Many parents and childcare providers face the challenge of keeping kids’ minds engaged during the summer. There’s no replacement for long, idyllic days of playing outside, but if video games are turning your children’s brains to mush, I highly recommend encouraging them to try creative writing. When I facilitated a drop-in creative writing workshop for elementary school students, I found that the kids responded especially well to a world-building activity that spanned multiple weeks. Each week, the kids created new elements of their own invented society, then wrote origin myths, adventure stories, and character sketches to flesh out their creations.
Don’t worry too much about spelling, grammar, and form. If the kids are writing, they are learning! Simply encourage them to unleash their imaginations, providing gentle prompts along the way.
blank paper for illustrations
crayons or colored pencils
Prompts (to be doled out all in one day, or over the course of several weeks, depending on the frequency of the writing activities):
Create a New Species
The first step is to figure out exactly who populates this new society. Encourage kids to invent an entirely new creature–maybe an alien, a monster, or a newly-discovered animal. Younger kids may want to start by drawing a picture, then use words to describe the traits they have drawn. Older kids can start with words, but once they’ve written a few paragraphs, don’t keep them from the crayons, either! If your writer gets stuck have them answer these questions: how does the creature get around? What kind of family system does it have? What is the creature’s personality? What is the name of the creature in the illustration, and what is its life like?
Establish a Setting
If the creature’s society lives on earth, get your writer to work describing the climate of the region. Otherwise, your writers will get to invent a brand-new planet. What is the planet’s name? Does it rain there? What are the seasons? Is the creature happy living on the planet? Does this society live in the past, present, or future?
Every good story needs conflict. For this segment, I write down various natural disasters, interpersonal conflicts, and other problems on slips of paper and have each kid draw one out of a hat. They can trade among themselves, but must write a short story in which their characters, which now exist in a setting, deal with whatever problem is written on the slip of paper.
By the time the kids have written on these three prompts, they should have a good sense of the world they’ve created. Keep encouraging them to develop the universe by writing new stories that take place there. They’ll feel a remarkable sense of ownership over their creation, and maybe writing won’t just be for school and rainy days anymore.
One Final Tip:
If I’ve learned anything from writing with kids, it’s that kids respond incredibly well when adults model creative behavior. Don’t use writing time as a chance to check your smart phone or watch TV. Create your own creature and write with them! You might be surprised by how much fun it is, and the kids will stick to the activity longer if you’re participating too.