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Ideas to keep your kids writing this summer and beyond

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Fun office supplies in your child’s favorite colors will help erase the writing blues. For now, forget criticizing their spelling and grammar.

Start young with a positive approach – even with scribbles. One dad of 4-year-old twins in Savannah, Ga., laments that his daughter will try all sorts of “writing,” but his son only wants to attempt what he is sure will be correct. He doesn’t want to take any risks beyond his name.

More than 3,000 kindergarten-through-college teachers across the country are spending a month of their summer in Berkley, Calif., learning new strategies to improve their students’ writing skills.

“Writing continues to be the signature means of communication in the digital age,” says Sharon J. Washington, executive director of the National Writing Project.

The teachers, from all subject areas, were selected to attend National Writing Project Summer Institutes held at more than 200 sites on college campuses.

Writing is more than essays for school. Restaurant menus, blurbs in fashion magazines, thank-you notes, postings for summer pet-sitting – all require writing skills and call for making observations.

Have some fun with it:

– Have a dry-erase board with colorful markers to use for writing dinner menus. Or give points for clear phone messages.

– Have a writing corner or office in the house that is an organized place stocked with a variety of paper, colored pencils, pens, markers, glue sticks and scissors. Colorful notebooks and pads such as designs from www.carolinapad.com are showing up in school scenes in shows such as “Glee” and the new “90210,” and should spark your child’s imagination.

– Encourage reading instead of watching television. Play word games as a family, such as Scrabble and Boggle.

– Take small, cheap notebooks and cover them with wallpaper scraps, stamp them and add ribbons to the spin. Make one for a vacation trip, and encourage your child to keep notes about your journey. Yes, that’s writing. Back at home, he will have the material to write detailed blocks of information to go with each photo.

Another idea: New Moon Girls is an online community and print magazine where girls ages 8 to 18 create and share poetry, artwork and videos. The editors say the site is supervised (www.newmoon.com).

Here are condensed ideas that teachers have tried through the National Writing Project in the past few years to keep kids inspired beyond the classroom:

– Working in groups, students examined sculptures in a garden, then chose one piece to focus on. They photographed it, drew pictures of it, and wrote poetry, songs, descriptions, and short stories inspired by the piece.

– Connecting kids to their communities, teachers paired kids with residents of retirement homes. Students had brainstormed questions that led seniors to talk about topics including World War II to daily life in 1930s rural America. Students wrote a narrative about their senior partners, added photos, and presented their creations to the senior citizens.

– Students from diverse groups were paired up to write to one another about what they were learning. A peer journal project paired students from cultures as diverse as Vietnam and India. One topic they wrote about: holiday traditions.

– Students write best about what concerns them most. Seek an audience beyond the classroom. One teenager shared her writing about a struggle with anorexia with her doctor, who shared it with his other patients.

– Seek out writing contests. Students are motivated to write when good writing is recognized.

Parenting tip

The American Camp Association says parents should not feel guilty about encouraging their child to stay at camp. For many children, camp is a first step toward independence and plays an important role in their growth and development.

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