Raising Summer Readers Tip #49: Encourage fun and meaningful writing over the summer

Reading and writing go hand-in-hand — developing skills for one will help the other, so kids will benefit if they can find some time for writing. In a few prior posts, I recommended some ways that my kids have done some summer writing (See tips #21 and #27.). In this tip, I want to point readers to literacy expert Trevor Cairney’s blog post entitled “10 Ways to Get Your Children Writing in the Holidays” because many of his ideas overlap with writing activities that I have enjoyed with my kids. To highlight few of our favorites:

  • Quirky journals. 
    writing in science journal

    Ethan writing in his Science Observation Journal

    These are themed journals that are targeted towards children’s specific interests. They are great because they are personal and meaningful, which motivates writing and results in pride and ownership — which further motivates more writing!  The most long-standing “quirky journal” in our family has been my 7 year old’s Science Observation Journal — where he describes science-related activities and experiences. The journal provides a go-to structure for his science writing: for example, when he recently made a radio with his dad, he naturally pulled the journal out to write down the steps, draw a diagram, and hypothesize about what went wrong. And as a budding scientist, it’s fun for him to watch his science journal grow!

  • Fractured fairy tales. 
    books - fractured fairy tales

    The kids love to write their own versions of fairy tales and other well-known stories

    Creating their own versions of well-known fairy tales has been a favorite writing activity among all the kids. The inspiration usually comes from reading the originals as well as the published “fractured” version, which can be found for just about all of the classics (e.g., there are many creative renditions of The Three Little Pigs and The Boy Who Cried Wolf). We’ve had the most fun reading as many versions as possible of The Gingerbread Man and then writing their own. Part of the fun is the family discussions that occur before the writing about the best way to tweak the stories.

  • Stories in a box.
    story prop box example

    A “Story in a Box”

    I love this one because it is so fun and requires some good creative thinking. The basic idea is that kids are presented with a box of 5-6 interesting objects/photos/artifacts, and then they are challenged to write a story using all of the objects. A variation that we’ve found fun is to first send kids on a scavenger hunt to collect interesting items — which can work in the context of a neighborhood walk, at the beach, or even inside your house. Kids each contribute to the box their “most interesting object(s)”, and the collection of objects becomes the story prompt. Stories can be told individually or collaboratively, and orally or in writing. My kids have enjoyed writing their own stories and then sharing and comparing them, noticing how the same set of objects resulted in tremendously different stories. Want to make it even more fun? Give the kids a plain wooden treasure chest to paint first, send them on a scavenger hunt for a single “best treasure” to be put in the treasure chest, and then kids meet to share their treasures that together become the story box.

  • Start a blog. My daughter started a blog last summer and  it resulted in so much writing. It provided a structure for her to write book reviews as well as a real audience to read her reviews — both of which were motivating and generated momentum to keep writing. This summer, my 7- and 8- year olds both got hooked into DOGOBOOKS.COM, an online book review community for kids that allows kids to write for real purposes (to share opinions about books) and for real audiences (other kids who are also interested in books). If your kids haven’t done any writing this summer, perhaps they’d like to check out this website and write reviews for some of their favorite reads from the summer?

The kids’ bar menu!

tracy reading bar menu

Aunt Tracy really using the bar menu that the kids created — making their writing “matter”!

There are so many more ways to inspire kids to write during the summer, including writing to an author, establishing an e-mail pen pal with a friend or relative, and working on a scrapbook with written captions. Another quite easy way to get kids to write over the summer, which just requires a bit of conscious effort on parents’ part, is to nudge kids to incorporate it into their already-existing play. Often just a simple suggestion can result in writing that is purposeful and fun. For example, when the kids and their cousins wanted to serve us at the swim-up bar in our pool in Mexico, a gentle “Well, how do I know what to order without a menu?” led to all 5 kids writing menus with lists of food and beverage items. Or, when the kids want to put on a show, asking for “a program so I know the order of the acts” motivates some quick writing before the show can begin. These simple requests are usually well-received, because they are authentic, enrich the play, and show kids that their writing matters.

I can’t close out this tip without mentioning this. As Cairney mentions in his post, summer writing should be for real and varied purposes, for real audiences, rooted in kids’ own interests and experiences, and fun. I couldn’t agree more with these principles, and they are the basis for all of the writing activities that I recommend for parents as well as the ones that I do with my own kids. However, he says that summer writing should not look like writing in school — implying that school writing is more, well, “school like” — more boring, less real, less fun. If these principles could be applied all of the time to the classroom during the school year, we’d create better, more motivated young writers!

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