The first rule of summer writing and literacy activities is that they need to be enjoyable. If you’ve got to drag your kids to do something that they’re going to resist the entire way, your summer is going to be as miserable as their summer. I’m not saying they’re going to spring out of bed each morning, immediately asking if they can do some KidWrite stuff – but I have to admit that is the dream I cherish.
The Pre-K Crowd: There’s a wide range of ages here, so let’s break it into two groups — those who are still eating crayons and those who have progressed beyond that point. For the Crayon Crunchers, the summer is a great time to make some pudding and have them practice making lines, squiggles, shapes, and maybe a few simple letters with their hands. You can join them. At the very least it will taste great! These little guys are also fun to explore with. Take your Cruncher out for a walk and see what you can see of summer. Butterflies, kites, flowers … even if you live in the city there will be something you can notice. Even if there’s not a lot, you can pick one tree or bush and notice what it does over the course of a year. Go for details like how the leaves feel, what the flowers smell like, what colors there are, whether there are any animals nesting. You’ll be doing a lot of the talking, but as you do, you’re encouraging verbal skills and an eye for detail in your child. If it’s just a miserably hot day, head to the grocery store and go through the produce section. There are so many colors and textures there. It could take a while.
For the Pencil Munchers you can do a bit more. How about a blank notebook? It can be pages you staple together or a notebook with loose leaf paper or a marble notebook or even a photo album or scrapbook that you put things in. Actually, if you live where there is a lot to notice, a scrapbook could be a lot of fun. Even if not, writing in a journal each week will help your child get into the habit of having a beginning, middle, and end to what happened that week or day. If you write with your child, that’s okay. It can be your journal together. It can focus on summer fun or it can have the scoop on something you decide to do together. One summer my daughter and I planned to bake something every week. I think we made it through two weeks before that fell apart and we headed to the bakery, but it was fun. You can also have camp-ins at this age. Set up a tent of some sort in whatever space you have. Put sleeping bags or quilts in the tent. Shut out all the lights and keep flashlights handy. Tell stories and make shadow puppets. That will definitely give you something to write about.
Grades K-1: Kids this age love to collect things. If you live near the beach, your child can start a shell collection. If you live where there are lots of flowers, you can start a pressed flower collection. (You pick a flower, put it between sheets of paper, put a very heavy object on top, and check back in two weeks.) If none of those work, your child can collect postcards or those pennies that they smooth in machines and then come out with something about the place you’re visiting. One of my kids was in love with those! He kept them all in one pocket. He could barely walk straight by the end of the summer but we could all tell where he was at all times.
If your little guy is a writer and into writing, encourage him or her to write something once a week. It could be simple or, with some kids I’ve known, very elaborate. Don’t worry about the spelling. Don’t worry that there is no punctuation. If your child asks about those things, help out. If not, leave it alone. Focus on the wonderful story. Ask questions about what happens next. Some kids love when you do that, others take it as a sign that you think they didn’t do enough. You know your child; go with what works for him or her.
Grade 2: This is a great age for a simple microscope or magnifying glass – preferably plastic. No. These are not to torture ants or burn paper. These are to take a closer look at what’s going on outside. Dig up some dirt and take a close look. Take a really good look at a leaf from the fall. Take a close look at a new leaf for the summer. Keep an observation journal. Explain that in the field, scientists draw a little sketch and write a little bit about what they see. If your child is really into it, the right hat might help. Ditto a belt with some field tools like a pencil, a small shovel, a magnifying glass, a water bottle, and a pad. I know that would do it for me.
Have a kid who loathes the great outdoors? Start a scavenger hunt in the house. Explain that there will be one clue a week. Also explain that the clues have an activity to do and when that activity is completed, there will be a puzzle piece. When the puzzle is complete, there will be a prize. The activities could include writing a short story to a prompt. The prompt could be: a gremlin in the woods with an empty basket. Or: three kids on a field trip get lost in a swamp and meet an invisible dog. The activities could also include decorating cookies with frosting and sprinkles, reading a story to a younger brother or sister – or to the dog or cat if this is your only or youngest, or making up a game with dice and candy. Part of getting the puzzle piece is writing an opening sentence and then a list of three details. You can help with the opening sentence. It could be, Today I wrote a story. Then list three details about the story.
Grades 3-5: For kids this age, you need something good. Most of them have been reading several books while in school and feel that reading is somehow a punishment. I think the best approach for this age is to break out the magazines. That means for you as well as for them. Sports Illustrated for Kids is good. National Geographic always has fantastic photojournalism. Boy’s Life is another good one. Highlights has a variety of activities that go with the stories. There are also fantastic magazines from the Cobblestone group. If they don’t sell any of these near you, go to the library and copy some of the stories. There are bound to be others that catch your eye – or your child’s eye. Your mission is to get a bunch of magazines and sit down to read for half an hour at least twice per week. That’s it. Your kids are always wondering what you’re doing when you’re not with them. They are also probably thinking they are going to play video games and watch television, but you can say that you love to read and you’d love for them to join you. So just start with magazine reading. Once you establish that habit, we’ll go on to the next step!
Any Age: For many kids, the idea of writing a book is absolutely the best idea in the world. Some kids make the book before they start. Some build it page-by-page. If your kids wants to write a book, let him or her do it his or her way. Even if the project is abandoned after a few pages, chances are good your child will be back with a new idea in a few days. Keep it going!