Passing the Pen: A Mother-Daughter Duo's Writing and Teaching Adventure


A dynamic mother-daughter duo, Stephanie Surles and Madelyn Dietz, have joined forces to create a unique writing experience for young creators at the Loft. Madelyn is the first homeschooled National Student Poet. Stephanie is a seasoned homeschooling parent with a decade of creative writing teaching experience. Fueled by their shared passion for storytelling, they've crafted an immersive class environment that dives deep into the world of words. Currently captivating young minds in their ongoing Sci-Fi writing class, they're poised to carry that momentum into next week's “Fun with Fiction”  for grades 4-6 (there’s still time to register HERE!)


The Parent Perspective

Being able to share the love of writing with my daughter has been deeply meaningful. When I hear her read her stories and poems, my memories return to the two-year-old Madelyn who was always asking me to, “Write down my story, Mama!” Watching her grow in skill and confidence has been a dream come true for me.

We know how consequential it can be to share some of those same moments with other young writers. I understand how difficult it can be for parents to find high-quality experiences for their children, and how much a parent’s heart can ache when their child hasn’t yet found the connection they need. Madelyn remembers how deep the yearning for community and conversation with other young writers can be. Helping other kids to make the connections that we worked so hard to build and assisting other families to navigate the difficult journey we took more easily is incredibly gratifying for both of us.

Currently we are writing simultaneously but not together. At home we regularly hold writing sessions to focus on our individual works-in-progress. We have not yet written a piece together (Madelyn loves to write horror while I leave the room during the scary parts of movies) but we haven’t ruled out writing (non-horror pieces) together in the future.

Our collaborations in writing instruction have evolved over time. We always start by selecting a topic that interests us both. We then talk through all our ideas, starting with brainstorming, moving to consolidating around a main theme, then discussing various methods to organize the material. After teaching a course, we then use comments and suggestions from the students to refine and enhance our instruction. We’re having a blast creating the opportunities we so desperately desired to find when Madelyn was younger!  

The Child Perspective

Having a mother who loves writing just as much as I do has led to multiple collaborations. Our collaborations have changed over time to best suit what we need as artists and as a family. Our work together can be as formal as trading critiques to as casual as chatting about story problems in the morning while I have my coffee and my mom has her tea. When I’m away at college, we hold Zoom calls to chat and the topic of discussion always delves into writing before long. This sense of connection helps us to keep challenging ourselves as writers.

We’re both well aware that writing can be an isolating process at times, which is why we value our talks so highly. We’ve found that a perfect antidote to this loneliness is simply talking about our stories with others. We’re both extremely lucky to be able to chat about writing with one another! However, we recognized from the start that not every family and not every young writer has that opportunity. 

This and our experiences searching for writing opportunities are what led us to create Wordplay Wisdom. This added new types of collaboration to our dynamic. We wanted to be sure that young writers everywhere and the adults supporting them had high-quality resources and tools to collaborate with each other, hone their skills, and understand writing as a process that connects rather than isolates.

We’ve now filmed courses together, taught together, and developed teaching material together—but the foundation of mutual respect and open brainstorming that we built throughout my childhood remains strong.


Wordplay Wisdom is an inspiring initiative dedicated to equipping young writers with the resources they need to thrive. ***It's important to note that although the Loft’s annual literary festival is also named Wordplay, these two Wordplays are different. While both share a deep passion for fostering literary talent, they are unique, independent initiatives.