Tips to keep kids’ reading and writing skills sharp

Summer may be a recess from academic rigors, but it’s no time for your children to take a break from written words. Here are 10 creative ways to keep kids’ minds active all summer long.

Ignite his interest. One key to sparking children’s interests in reading is to find out what subjects and genres they enjoy. If your child likes video games, get a book on programming. If it’s sports or mysteries, find authors who specialize in those areas. Carry this over to writing by encouraging your child to create a new sport. What would the rules be? Or, a new dinosaur breed — what would its name be and what would it eat? If your child likes mysteries, suggest he write an alternative ending to a story he just read.

A family affair. Don’t assume your kids are self-motivated to read. Rally their interest in reading by reading to them. Children like to hear about heroes who are older than they are, but those books may be above their reading level. If your child is old enough, read a few paragraphs, pages, or a chapter, and then have him read to you.

Box up boredom. Turn those books into box projects. After your child reads a book, encourage him to create a diorama of his favorite character’s room, home, or a scene that takes place in the story. He could also make an identity box filled with a character’s belongings. What things would Encyclopedia Brown, for example, have in his box? A larger box makes a good puppet stage. Have your child make simple puppets from various materials and create a box stage on which to reenact the story.

Awesome authors. Pick an author your child enjoys and have him read several of his books to compare and contrast themes and characters. Take this one step further by discovering the author’s life, too. This will give your child insight into where the story and character ideas originated — how a character may have taken on the attributes of someone whom the author knew. Many authors have websites through which kids can e-mail questions to the authors and get responses. Some of the websites even have extension activities for the books.

Newspaper novelties. Reading the newspaper seems like such an adult thing to do, but with a little creativity, it can be a non-threatening experience. Give your preschooler a crayon and have him circle certain letters in headlines — all the “A”s, for example. If he knows the entire alphabet, he can circle all 26 letters in order. Your older child may enjoy cutting out five unrelated pictures and creating a story that somehow connects them all. Don’t forget to read articles that take in your child’s interests — sports, animals, etc.

Audio adventures. If you don’t have a lot of time to sit down and read to your child, there are a number of audio books in all different genres that you can listen to together in the car. As you do, stop at a cliffhanger and speculate about what is going to happen next. This keeps the family dialogue going, and makes it a shared endeavor.

Discover diary. The writing process doesn’t have to be long to be fruitful, but it does need to be fun. At the start of summer, let your child purchase a journal where he can log his summer discoveries. As you take trips to various places, such as museums or science centers, have him write a bit about what he learned. A discovery made while at the store, or about a new food he tried at a restaurant can be a journal entry, too. By summer’s end, he will have logged a storehouse of new adventures.

Wanna piggyback? One really popular type of poetry is called “Piggyback Poetry.” This is when the author takes a well-known song or poem, such as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and translates it into something new, such as, “Take Me Out to the Bathtub,” using the same rhythm and cadence. Have your child pick a song or poem he enjoys, and write his own piggyback. Novelty paper, pens and pencils may inspire him to embellish his work and create a keepsake.

Acting adventures. Have your child write an adventure using the same characters from a book he’s just read. Or, have him make up his own character, or maybe project himself into his story. How will he conduct himself in the adventure? Then, create a backyard theatre with friends or siblings and put on the production. Another idea is to do a spoof of a movie or TV show with which he is familiar — something silly and fun. Bring out the video camera so he can see the finished project.

Tap into trips. If you’re going on vacation, have your child help plan the trip. Pick up a few travel books and let him research sites he would like to see. Also, look for materials that talk about the destination’s history. Some places, such as Colonial Williamsburg, VA, may even have fiction stories associated with them, and would be a timely read. Staying local? Challenge your child to use a trip to a nearby theme park to research and compare those roller coasters with others around the country. Or, check out what is happening at local museums, science centers, or live theatres. Many of these topics can be used as springboards for reading and learning more.

Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.