Away from home, or simply away from school, summer is an ideal time to nurture your child's love of writing. Kids who normally balk at homework assignments and deadlines can relax and write what interests them. With fewer academic distractions, they can focus on the fun of writing. This year, go beyond the dreaded, "What I did during my summer vacation," essay. Offer up these suggestions and opportunities to help your children put pen to paper.

Wish you were here.

Stock your child's travel bag with postcards this summer. Whether you're away on a family vacation or your child is at sleep away camp, postcards are a fun way to stay connected and get your child writing. Help campers address postcards home and to friends before heading to camp. They can add the details of their days and pop them in the mail. On a family vacation, buy postcards from each destination. Have your child write about your adventures and send a postcard home. When you collect your mail after the trip, a unique souvenir and reminder of your journey will be waiting.

Create a family travel journal.

"We keep a family journal when we travel because I've found that it is hard to remember exactly what we did once we get home," says Lili Panarella, who has traveled extensively with her husband and two daughters. Kids and parents can write about adventures as they happen and preserve their memories. We have a unique perspective on our shared experiences. Your son's description of falling out of a boat is sure to differ from your view of him falling into the water and bobbing up and down in his lifejacket. Take dictation from younger children whose writing skills haven't caught up with their thoughts. Assign each person a day, or write as the mood strikes, but make sure everyone participates.

E. Ashley Steel, co-author of "Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids," suggests interviewing children about the places you visit. Ask them what they have observed or learned about the people, geography or food. Allow time for reflection and then capture their words on the page as they share their insights. Your kids don't always have to be writing to begin thinking like a writer.

Use nature as inspiration.

Provide your young scientist with an un-lined journal to record observations. Head outside to draw plants and insects, and write descriptions of the natural world. Kids who prefer non-fiction can stick with details and descriptions as they study their surroundings. Others can use nature to stir their imagination toward stories and poems.

Create a writer's alcove.

When I was little I wrote in my "office" in the living room. My pens and notebooks were hidden in a discarded magazine rack tucked in a corner behind a red paisley wing chair. Encourage writing by helping your child carve out a quiet space. Some children will thrive with a desk of their own, complete with a drawer for pens, a shelf for paper or a laptop. For others, that will seem too much like school. Your child might be happy curled up in a cozy spot where they won't be disturbed. What secret hideaways are waiting to be discovered in and around your home? Look at your space with new eyes and ask your children what location calls to them.

No matter what type of writing your child experiments with during the summer, be sure to separate the creative flow of writing from the mechanics. Nothing stops budding writers faster than having their spelling corrected. If you find yourself distracted by your children's errors, have them read their work aloud so you can discuss their thoughts and ideas.

Patricia Zaballos, author of "Workshops Work! A Parent's Guide to Facilitating Writer's Workshops for Kids," agrees. Some of the kids in her workshops struggle with spelling or penmanship. "I'm sometimes amazed because these writers read sophisticated, nuanced stuff," she says.

She notes that parents and teachers might not see through the superficial errors to recognize the strength of the writing. When we hear our children's words we are more open to the stories they have to tell. If improving grammar and spelling are goals you have for the summer, set time aside to work on editing after you have acknowledged your child's effort and creativity.

Neighborhood reporter, poet or playwright, your children can be all of them this summer with your support. Write together as a family and share your work. When summer ends you will have a record of the time you spent together and apart. And that summer vacation essay in the fall? It will be as easy as sipping a tall glass of lemonade.


Resouces and Ideas


Summer Writing 101

This summer, host a writers' workshop to get the kids in your life excited about writing. Invite your child's friends to a series of meetings or a one-day writers' retreat during which young writers share their work and offer each other feedback. Request that each child bring a short piece of their own writing to read aloud to the group.

Patricia Zaballos, who has led workshops for kids and teens for over a dozen years. She notes that since workshops are open-ended and based on what the kids want to write about they can be a great option for the summer. Kids can write on any subject and in any genre. They do not need to limit themselves to stories. Support them in writing in a style they enjoy.

Feedback prompts help kids and adults avoid the trap of saying only, "I liked it, it was good." Create a list of suggestions such as "I remember … I was surprised by … or, I was confused by … " Prepare this in advance, or have participants write them on a poster or large whiteboard at the beginning of the meeting. Having the kids write the prompts will get them engaged right away and prime them for the types of things to listen for during the readings.

In addition to sharing work, workshops can include time for participants to write. Writing prompts, sometimes called story starts, are story ideas, first lines or memory joggers that provide inspiration to get the ink flowing. Check your local library for resources for young writers. For kids who don't think of themselves as writers, Zaballos says list-making can be a fantastic beginnning. "make a list of 'Things that Drive Me Nuts' or 'Ways of Irritating a Sibling' or 'Things to Do If You're Bored at the Store'," she suggests.

A writing workshop may be just the motivation your children need to write over the summer. And who knows? Once momentum kicks in, they might just continue writing for a lifetime.


Writing Resources for Children and Families

Picture Books:

  • "If You Were a Writer" by Joan Lowery Nixon
  • "The Best Story" by Eileen Spinelli
  • "What Do Authors Do?" By Eileen Christlow

Writing Guides for Children:

  • "Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing" by Karen Benke
  • "Spilling Ink, A Young Writer's Handbook" by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter
  • "Writing Magic" by Gail Carson Levine

Heather Lee Leap is a freelance writer and mother of three girls. Her parents provided her with pens, paper and plenty of quiet time to write when she was young.