Write your family story

Have fun writing with your child this week. We’ve got tips to nurture writing skills and get the juices flowing. 

By Carolyn James, Ph.D.

LeapFrog Literacy Expert

As the literacy development expert on LeapFrog’s Learning Team, Carolyn ensures that the curricular design in LeapFrog products is grounded in the latest educational research. Before joining LeapFrog, Carolyn was a reading professor at Sacramento State University, a curriculum developer for the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, and a teacher in the San Francisco bay area. She earned her doctorate in educational psychology at Michigan State University.

Becoming a writer involves experiences that go beyond sitting down with a paper and pencil, or a computer. At home, you can prepare your child for writing through play, conversation, reading and exploration.

Pre-writing: nurturing creativity 

Young children are naturally creative and curious, however studies show that creativity can decline as early as age five. Try these activities to inspire your chld’s creativity:

  • Encourage imaginative play. Role play, dress up, and foster pretend scenarios that involve opportunities to solve problems, make choices and experiment.
  • Ask open-ended questions on juicy topics (What would happen at the perfect birthday party? What would you do with a million dollars?).

Brainstorm ideas for writing

Brainstorming and planning prior to writing can help children access ideas to enhance their writing. Try these activities to generate ideas orally before putting pencil to paper:

  • Gather old photos or pictures from magazines and encourage your child make up a story based on the images. 
  • Have your child take photos of things that catch her eye. Print photos and create captions or story ideas based on the images.
  • Start a story and turn it over to your child. After your child describes what happens next, take turns adding events to the tale.
  • Have your child think up a new ending to a familiar story.

Set aside a special time for writing

Try to carve out some time dedicated to writing each day. If your child isn’t writing yet, this is your opportunity to transcribe her great ideas.

  • Make up a story for a wordless picture book. As needed, prompt your child’s thinking with questions (What’s going on here? Why does this character look worried?).
  • Help your child tell a favorite story from a different point of view. For example, tell Snow White from a dwarf's point of view.
  • Use favorite books as templates. Don’t be afraid to borrow the structure of a beloved picture book and help your child think up ideas for her own version. For example, if your child loves “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” have her fill in the blanks (If You Give a _____ a _______...) and create whole new adventure.
  • Jot down some story starters (I never expected that one day I'd open my closet and find... Today was the day I finally was going to …) and have your child build on one that sparks the imagination.

Start with a family story

Research suggests that when children know about their family’s history, they are likely to have a greater sense of control, higher self-esteem and more positive beliefs about how their families function. The following ideas can help jumpstart a family-history writing project:

  • Gather family photos. Collect pictures of relatives from as many generations as possible and help your child create an informal family tree or timeline. Weave in as many memorable tales as you can throughout the process.
  • Interview loved ones. Brainstorm a set of questions your child can use to interview a favorite relative. There are plenty of family history interview questions online (Tell me about your favorite teacher. Who were some of your best friends? What’s your first memory? ) but of course, you can have fun making up your own as well. Get on the phone, email or Skype, and if possible, record the conversation or help your child take notes. Providing the interviewee with photos can help spark memories. 
  • Start a family story book. Help your child write up some of her favorite anecdotes and put them alongside related photos or mementos in a bound book that can be added to as she continues to learn more about your family’s history.