By Anne Elrod Whitney, Ph.D.
Our summer is underway, and all around us families are making plans, changing routines, looking back at the just-past school year and thinking in a vague, anticipatory kind of way to the next one. These are the days when saying “I’m going into _th grade” still sounds new and grown-up to the kids who say it.
These are also the days when moms and dads ask me what my kids will be writing this summer. Since I’m a professor of education focusing on writing, the parents in my community know I have opinions on what’s good for kids as writers. They worry, too, about “Summer loss,” in which kids lose skills over the summer which then have to be retaught the following fall.
Here’s what I tell them: summer writing will and should be different from school writing. So much growth as a writer can come from simply having fun things to write about and fun people to write with (see for example this list of ideas for summer learning at home). So, here’s what my family will be doing with writing this summer:
We’ll write notes, letters, and emails. Our ten year old will write us a letter or two home from camp, we hope; we’ll write her short cards and emails saying how much we miss her. Her five year old brother will make drawings for us to tuck inside, or to photograph and attach to the emails. These will feature speeding spaceships, aliens with pig noses, and lots and lots of Angry Birds, usually featuring speech bubbles containing the words he feels he can spell himself: “Aaaaaaaaahhh!” and “Boo!”
We’ll all write on the white board hanging in our kitchen– the one I hung a bit crookedly years ago and never did re-hang, the one now surrounded by assorted stray marker streaks on the wall. Our notes will not be profound, but somehow they paint the picture of our summer: Feed the fish please. Abby’s party 4:30. Swim Cap!!!!! Acolyte 9am. HAVE YOU PLAYED THE PIANO?? Big parts of these will be smudged out by the five year old’s shoulder as he runs a swerving lap through the house on a rainy day, or circled with stars and hearts in the bright multicolored pens our daughter is partial to.
Our daughter and I will write, intermittently and incompletely, on the blogs we keep starting and then fail to keep up with. Our daughter will resume the book-review blog she started last summer, this year with capital letters at the beginnings of sentences and much better spelling than the year before. I’ll industriously blog ahead for a few weeks, then fall off again when July hits, the summer half-over, and I realize I’d rather be at the pool than stare at a screen on any sunny day.
We’ll write grocery lists for backyard parties. The kids will write thank-you notes (sometimes under duress) for the Lego sets and craft kits that they will get for their summer birthdays. We’ll write prayers, goals, and plans in journals. When we feel like it. When we remember to have a pen on hand.
We’ll write in all the ways that living calls for, outside of school. We’ve learned (teacher-parents and student-kids) that we like school more when we’ve also had big lazy heaps of not-school time to play in. We’ve learned that we write better when we choose for ourselves what we write and why, most of the time. We’ve seen that our spelling, and commas, and word counts, and insights do get better when we work on them– but only when we care what we are doing, and we care more about what we do in school when we have some sense that writing is a normal thing outside of school too. We will write a lot this summer– but this summer, we’ve decided, we will have to write almost nothing at all.
Anne Elrod Whitney is Professor of Education at Penn State, a writer, and a mom.
Peer reviewed through the Writers Who Care blind peer-review process.