Tag Archives: writing

3 ways to enhance your elementary school child’s writing skills using Art



From art to athletics, there are many ways to take advantage of your child’s interests and help them improve their writing skills. Help your child select a form of art and, together, complete the following tasks.

Selecting the art

Remember that art takes many forms, so follow your child’s interests. Look for an image or piece that inspires your child–one that he or she takes an extra minute to examine. You can use anyone’s art, except his own art (we’ll look at using your child’s own art in writing in a later article.)

Places to find images of art:

Once you’ve selected the art, print it, cut it or take a picture of it so that your child will be able to look closely. If it’s 3D art, be sure to plan for time to work in front of the piece.

3 Activities to enhance writing skills using art

Describing words

Using the art as inspiration, help your child brainstorm words about the art. To guide her, prompt her by asking “what colors do you see?” and “what feelings does this painting (picture, piece…) give you?” It helps to model brainstorming, so sit with her and create your own list. Limit the time you spend brainstorming to about 5 minutes.

Write a story about the art

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s time to create those words. Help your child organize a story about the art, using some of the describing words.

One of the hardest tasks for children is that they often feel they have to write the “right” story, based on what the artist was creating. Remind them that this is not the point of the exercise. The point is to create their own stories. For example, the story can be based on what Mona Lisa had for lunch before the painting was created. Or, in this picture of a dog and a bird, perhaps your child will write about the conversation or thoughts the animals or having. This image of a fisherman may inspire a story about dinner that evening or a story about the man and his life that led to that moment. What’s important is that there is no right or wrong answer–each person, each writer, will be inspired to tell a different story when he or she sees the picture.

Write a letter to the artist

Remind your child that the art was created by someone, and for a reason. Create a list of questions that your child wants to know about the art: What inspired the picture? Why did the artist use the colors he used? Is the little boy in the painting/photo/sculpture a friend or a stranger?

Sadly, the chance of having the letter responded to will be difficult in this case, as it’s very difficult to find a way to contact the artist. However, if the artwork is in a gallery or museum, don’t hesitate to send the letter there with cover letter asking that the letter be forwarded to the artist. If the artist is deceased, discuss with your child that, because the letter won’t be returned, it may be fun to try to research the answers on the internet or through the gallery or museum where the art is displayed.

Alternatively, your child can write a different letter to the museum. Suggested questions may include

  • “Why did you opt to include this piece in your museum?”
  • Is this a popular piece of art?
  • What have patrons commented about the art?
  • How does the art fit in your museum/gallery? How is it displayed?

Remember, the image is inspiration–art can take us anywhere. Your job, as a parent, is to guide your child to think beyond the images he sees.

For the Love of Lists

I have always been a lover of lists. I use them for to-do lists, honey-do list and grocery lists. Not only do they help me stay organized and help me remember important information but they can also be a learning tool. Since my oldest was about four, I have used lists to help teach him reading, writing, numbers and the importance of helping in the family.

It really all started when he began wanting to help me do everything. When they are four they are eager to help you make dinner, fold clothes and clean. (Sadly this doesn’t always last through the tween years.) Since some of these tasks were a little too advance for a four year old I was able to use my love of lists to make him feel included and teach him at the same time.

To involve a child with the grocery list, first teach some word recognition. I would write words like apple, banana, chicken, milk, and eggs. I would show him the words, read them aloud, and then when we got to the item I would have him tell me what it was. Then we would find the word on the list and he would cross it off. I also had written the number of those items needed. He would tell me what the number was then count them as we put them in the cart.

As he got older, the next step was for him to actually write the lists. This was a big step for him and he loved it. We would go over what I needed and he would write it down. If he didn’t know how to write the word I would spell it for him. Again he was practicing writing, reading and numbers. At the store I would have him read me the list, count the items as they went in the cart, and cross off them off the list.

The final step was for him to help me find the items. He would still write the list and cross off the items. This final step was really about teaching him the importance of working together. Since I do most of the grocery shopping I pretty much know where everything goes. However, there are times when I will send my husband for a few things. When this happens my son would be the first to jump up and say “Can I go and show Daddy where those things are?” He was so proud of himself.

So you can see that lists can be a wonderful learning tool. Not only are you teaching them the building blocks for their education, but also instilling within them good character qualities and building self esteem.

How to help your child learn to describe

how to teach kids to use details

As children learn to become writers, one of the most difficult concepts for them to learn is to describe and add details. To help them develop this concept, it’s important for parents, teachers and friends to prompt kids in discussion to use more describing words.

The next time your child points to something and says, “What’s that?”, tell him you’re not sure what he’s referring to, even if you are. Likely, he’ll point again and say, “That! That thing… what is it?” Here’s the hard part: don’t tell him what it is. Tell him you still aren’t sure (perhaps your eyes are closed or there are a lot of things he could be pointing at, or you have incredible sun glare..) and that you need him to describe it using detailed words.

You might receive silence as a response. “Describe?” He’ll question. “But can’t you see it?” Perhaps he’ll have no problem telling you it’s large, greenish brownish and ugly.

Urge him on asking, “Ugly, what kind of ugly?”

“Well,” he might say, “it has brownish bumps all over it. And the brown bumps are kind of like circles, and then he has this skin that’s brown and white and green and tan. And it’s skin is kind of bumpy, too, but not big bumps like the brown bumps.”

Keep him going and say “really?” or just stay quiet and wait for more.

“Yeah. And he has two big eyes that are golden and green and almost glowing and he’s just staring at me with them. He’s barely moving but maybe his belly is moving in and out a little bit.”

“Interesting…,” you’ll reply. “You said he’s large? Large how? Like as big as our house?”

“No! He just seems big. Like… bigger than the ant that just crawled by. Maybe bigger than my hand. Oh! And his hands have 4 skinny fingers.”

Wait longer to make sure he’s done describing — both kids and adults tend to talk more when there’s no response. Then, when you’re sure he’s done, congratulate him, “That sounds like a frog to me. You did such a great job describing it I would have been able to figure that out even with my eyes closed!”

5 tips for prompting your child to describe

Use describing words in your conversations

Don’t just say “Over there, to your right, see it?” As an adult, you’ll need to model the desired behavior, so make sure you’re describing with more than the basic words.

Give kids time

Try not to jump in and give an answer, but count to ten after your child finishes his thoughts to make sure he’s really finished. Often times, when given quiet time to think about what he’s just said, he’ll think of more to add to the conversation.

Listen and question

Pay close attention to the way he is describing something, so that you have questions to ask for further discussion. Perhaps he uses the word “huge.” We know that “huge” is a relative term, so ask him what he means by the word or to compare the size to something else.

Discuss feelings

Sometimes the looks of an object give a child a feeling–the feeling is very much a part of the describing process. In fact, describing feelings is often more difficult that describing an object because feelings aren’t tangible. As children grow to be stronger writers, they’ll learn to tie together feelings and objects as they describe.

Practice describing words as a game

This is an easy game for waiting in line or in the car. Select an object and take turns describing it together without saying what it is. It’s even more fun to do this with a friend who can guess what you’re describing.

The value in wordless books

My mom and I ventured to the library at least once a week. It was a tiny, two story building with the children’s books and story hour hidden upstairs. These were the days before people set up workstations at small libraries. Little research was done at this one. It was, simply, a lending library.

I recall the moms shushing their children. I’d like to think that I was as difficult to settle into quietness at this tiny library as my kids are at our much larger one.

When I think back to my time at the library, I remember only one book. A book I borrowed repeatedly. A book with pictures so splendid and engaging. A book so tiny it fit in my little hand and I could proudly carry it. I knew every word.

The book, mind you, was wordless. It’s likely now out of print, but oh! The story. It was about two little mice. I believe they were having a tea party, all dressed up. Or, perhaps they were on an adventure.

A wordless book? you wonder. What’s the point? How will children ever learn the value in reading if they’re holding and cherishing a book without words?

I was reminded of this a few days ago, when my 3-year-old picked up my first grader’s copy of Captain Underwear–a story told in comics. She couldn’t read a word on the page, but she sat for at least 15 minutes reading the story aloud. Her eyes followed the panels from left to right. She turned pages correctly. She added drama, vocabulary and meaning to each image. She created a story very different from the one my son reads the words to, but loved the story just as much. Maybe more.

Wordless picture books offer opportunity to help children learn through context. They learn to look closely at the images, deciphering the illustrator’s meaning. They learn tracking cues (where the eyes search and follow through a story). They learn about character development, plot, suspense. They become summarizers. Even better, they become storytellers.

Each year when I was teaching I’d hand my students a large packet. The top of each page was images of Tomie dePaola’s Pancakes for Breakfast. The bottom half of the page was blank lines. I asked the children to put their pencils away, find a comfortable spot in the room, and read the story. Many of the kids questioned me. How could they read? Why? But after 15 minutes, they were excited about the story they read.

Next, each child brainstormed the plot, the beginning, middle and end. They created a character description. They thought of alternative endings.

Finally, they wrote their stories. Only after everyone was finished did they share with each other.

Oh, how amazed they were at the differences! They had the same pictures, but such different ideas on each page!

Through wordless books, children learn the art of storytelling and unique thoughts.

7 great wordless picture books for your home library

Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola

Tuesday by David Wiesner

The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

Chalk by Bill Thomson

Home by Jeannie Baker

Sector 7 by David Weisner

The Chicken Thief (Stories Without Words) by Beatrice Rodriguez

[this post contains affiliate links]

“The word ‘nice’ is not permitted in this classroom.”

The very first day of seventh grade, Mr. Bogdan outlawed the word “nice.” While I’m sure that my English teacher wasn’t single-handedly responsible for influencing the use of “awesome” and “cool” in this world, I’m fairly certain he influenced users to adapt the term more frequently in our zip code. Had this been two decades later, I’m sure “sweet” would have been outlawed as well.

In banning such a simple word, Mr. Bogdan created an opportunity for his students to think and speak outside our realm of comfort. It’s not that nice is a bad word, it’s that nice doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a compliment. It’s not an insult. It’s just… blah. And it doesn’t tell you anything.

“Why is someone nice? What makes him nice? Don’t tell me she looked “nice” at the party, tell me what she wore. Blegh. Nice.” I recall his big puffy cheeks waving as he shuddered each time he said the dreadful word.

We learned to substitute ”nice” for more descriptive words. We learned to identify what made someone nice, and we found that there were so many words better suited to describe someone or something.

It wasn’t until seventh grade that I learned to place value in considering my word choice as I added details to things I said and wrote. But when I was helping my nine-year-old with homework the other day, and he had described a book character as “cool, super cool and awesome,” I imagined Mr. Bogdan shuddering once again. True, he didn’t use the dreadful word nice, but words similar enough with no apparent meaning.

I found myself asking Mr. Bogdan’s questions: What makes him super cool? Why is he awesome?

I don’t think I’ve ever realized how influential Mr. Bogdan’s teachings would be on my life. But I haven’t stopped thinking of his lesson since last week’s homework assignment. Mr. Bogdan taught me to think, speak, and write beyond the easy words.

I hope all teachers leave their students with something so important.

Being Thankful – Thanksgiving Craft

thanksgiving turkey craft

Every year we have a little family tradition of each child making their own “Thankful Turkey”. The kiddos love making their own “Thankful Turkeys” and as they are getting older, it has been fun to see them read and write on their own feathers. After they are finished these turkeys are a great table decoration and allow us to have some fun conversations about what each child is thankful for.

What You Need:

  • An eager creator
  • Toilet paper roll (1 per turkey)
  • Colored paper
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils
  • Googly eyes, buttons, or anything else to make eyes (optional)
  • Paperclips (optional) – to help while glue is drying


Step 1: Cut out feathers from colored paper. I usually pre cut these a head of time, but as my children are getting older they like do the whole project on their own.

Step 2: Have each child, if they can, write something they are grateful for on each feather. Aim for the tip of the feather with the wording, so it can be seen well later. It may help to have a conversation earlier about everything they are thankful for, so they already have an idea of what to write.

Step 3: Have your kiddos color/decorate a sheet of paper for your turkey’s body (optional). Faces can be added later. Then cut the paper to fit the height of a toilet paper roll and attach the paper to the roll with glue. If you roll the paper onto the toilet paper roll you do not have to worry about width, just the height.

Step 4: Glue the feathers to the turkey’s body. Using paperclips and letting the turkey dry lying on it’s back is helpful, if the feathers are having a problem staying in place. It is easiest to begin gluing feathers at the bottom on each side and work your way up, overlapping the feathers at the base and trying to make sure all wording is seen.

Step 5: Add eyes and the turkey’s face. Let them get creative!

Step 6: Let them dry and leave them out for display.


Enjoy the fun conversations that will occur as your children talk more about their turkeys and what is written on them. I am always amazed how my children remember what they wrote and how they love to see pictures of their previous years’ turkeys.

Don’t forget to check out your local library for a couple of fun and/or educational books to read about Thanksgiving. Some libraries have a digital option to view books online, which is pretty cool!

Here are a couple that I found at my local library that I think my kiddos will enjoy…

This one looks like a lot of fun and I know my kiddos would love it!

* Source 1

We have borrowed this one before and it was pretty cute.

* Source 2

Writing workshop at home

kids writing

Over the summer, one of the fastest and biggest areas of academics to slip is writing skills. The area of writing depends so much on reading that if reading skills fall, writing will fall even more. So it’s helpful to sneak in writing workshop at home, and it’s not too hard to do sneak it in without kids even realizing it.

6 ways to sneak writing skills into your child’s routine

Make lists

With a million things going on at any one time, I know it helps me to make lists of things I need to do, the same can (and often should) be done with children. Work with your child to sequence a things to do list into an order that simplifies natural steps. A very basic example that we write every day after camp:

  1. Unpack backpack
  2. Put dirty swim gear into laundry room
  3. Unpack lunch bag
  4. Pack lunch for tomorrow
  5. Choice-time!
    1. Sprinklers and swingset time
    2. Chalk drawing
    3. Play quietly in your room

Sequencing is a key to organized writing and helps with summary skills as well. Making sequencing a part of your child’s day helps him understand how order works in life.

Ask about your child’s top 3 highlights

After an activity or a day at camp, ask your child what his three favorite things were that he did or learned. Asking your child for information such as this helps him to recall his day and sort through the main ideas and supporting details. If he loved skipping rocks in the pond, but not falling into the pond, he’s finding that a supporting detail is imperative to his story.

Lead by example

Every night at dinner, we ask each other about our days and offer brief summaries. Depending on a child’s level of maturity, a summary might be a lists “and then we…”  or it could be three highlights (see above). When it’s your turn, don’t just say “I had a good day” and move on to the next child, offer the supporting details to explain why your day was so good. Your child will cue in to your patterns and attempt to adapt his summaries.

Brainstorm a list of things to do

One of my favorite Pinterest boards lists dozens of Summer Bucket Lists. Bucket lists offer many unique writing and learning opportunities: they help to set goals, they offer ideas when you have “nothing to do” and they help to create a sense of purpose to your summer. But when created together as a family, a summer bucket list offers a great opportunity to re-learn the concept of brainstorming individually and as a group as well as listening and taking turns–all imperative skills for children in school.

Mandatory Writing Time

Many families work mandatory reading time into their days year round. But do you also include mandatory writing time? Help your children to make a journal, or just pick a favorite notebook, and encourage your kids to journal about their summer days or weeks. Younger kids can draw pictures to illustrate their activities while older can begin to write poems and stories.

Play games, sing songs

Kids love playing games and, often, never realize what great opportunities games offer. Just the other night, the kids brought home a song from day camp and started singing. I encouraged them to change the words and for the next hour we were singing new poems that made us giggle with delight. We were rhyming, brainstorming and keeping rhythm, too, all writing skills.

Sit around the table and each add a line to a story creates a story in the round. Using Rory’s Story Cubes – Original and Actions* gives creators prompts and challenges them to adjust a normal story. There are countless ways to play with them!

How does your family incorporate writing skills into their daily routine?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

*this post includes an affiliate link
Summer bucket list found at http://blog.landofnod.com/honest-to-nod/2011/07/ambition.html

Journal Writing With Children


We all need a little inspiration for our journal writing when we just need something new to write about. I recently came across a journal idea jar in my closet and thought it would be fun to make a version for my children to help liven up our current journal writing. My 4 and 6 year old enjoyed it so much that they even had patience to color a picture to go along with their writing.

What You Need:

  • Popsicle sticks
  • Markers
  • Pen
  • A list of questions or unfinished statements


Create a list of questions, unfinished statements and filler words that you know will interest your child. The filler words are words to put in the blanks of unfinished statements to expand their use. (see below)

Possible questions and statements:

  • My favorite ________ is….
  • If I were a ________ I would be…
  • My favorite day was…
  • If my Mom was a ______ she would be…
  • When I wake up I like to…

Possible filler words:

  • Animal
  • Super Hero
  • Food
  • Color
  • Toy
  • Game
  • Book
  • Cousin
  • Song
  • Sport

Find a good spot for your child(ren) to write. Let them pick out a sentence stick and a filler word stick, if needed. I color coded the filler words, so they stood out from the rest of the journal sticks.

If your child is old enough, have them write out their sentence and fill in any other information to finish their thought. For younger children, write their response for them.

When your child is finished, have them draw a picture to go along with their sentence. This has to be my kiddos’ favorite part!I also write a description of their picture, if one is needed, when they are finished.

Now that it is summer time, we have started journaling before bed. It has been a great way to calm them down before bed and I love talking about what they wrote in their book. It has to be my favorite part of the evening and I even let them stay up a little longer just to write and color.

Taking Opportunities To Write More

Journal Writing for Kids

Journal writing is a great opportunity to not only learn and practice writing with your child, but for you as a parent to learn more about them, too. My Kindergartner has been receiving a few notes home about how he needs a little more practice writing sentences. Until recently, he has just not been interested in writing after school and claims it is “boring.” Gotta love his new vocabulary. :-)

I have been trying to think of something that could ignite his interest again and remembered a journal my mom started for me when I was in Kindergarten. We only wrote a few sentences in it once or twice a week about nothing extremely important. Once I was able to write on my own, you can tell when I took over. I love to look at this book and it brings back some fun memories about what my life was like when I was five years old. My son also likes to talk about his favorite part of his day. Thus, I decided to try incorporating the two ideas into a journal writing activity about his favorite thing that happened during the day. So far, he has been enjoying it and I am getting him to practice sounding out words and writing sentences. Win-win for everyone!

This is from our first attempt:

 ”I played games after school.”

Once he is comfortable with what we are doing, I have a real journal/notebook that he can use. Until then, I am using these free printable handwriting sheets (the site lets you choose the line size and offers a variety of other options). I print a few sheets out and fold them in half to give him more opportunities to use the entire sheet.  I also print out these sheets with the “open top” option, so he has a place to draw something if he wants to. He is so excited to have his own book and I love hearing what his favorite parts are during the day.

How do you encourage writing with your young children? I would love to hear other ideas!


Making Personal Valentine’s Day Cards

Valentine's Day Cards

What are your plans for this Valentine’s Day? Better yet… what are your kids’ plans for this Valentine’s Day?

How about making Valentine’s Day cards? It’s fun and educational, and it may help you get rid of some of the odds and ends around the house you don’t know what to do with.

Thinking about how fun it would be to make my own Valentine’s Day cards, I sifted through my craft box, which includes the usual papers, ribbon, markers, and crayons as well as the not so traditional canning lids, bracelets, and other odds and ends.

I then set to work to create a few different Valentine’s Day cards, just for variety.

This turned out to be a very simple task and one that you can easily do with your child to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

To get started, make a collection of materials your child can use to create his own Valentines. Then set them out on the carefully prepared table (so you don’t get marker or glue stains on the pretty surface). Let your child go crazy, using his imagination to create his own Valentine’s Day cards to give to you, grandpa, Aunt Lucy, Uncle Ned, cousin Jenny, the neighbor across the street, teacher, or a friend.

As your child creates Valentine’s Day cards, he is building his dexterity and other fine motor skills. Let your child cut out hearts with safety scissors just for kids. Let your child glue on ribbon or stick stickers on his cards.

Making Valentine’s Day cards is also a great way to practice writing skills. Your child can write a Valentine’s Day letter or write simple phrases on a card.

Plus, you can help your child be creative with how the picture and the words relate.

And, last but not least, you can teach your child about shapes, more particularly the heart. Help your child cut out heart shapes or use heart-shaped stickers on his cards.

Dont’ forget to download a Valentine’s Day coloring sheet for your child. You an also get a fun Rusty and Rosy background for your desktop. Click here.

Do you have any great tips for making Valentine’s Day cards or for making education a part of your child’s Valentine’s Day fun?