Last year, a fantastic blog post called How to Be a Writer was making the rounds among my writerly friends. Those of us who are also parents seemed particularly interested, since the essay was as much about being a writer as it was about raising a writer. Under the question “What should you do to help your child pursue her dreams of becoming a writer?”, it included fantastic advice like:
- First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. Limit her TV-watching time and her internet-playing time and take away her cell phone.
- Let her be lonely. Let her believe that no one in the world truly understands her.
- Let her sit outside at night under the stars. Give her a flashlight to write by.
and then of course there was my favorite:
- Let her fail. Let her write pages and pages of painful poetry and terrible prose. Let her write painfully bad fan fiction. Don’t freak out when she shows you stories about Bella Swan making out with Draco Malfoy. Never take her writing personally or assume it has anything to do with you, even if she only writes stories about dead mothers and orphans.
Fantastic advice, yes?
But I guess the question still remains, how do we teachers, parents, writers and readers concretely encourage our young people to love words and stories? (I mean, beyond the making sure our children feel lonely, misunderstood, in the dark, and are writing extraordinarily improbable romantic fanfic mashups!)
I’ve always believed that encouraging our children to read – read widely, and read a lot — is a sure fire way to raise writers and readers. That, and lots of fun family read-alouds (ideally with lots of fantastic voices!) But, this summer, along with spending long and delicious hours in our local library (before, after, and some days, both before and after going to the local pool) I’m going to try something new. Inspired by writer Anjali Enjeti, and her fantastic pinterest board of summer writing prompts for young people, I’m going to give my children daily summer writing prompts. (Full disclosure, Anjali recently invited me to write an essay as part of another great project in which she’s asking all sorts of writers the question, “When do you write?” She kindly agreed to publish my rant on Virginia Wolf, Star Trek, mothering, writing, intergalactic wormholes, and the time-space continuum. Brave woman, clearly.)
So, just today, we bought some notebooks for the kids – middle grade readers now both. We kept an eye out for line spacing, and ease of writing. Too often in the past, I’ve bought the kids gorgeous hard bound journals which are too hard to open and write all the way into the binding. But it was important to me that the kids feel excited, and recognize that the project was a chance for them to make their mark. A new (even inexpensive, spiral) notebook can be a sign that their mark counts.
I’m going to try to use some of Anjali’s prompts, but keep myself open to letting the kids suggest their own prompts. Although, my 7 year old daughter is already clamoring to try Anjali’s “Try writing a new ending to an old fairy tale.”
In doing some other research for prompts, I found this site of tips for summer or classroom journal writing, including great tips like: “Ask children to write their journal 20 years in the future. The journal entry date will be the same day and month as the the current date, however, the year is twenty years in the future. Kids will have to imagine and write about their future life. A nine-year-old will be writing as if he or she were 29.”
Although I’m not 100% sure what “pattern based writing” is, and if I approve of it (!), this site seemed to have some great prompts, including: “1. My lazy days cause my parents to… 2. It gets hotter and hotter and hotter and pretty soon everyone is…”
And just to give you plenty of sites to chose from, here’s one more, which suggests prompts such as: 1. “Describe one time when you were brave.” 2. “Imagine you woke up and saw a dinosaur in your backyard. Write a story telling what you see and do.”and 3. “Write a story titled, “My journey on a pirate ship. You and your friends can star in the story.”
I imagine prompts could be readerly as well – Anjali’s suggestion to find a new ending to an old fairy tale could be used with any recently read and beloved book. Middle grade fanfic could involve new adventures with old favorite characters: Judy Moody! Clementine! Harry Potter! Percy Jackson! Another readerly suggestion might be for a child write herself into a favorite storybook plot or setting – Narnia! Wonderland! Pioneer Times! The possibilities are endless.
The only other ‘rules’ I’ve thought about is to have my kids write every morning, when everyone is fresh. Perhaps 15 minutes after breakfast before the day really gears up. Otherwise, I’d like to keep it as low key and enjoyable as possible. I’ll probably write along with the kids too!
Have you, dear MUF readers, had experience with summer writing prompts? Do you have any favorites you use?
Sayantani DasGupta has her summers off from her “day job” teaching graduate school – which means lots of time with her 9 and 7yo kids during the days, many hours at the local library and swimming pool. She tries to squeeze her writing in to the long summer nights – but imagines she might actually write a bit WITH the kids this summer too!