sharon C.
  • "The course and instructor feedback was very helpful. Excellent course." -- Anthony D.
  • "Loved the instructor. She was great! Would love to take another class from her." -- Rebecca M.
  • "Very enjoyable." -- Julie F.
  • "What was most helpful was generally the course content. I'm a beginner at writing childrens stories and found it fascinating." -- Julie F.

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