If the abundant screen time involved in online school has your young writer frustrated or weary, here are some ways to get them excited about writing again, no screens involved.
Pencil-and-paper games are free, all-ages fun with a secret dose of educational nutrition. Because the focus is on being funny and fast, they can help both perfectionist and reluctant writers get going. A perennial favorite is Exquisite Corpse (named by the Surrealists, hence the macabre edge). Everyone takes a piece of paper, writes a title on it and passes it to the left. The next person writes the first sentence of a story that could have that title, folds the paper so that only what they wrote is showing, and passes it to the next person. They add a sentence, again folding the paper so only what they wrote is showing, and so on until the paper is full. Unfold to read a strange and probably hilarious story.
Who says you have to write at a desk? Kids I know like to write in trees, in pillow forts, upside down, standing up, under furniture — anywhere they feel cozy and happy and free. Children often enjoy writing about what they observe outdoors. Have them take a notebook to the park and write down everything they see, hear, smell and feel. Do that again somewhere else, or come back to the same spot as the seasons change. Children also love spy writing — sitting in public places and writing down everything they notice about passing people, including snatches of dialogue. Whatever they’re observing, people or places, they’re building their observational skills and their ability to put details into words.
I love writing poetry with kids, because a poem can be anything. Kids often freeze up or crumple under the pressure of getting all the pieces of writing right at once. Free-verse poetry frees them up to focus on saying what they want to say in ways that feel exciting and beautiful. I find this quickly builds writing enthusiasm and confidence, which carries over into work on mechanics. Poems can be about all kinds of things, but my favorite first poem prompt is writing lie poems. The prompt is simple: write a poem that is all lies. It can be one long lie, or you can put a lie in every line. Don’t rhyme — just use the words that feel natural. Be crazy! There are no wrong answers. For more great poetry prompts, check out “Wishes, Lies, and Dreams” by Kenneth Koch and “Poetry Everywhere” by Jack Collom and Sheryl Noethe.
Sometimes having a special book to write in makes all the difference. Removing other people’s judgment and eyes helps, too. Some kids like writing alone and keeping their writing private. However, my daughter and I often journal together. She loves the idea of a book you can write in. She has a little red notebook that came in a three-pack; I have a shiny gold book I bought to glam away the 2020 blues. Family journaling time can be open-ended, or you can write to prompts: start each sentence with “I remember,” write about ice cream, write about summer, write about a time you felt big and a time you felt small. The possibilities are endless.
As parents we’re told all the time how important reading aloud is to our children, and it is. Both reading alone and being read to are crucial for literacy-building. But we often forget the benefits of a third medium: audiobooks. When children want entertainment, or we need to keep them occupied, audiobooks can be a great replacement for screen time. They can also be an excellent way for wiggly kids to hear more stories, because they can be the background noise for drawing or building or even bouncing around. If a child reads at a lower level than they think, audiobooks can bridge that gap, allowing the child to engage with stories that truly interest them, and helping show them the magic of literature. Plus, they’re free from the library!