When my friend Carla from Small + Friendly asked me to join her Mini Maker’s Summer Fun series, she described it as ‘simple projects to combat the inevitable “I’m bored” syndrome’. I jumped on board and immediately started to think of really elaborate projects that required lots of adult assistance. Yep. Somehow missing the simple message. And also forgetting parents want things kids can do on their own, for hours at a time. After running through lots of very-involved ideas (ooh, what about…dried glue and tie-dye on a t-shirt! Or, windsocks made out of fabric scraps, paint and toilet rolls!). I decided to run some of these ideas by C, who happened to be sitting happily on the porch writing a book. He looked up when I asked him, “what kind of activity do you think other kids like you want to do so they don’t get bored?” and before I could regale him with my ideas he said, “write books!” It was so obvious and simple and easy and perfect! So, this post is brought to you by my ever-astoundingly clever son. Here is how to write your own story, provide hours of quiet fun, nurture creativity, build writing skills, drawing skills, and inspire a life-long love of books…all without any parent involvement! Can I get a Woot Woot!?
Here is how to get started. For supplies I highly recommend blank books from Bare Books. Truthfully, we buy them by the dozens. They have different sizes, some hardcover, some chunky pages, some paperback and cost between $2 – $2.50 for each book. They are inexpensive and feel like a ‘real’ book. By having lots around, you don’t have to feel cautious about letting a kid start a book. No single book is overly precious. At our house, I leave a dozen out for the kids to pick up as they please. (I try really hard, in general, to avoid holding onto art supplies until they have a ‘serious’ project because I hate the pressure that puts on a project. Plus, I want to help them avoid the feeling I carry with me…that you have to know something will be good before you have even started it! ) The result is that we do have many unfinished books laying around but I try to let go and recognize that as part of the process. Like I said, nothing too precious about this. Sometimes they pick up a book and don’t finish it but when they do see a book all the way to the end, it’s really special. It’s a process, right? But, if this bothers you, you could absolutely staple some paper together to make books.
As I mentioned before, I leave a dozen blank books out in our art area alongside jars of colored pencils, markers, pencils and other art supplies. They pick up a book whenever they feel like it. Sometimes their friends come over and write a book, too.
Right now, C is working on a fiction story called Three Brave Aliens but the beauty of the blank book is that it can be anything…from a diary, to a make believe story, to a fact book! We’ve brought blank books with us on vacation to record and draw what we see and do. The boys have fact books filled with flags or information about their imaginary worlds. You name it, these books can be anything! I don’t supervise, direct or monitor the what, when, or how of their writing but I am often a willing audience to their incredible stories or long lists of snakes facts. (They love their snake facts!)
That’s it! This is my whole project…give a kid access to writing tools and a blank book. Genius, right?
As an aside: the Bare Books company does offer lots of decorated books and other, more elaborate options and we have tried some of them but always come back to the simple bare (no lines) books. They are the cheapest and inspire the most creativity. When I can get the best result with the least money, I take it.
What I love about this project is it’s completely open-ended and undirected. I think summer is the time for unstructured play and these books are an open invitation for free and wild creative thinking. At the same time, it’s still reading and writing! Kids also have to think about story structure and how to move a story along but they do it completely on their own! It’s also a portable project, they can take it with them wherever summer takes them.
I asked C what he likes about writing books and what advice he would give to encourage other kids to write books and he said the following:
“Don’t be afraid to write about something that totally couldn’t exist in real life! You can make it anything you want, even if it isn’t true. Don’t be afraid to be really creative. Have a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. But, don’t feel like you have to write out the whole story before you put it in the book. You can just start writing and then make up the next part and then the next part and just keep going until you are done. If you really want to, you could write parts on scrap paper to be sure you like the story. But, you don’t have to do that. I don’t do that. I just write.”
That little “I just write” makes me melt!
Catch up with the other Mini Maker’s Summer Fun projects: