During my days as an elementary school teacher, I sent home lists of great reading choices for the summer and encouraged my students’ families to take part in the library summer reading program. Parents are very eager to help their children grow as readers.
They also want to be part of shaping their children as writers, but most parents don’t feel as confident about teaching writing skills. It might be helpful to think of yourself as a writing coach, rather than a teacher, giving your child opportunities to exercise the writing muscles they developed during the school year.
If you’re a parent or a grandparent with hopes of keeping your student’s writing skills sharp, here are some fun (and writing during the summer should be very, very fun) ways to do just that.
Keep it authentic!
Accidental learning is the best kind of learning. This is learning that happens while we are going about our lives, not sitting at a desk. Look for the ways adults use writing every day. We compile lists, leave messages, and plan a party or a vacation. Let your child do the writing.
This kind of learning requires parents to be ever vigilant for that teachable moment. One of my sons once complained about the cold water of the swimming pool where I forced (his word) him to take lessons. A complaint is a great opportunity to write a persuasive letter. While Geoff didn’t convince the Parks and Rec people to up the temperature, he did receive a letter back from the pool maintenance people about mass and bacteria growth. And funny thing, Geoff didn’t do much complaining after that. Bonus!
Digital photography is a boon for young writers. Let your children write captions for family photos, or photos of a special collection, or let them document a day in their life. Journalism is definitely authentic writing. Compile a newsletter to send out to family members about notable summer activities with stories written by your children. Be sure to include an opinion page for some persuasive writing.
This is my favorite way to add writing practice to a child’s day. Write a message to your child in the journal and leave it under his or her pillow before you go to bed and encourage them to respond. Be sure to decide on a special delivery location to add intrigue. This is your chance to open an on-going conversation with your child about a book you’re both reading, about an event you attended together, or about how to make something go better in your family. Open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered yes or no) will keep the conversation lively. Share jokes, poems, family news. Don’t forget, your children love reading about your childhood memories, and ask them to tell you something they hope to remember forever.
Please, please, please don’t feel compelled to make corrections to your child’s writing. Instead, model in your response the correct way to spell a word or to use punctuation.
If one parent spends the day at work, have your children journal about their day to share with that parent. This is a great way to start dinner-table conversations. Be sure to include artifacts from the day, such as a feather, a picture, a flower.
Books and Writing
“If I Were You ” by Richard Hamilton: Daisy’s dad uses the expression “If I were you …” and a conversation about trading places ensues. Daisy dreams about being in charge, and her dad dreams about zero responsibilities.
Writing prompt: If you were me, what would your day be like?
“Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School ” by Mark Teague: Oh boy, Ike the dog is in big trouble. He has been sent to the Igor Brotweiler Canine Academy. He writes letters home to convince his owner to rescue him from his awful fate.
Writing prompt: Think of an animal who must convince his owner to do something. Consider an elephant who wants to leave the zoo to travel with the circus, or a goldfish who wants to see a baseball game, or a snake who wants a new pair of pants. Have fun!
“If I Built a Car ” by Chris VanDusen: A young boy is determined to redesign the family station wagon. Of course, the car flies and goes underwater. It also comes with a robot driver, a snack bar, and a swimming pool.
Writing prompt: If you built a car, what would it be like?
Pets, pets, pets!
Kids love to write about their pets, especially if we give the pets unusual abilities or identities.
All of a sudden, your pet can talk. What does he say about being part of your family? What suggestions does he make for improved living conditions?
Oh my, your pet is really an alien. What will they report back to the home planet about life among earthlings?
Your pet is a travel agent for pets and their owners. Where does your pet send his clients? What kinds of special accommodations must he make for the owners, since the pets are sleeping in the motel rooms—on the beds?
Emergent writers need not be left out of the fun. Let them dictate their answers to you or an older sibling.
As you can see, writing is an interactive skill with lots of opportunities to share fun and to record your family’s history. I hope these few ideas will encourage you to keep your child’s writing skills sharp through the summer.
Please share your ideas for engaging kids in writing during the summer. Good coaches learn from one another.
Patti Hill is the author of five published novels—Like a Watered Garden, Always Green, In Every Flower, The Queen of Sleepy Eye, and Seeing Things. She just completed her first historical novel, Goodness & Mercy, set during World War II. Patti writes stories to restore a sense of wonder for her readers. She has served as sous chef to her husband, Dennis, a dedicated foodie, for 35 years. When not writing, she gardens, teaches, and mentors. Her grown sons are handsome and brilliant, of course! She has been a finalist in both the Christy Awards in the New Author category and for Best Book of the Year in “Foreword ” magazine.