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Five Tips to Get Kids Writing

As families prepare for the start of a new school year, academic plans are all over the place, but one constant is the need to lift up kids’ voices through this unsettling time. One of the best ways to do that is by encouraging them to write. Just a few minutes of writing each day can be a great way for kids to process what they’re learning, share their hopes and worries, and discover their voices. Here are some tips to make that experience creative and joyful. 

  1. Take a notebook outside. Writing helps us notice small, wonderful things in the world. Try using a hula hoop or a length of yarn to mark off a circle of grass or dirt. Give the kids a magnifying glass and invite them to flop down on their bellies to look closely and write about what they see.
  2. Focus on sensory language by inviting kids to sit outside for two minutes, eyes closed, and write down everything they hear. What sound is that bird making, exactly? Is it a tweet-tweet or more of a chirp-chirree? Then change gears and write about smells for two minutes. Is it fresh and earthy or hot and blacktoppy? Do the same with the sense of touch, noticing things like the tickle of grass and the coolingl breeze.
  3. Try a shared story! Sit the family down in a circle, set a timer, and have everyone spend two minutes writing the beginning of a story. (It can be about anything!) When the timer goes off, have everyone pass their paper to the right, and set the timer again. This time, each person picks up the story where it left off, writing for two minutes until it’s time to pass papers again. You can set a number of rounds for this ahead of time -- six to ten is a good number -– so that the last couple of people know when it’s time to wrap things up. Then read each piece aloud so everyone can see what happened to the stories they started.
  4. Remind kids that they’re living through an important time in history, and that all of our stories become part of that history. Kids can write down memories of their days at home during the pandemic, participating in their first protests, or learning about the upcoming presidential election. Make sure you hold onto those stories so your kids can share them with their own children one day.
  5. Have a family open mic night on the porch or beside a bonfire. Each person can write a poem or short story to share. (Don’t forget the snacks!)

Whatever you write with your kids, make space for creativity and laughter. Don’t worry too much about spelling and grammar when kids are writing for fun. There’s a time and a place for careful editing, but not all writing has to be polished to perfection, and this time of unconventional learning can be a chance for kids to play around with different kinds of storytelling without getting stressed out about conventions. Let them find the joy first. Later on, when they’re excited about a particular piece, they’ll be motivated to take those next steps to revise and edit to really make it shine.

Kate Messner's latest book is How to Write a Story (Chronicle 2020; per the author, order from Frugal Bookstore or another BIPOC-owned or local indie, or wherever you buy or check out books), sequel to How to Read a Story (2015). Also read her Horn Book Magazine article "Everyone Needs a Ramona" and reviews of Tracking Pythons and The Next President

Kate Messner
Kate Messner
Kate Messner is the author of such picture books as Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (Chronicle); the novels Wake Up Missing and All the Answers (Bloomsbury); and the Marty McGuire and Ranger in Time chapter book series (Scholastic). Kate lives on Lake Champlain with her family.

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