"Are you excited about all the writing you'll do this summer?" I asked my exuberant Inktopia Kids summer writing campers. It was the last day of a fun-filled, early summer week of word games, character creation and poetry making. Every Inkster said they had a great time and would miss camp. But in response to the question of writing during the rest of the summer, one camper mused aloud, "Well, it's summer vacation. It's not really time for school work."
We understand that if kids don't read and write over the summer, their reading and writing muscles grow slack. They lose some of their imaginative muscle. Just like a coach sees the difference in her players if they spent the summer lounging instead of being active, I certainly see a literary sluggishness in my students if they return to school in the fall without picking up a book or writing in their journals with true engagement.
That is the key: true engagement. Where summer reading and writing assignments often miss the mark is that students (and sometimes their caregivers) view them as a chore, as a homework assignment that intrudes on sunny summer days like a too full rain cloud. They become an item on the Return to School To-Do List: Buy a new backpack, sharpen pencils, read my summer reading book(s), get a new lunchbox, write about what I did during my summer vacation...
So, why write during the summer? Or, a better question: Why write at all?
In response, here are six things for children to understand about writing and four ways to help get them started
1. Writing is an invitation for you to sit quietly with your thoughts, your wit, your confusions -- an invitation to find your voice. As one of my former students told me recently, "Writing is my state of rest." Low-stakes journal writing is a form of vacation, an invitation to rest. Accept the invitation whenever you can. Take some time every day to jot down a few words and see where they take you. Make or find a journal you want to fill with your words. Need a break from your nagging siblings? Looking for a way to chill out? Find a cozy place -- a favorite room in your house, a welcoming spot on the couch, under the shade of a tree, in a fort you've built -- to take a break from everyone else's voices and spend time listening to your own.
2. Writing is so much more than the physical act of putting pencil to paper or fingertips to keyboard -- or screen. We compose, for instance, each time we tell a story at the dinner table or, for that matter, comment on the food we are eating at that same meal. If you don't like physical writing, try spending some time creating oral stories. Put on a puppet show. My son loves building Lego creations and using them as settings for stories that he then shares with us. Play with Rory's Story Cubes. You can even just take time to share your experiences from the day. Speaking stories is a fun and wonderful way to develop as a writer.
3.Writing leads to discovery. You may know where you are in this moment, but who knows what you'll discover if, like Harold with his purple crayon or Vashti and her dots, you make a mark -- or in this case, write something down - and see where it takes you?
4. Speaking of Harold and that purple crayon or Vashti and her dots, drawing is a fabulous way into writing -- as is music. This year, I taught a student who is such a talented artist. Drawing is brainstorming for him; in his sketches are the seeds of fantastic essays, stories and poems. Use your drawings, illustrations from favorite books, images from magazines or photographs from a summer vacation as inspiration to write. Listen to music you love or have just discovered and allow it to fill your writing with sound. Most importantly, remember that writing is also about using your uniqueness to help lead you to your best writing ways.
5. Writer's Block is a chance to ask a new question or find new inspiration. Don't know what to write about? Questions and prompts can inspire you. Try writing in order to ask your questions -- any questions at all -- and to explore possible responses or solutions to them. How many times have you opened your journal and had your pen stunned mute by the blankness you find there? This doesn't mean you're a horrible writer. When this happens, try jotting down a question about something that puzzles you and then try to write your way to the next question, elaborate on the question or try writing a possible response.
6. Writing is essential. Writing is about developing a life in which you are intentionally expressive, where you give your imagination a life. Writing allows you to grow and stretch, to test ideas, to immerse yourself in another world, to reflect, to express feelings, to explore. And while writing is often viewed as a solitary activity, it is also collaborative. Writing allows you to think about your ideas and voice in relation to others. We write from our experiences with others. We write about our views on the world, about our feelings regarding others. We write because we want to do what our favorite writers do for us as readers -- transport us, awaken our imaginations. We write to give ourselves courage to share what we have trouble speaking out loud to others. Writing is too essential to leave behind when summer vacation arrives.
4 Ways to Help Get Them Started
1. Make your own 'Journal Jar' filled with writing prompts. At a writing camp last summer, I helped girls create their own 'Journal Jars' -- glass jars (or, for the summer, a bucket) that hold writing prompts on paper slips, one prompt per slip. Whenever the girls needed inspiration, they were to visit their Journal Jar, pick a slip at random and write about whatever was on the slip. For example: What is your favorite possession? How is it important to you? Logan, age 8, responded: "My stuffed lion. I call him Li-Li. Everyone asks me why I still sleep with Li-Li every night and let him travel with me on trips. Well, it's because I've had him since the first day I was born. He holds memories that I don't even remember. Where would they go if I got rid of him?" You can find more fun writing prompts and Journal Jars at www.inktopiakids.com. Writing prompts, whether collected in a jar or shared from time to time, are very helpful ways to give writers a place to begin a practice of journal writing.
2. Write to a friend or family member. Traveling so much you feel like you just can't find the time to write? As a souvenir, write and send postcards to family and friends so that they know what you are up to. Even writing emails are a fun way to write while reaching out to others.
3. Make a list. We rattle off lists all the time: things we want to do during the day, foods we like to eat, places we like to visit, games we like to play, our favorite songs, scores from our games or games we've watched. So, fill those journal pages with lists. Make a quirky list by using one of your senses you wouldn't normally use to describe something. For instance, instead of writing about how good those chocolate chip cookies smell in the oven, what about imagining how they sound as they bake?
4. Develop a story or poem from your writing journal. So, you're at the end of the summer and you've filled lots of journal pages. What to do now? Read through your journal. Circle or highlight words and ideas you really like. Take one of those ideas and write them into a story, poem, or song.