We’ve been spending the past few weeks talking about how to keep kids’ brains in high gear during the summer. Nothing worse than getting brain-flabby during vacation and then having to scramble to get in shape again when classes start again in the fall.
Remember, summer’s for slowing down not shutting down.
We discussed summer reading and summer math. Now, let’s do summer writing, shall we? As a writing teacher for lots of years, I’ve discovered plenty of ideas for motivating reluctant writers and for encouraging eager ones. Here are a few that work particularly well, especially during the summer, when rules are relaxed, topics are freer, and the whole family can be involved.
- Read. The best way to improve your writing is to read more. Check out the styles and stories of many authors. Maybe even find a new favorite the kids can talk about when school starts again. They’ll feel grown up. My favorite – and free – reading motivating website is Book Adventure . Check it out for lots of book suggestions and cool prizes. While you’re at it, read with the kids. Let them read to you, with expression and zest. Read to them. Ham it up. Talk to them about your favorite books when you were their age. Go to the library often.
- Have a writing ritual. Routines are important for kids. You don’t have to be all school-marmy about it, but set up a simple daily ritual for the kids to write a little bit. If writing is something that occurs in “real life” as well as in school, it’ll take on a natural relevance for them.
- Prompt the children. Help the kids be creative with some fun topics for them to write about. “Pretend you live 100 years ago/100 years in the future. What’s summer like?” Select some thought-provoking magazine pictures or online photos of subjects your kids will find interesting. “Pretend you live here. What’s summer like?” Use holidays or special family days as topics. “Grandpa fought in Korea. What does the Fourth of July mean to you?”
- Be creative. Summer’s a time to be creative, funny, and even a little silly. Write jokes. “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Handsome. Handsome who? Handsome of that pizza over here.” (Kids love knock-knock jokes. Don’t try to figure out why.) Write skits and plays. Use favorite scenes from the books you’ve been reading together. “Amelia Bedelia” books are great for this. Write about favorite family stories, like the time Uncle Davin won the hot dog eating contest and was sick for days afterwards. Green and sick, but proud.
- Interview interesting people. Interesting people are like blessings – we’re surrounded by them if we’d only recognize them. Spend some time with your kids coming up with good questions to ask Reverend Sam about his work with the poor, or Grandpa about his growing up in Trinidad, or old Mrs. Logan across the street about her being the first woman police officer in the town.
- Keep a summer journal or scrapbook. Family summer journals, where everyone writes a little something every day, or family summer scrapbooks, where everyone contributes a little something each day – photos, drawings, poems – become family keepsakes. Not only are you writing, you’re writing together and creating shared memories.
- Write reviews. Everyone’s a critic. Read some professional reviews online or in the daily paper to get the hang of it, and then encourage the kids to write their own. Summer movies. Popular TV shows. New video games. Favorite sports teams. The amusement park you visit.
- Research. Kids love to look up stuff. Especially the stuff they’re really interested in. Help them narrow their interests – sports, new discoveries, heroes, a fascinating new hobby or pastime. Let them use the internet or library. If they’re online, monitor their site visits, naturally, but let them see how one discovery leads to another.
- Work on spelling. I’ll write more about this in the next blog, but don’t forget one of writing’s most basic skills. Make mastering spelling fun with informal spelling challenges (with impromptu treat rewards), with a word-a-day challenge, or with letting them quiz you with their new spelling skills. Let them show off.
- Read the Killgallons. Don & Jenny Killgallon have written a remarkable series of books about helping kids – from elementary to college – improve their writing. Students start by imitating popular authors, then, as their confidence grows, they expand from sentences to paragraphs. They’re amazed at what they can write. The Killgallons are my long-time friends and colleagues. I’ve used Don & Jenny’s books in my own classes. I can attest to their talents and to the results of my startled students. “I can’t believe I wrote that! I never would have believed it.”
Remember, summer is for fun and for learning stuff school can’t always fit into its curriculum. Let kids keep learning, keep writing, and keep gaining confidence.