Teachers often talk about the importance of helping our children to become fluent readers. What I always want to hear more about are ways to help our children become fluent writers as well. In these lazy summer days, we have hours we can use to help develop our children’s writing fluency. And though it might sound difficult to do, it’s really not. Developing fluency in writing happens in much the same way our children develop fluency in reading: by doing it over and over.
One of the best ways I’ve found to encourage this is keeping a “summer journal.” Here are a few suggestions for making this work:
- Buy them cool journals and give them as a special gift. I have found the coolest blank books for under $5 at T.J. Maxx and Ross. They are unique and stitched and awesome. Composition books are about $2 at Walmart and also work well.These books are fun to decorate. You might also consider a stash of cool pens. Research says that children write faster and MORE with a pen in hand. Choose smooth pens over pencils.
- Make it a chore. Right next to “make the bed” on my children’s chore chart, I have listed, “write in your summer journal.” While I hate to make it a “chore,” if I don’t do it this way, the summer days slip away with no writing. This way, writing is on radar every single day. I am serious about raising a troupe of writers. I make it a must each day.
- Write together. Make this the one chore you do together. This completely changes the dynamic from something “mom is making me do” to “something we do as a family.”
- Push them to select their own topics. Don’t tell them what to write about, just tell them what you are going to write about: “This morning I am going to write about the loud thunder I heard last night while I was trying to sleep.” And then let them come up with their own ideas. You can model more writing suggestions by saying, “I can’t decide if I should write about eating corn on the cob on the deck last night or the duck we saw in our yard,” but beware of the “topic welfare” trap where they depend on you for ideas. Show them that you trust and fully expect they will think of things to write about. In this way, they will spend a summer more aware of what is going on around them.
- Make summer journal writing a daily ritual. The power in this activity is in the dailiness. If you do it once a week, they will complain. If you do it daily, they will look forward to it and complain if you dare miss it. (I’m serious.) I will bet you (at least $20) that if you do this regularly, you will hear “I’m going to write about that tomorrow” from at least one of your children. Most people have experiences. Writers re-live and cherish experiences through their writing. It is a joy to experience this with your children. They will be thinking through the day and night about what they are going to write about next.
- If you can’t do it everyday, concentrate the journal over a chunk of time. It can be effective and fun to do the summer journal over a week’s vacation to the beach or for the space of two weeks of quiet time at home. You’ll have more success over a sustained chunk of time than with sporadic summer journaling.
- If your children don’t write yet, it’s absolutely okay to be their scribe. Children become writers long before their motor skills allow them to write. Their stories are just floating around in the air. You can be the scribe and gather them up into a notebook. Children love to have their words “honored” this way. They love to have their words re-read to them. Plus, they begin to think like a writer and form their ideas into real stories. When the ideas are really coming fast, it can sometimes be easier to scribe by typing it out.
- Don’t stress about grammar and punctuation in their journal writing. Teach them the most important thing is getting down their ideas before they slip away. Often children’s worry over spelling and punctuation kills the idea. Let these books be free of this worry.
- Periodically, publish as a family. Once or twice this summer, announce that your family publishing company is calling for one story from each family member to publish in a family newspaper, on a family blog, in a letter to grandma (anything you can think of.) Let them select one of their summer journal entries to contribute. This will accomplish two important things. First, they will be challenged to evaluate their journal writings and select a topic that might be interesting to others. Second, they will have to edit their stories so others can best understand them. Don’t make the editing process hard, just consider their age and ability and select one or two things to work on. You might have them circle any words they think might be misspelled. You might have them check that there is a capital letter at the start of each sentence. Help them with a couple of things and then you do the rest of the editing for “free.” The goal always with young writers is to keep them writing. You want the publishing process to be exciting not discouraging. The more you let them be involved in the publishing process, the more excited they will be. If they can select a name for the family newspaper, or add illustrations, or decide who you are sending it to–all the better.
- Make the most of our time. We have hours these summer days that the school year takes from us. By keeping summer journals together, we can work to build this fluency and send our children back to school better prepared to face a new school year.
Next time: Summer learning: Easy ways to weave reading into summer days