• Gemma Newton

Children are writing magical stories about grown-up problems

Updated: Jun 7, 2018

The BBC's 500 word competition highlights what our kids really know about key issues such as plastic and politics.
Children are more aware of current issues than we sometimes realise
This morning I was shocked by something I heard on the radio.

Sipping peppermint tea and enjoying breakfast, I was tuning in and out of BBC Radio Two. Chris Evans was blabbering away as usual but he caught my attention with news about the 500 words writing competition for kids. This competition is incredible. As someone who loves words enough to make a career from them, I admire the BBC’s efforts to provide such a large platform for kids to express themselves with the written word.


With an inspiring 134,790 entries in 2018, it’s clear that kids all over the country are enjoying writing. This competition has become the largest of its kind in the world and each year the Oxford University Press analyses entries for trends in children's language. I remember last year being bowled away by the word of the year which was ‘Trump’, a true indication that even politics is seeping into children from a young age. But this year I fell off my seat when the 2018 word was announced. The word was ‘plastic’.


Having just completed a white paper for a client about plastic in supermarkets I was amazed, in a good way, that children were also picking up on this issue. Whether they fully understand it or not, they are still aware that plastic is an important topic at the moment. I couldn’t help but look into this a little further and what I found, humbled me. The word plastic appears a total of 3,359 times in the 2018 stories, an increase of 100%. The words recycle and recycling also saw an increase of 100% and children are inventing new solutions to solve the problem of plastic through storytelling.

I really hope we see new tools such as the ‘special Reverse-o-matic Pollutinator Ray Gun’ in production as soon as possible.

The word ocean also saw an increase with ocean inhabitants such as whales and turtles popular. The Oxford University Press have created a great infographic about the results here which is worth a look.


On my desk in front of me sits the June edition of National Geographic magazine. The cover this month is mind-blowing, one for the history books, showing an iceberg made from a plastic bag. Since researching more about this debate in recent months, I assumed that people of my generation were the ones truly concerned about this issue. We, the social media generation, have been rallying online for change and education about plastic pollution. But this morning, the reason I fell off my chair is because I realised there is a new generation rising in the ranks and with gleeful optimism, this news proved that not all is lost on them.


Despite living in a world of depression and extreme pressure, they are aware. They know the problem and they will be the ones who make the real change. Kids are listening all the time, even when we don’t think they are, and this morning’s revelation on BBC Radio Two exemplifies that perfectly. I can adjust my shopping habits and create some change but the biggest thing I can really do, is make sure I start conversations about big issues with my family. Because even at a young age, the children around me understand more than I ever realised. They need to know about the important topics, even if that is Trump or the war on plastic, because it’s their future and they will be the ones who have to fix it.


#plastic #children #BBC500words #storytelling

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