Help your kids get a head start on literacy this summer by writing and illustrating your their own books!
I’m going to put on my teacher hat for a moment here and talk about something I’m seeing both with my own kiddos and with others I work with. The last 2-3 years have caused a huge disruption in learning, and many kids are very behind socially and academically. This isn’t really breaking news, I know, but I’ll lend my voice in saying that the problem is very real.
With this in mind, an activity I’ve been doing with my kids to work on closing some of those literacy gaps is writing our own books. It’s actually very simple to do, and you don’t need strong writing or illustrating skills to get the benefits from this activity. A printer and the wonders of the internet have taken that burden away. Instead, you can focus on the important parts — creating stories, talking about what makes good writing, and reading the stories over and over and over.
Kids love to read things they’ve written. Fact of life. Many children who struggle to get involved in reading love creating and then reading and rereading their own stories. No, they’re not practicing in-the-moment decoding, but the repeated exposure to words has its own benefits. These include familiarity with sight words, practice with fluency, and positive attitudes towards reading. Throw in a little vocabulary expansion and spelling work during the writing process, and this is a literacy goldmine!
And while I’ve emphasized the academic benefits of this write your own book activity, I should mention that it’s just plain fun. My son is currently writing an entire series following Tiger and his many escapades in the forest, and my daughter is on the 2nd installment of the adventures of Foxy and Beary (who are a fox and bear, respectively, because that’s how it goes when you’re 5). They feel like real writers, and they talk all the time about their new ideas. There’s even been a cross-over event where Foxy and Beary met Tiger, and they workshopped that story together over lunch. It’s been a bigger hit than I would have guessed!
How to Write Your Own Book
- Computer paper
- markers or crayons
- glue stick
- Cut the computer paper in half. I use 4 sheets to make a book, but you could use more or less depending on how many pages the book needs to have.
- Talk through the story with your child. What do they want to happen? For younger children (preK-3rd), focus on having a setting, a character, a problem, and a solution. You could use this story map to help them plan. For older children (4th grade +), you could talk about following the 5 parts of a standard plot. This video is an adorable musical introduction to the 5-point plot.
- Once the story is set, help the child write the story on each page of the book. We usually write 1 sentence per page. For my younger child, I write the sentence out on a paper and she copies it down into her book. For my older one, he writes by himself, asking for help as needed.
- We illustrate by finding clipart from the internet that matches the story. We copy/paste it into a document, then print, cut out, and glue the pictures onto the pages. My kids prefer to color their own pictures, so we tend to look for coloring pages to resize and print. Children who are artistically inclined might want to simply illustrate their books themselves.
- Read the book! Over and over again. Again, repeated reading builds automaticity, fluency, and general reading strength, so call Grandma and read over Zoom. Show off to Daddy or Mommy when they get home from work. Read to younger siblings, and even have your kiddos read their stories to themselves!
Literacy Focus Points
There are many, many curricular points you can work on while writing your own book. These are just a few that I’ve used as discussion and practice points with my children:
- Conflict — Why do stories need to have a problem? What kinds of problems can stories have (characters vs characters, characters vs nature, characters vs themselves)? What kind of problem does this story have? What kind of problem could you put in your next story?
- Character Development — Who is your main character? How do they change by the end of the story? What kind of a person (animal, etc) are they? Are they nice or mean?
- Setting — Where does the story take place? When does it take place? Would it be a different story if it was in _________? How?
- Point of View — Who will tell the story? Will it be the narrator or one of the characters? Would it be different if someone else told the story? Older children (4th grade +) might be ready for the idea of 1st (character tells the story) and 3rd (narrator tells the story) person points of view. This song will absolutely get stuck in your head and you will never wonder about the difference between POV again!
- Language Choice and Transitions — How would changing one word for another make this page different (“screamed” or “whispered” for “said,” as an example)? My kids like to say “And then,” at the beginning of each page, so I’ve worked on pushing them towards using other transitions, like “next,” or “after that.” Here’s a list of story transitions that you could encourage kids to play around with. How does changing the transition words make a story different?
You can do as much or as little as you’d like with this one. I wouldn’t get too worried about including every element of literacy with your child for every story they work on. Remember, just the act of creating and reading their book has huge benefits for kiddos!