On the first day of summer school several years ago, my thoroughly depressed son and I got in the car only to find the battery was dead. The resulting display of end-zone style cheering that came from the backseat made me rethink summer school. Since then I’ve taken it upon myself to get our sons, ages 10 and 9, to keep up with their studies over the summer.
I created a routine called Mommy Bootcamp. The curriculum was simple: math facts, reading and five sentences of journaling. The writing requirement was met with limp arms and moaning faces pressed into blank notebook pages. Keep in mind this was after I’d take them around the neighborhood in an attempt to provide writing inspiration. We may live in suburbia but there is a turtle pond, woods with interesting litter, and a quasi abandoned home with an ominous light that’s always on. What more could a young imagination need?
One day we found a dead snake floating in the pond. We didn’t just observe; we took it home and skinned it. Mommy Bootcamp had morphed into Mom vs. Wild. I was over-exerting myself to provide them something entertaining to write about. And did they want to write five sentences about it? Big, fat NO! However, they had no problem telling people about it.
Then it clicked. They were writing to nobody. Their blood-from-a-stone sentences had no meaning or value, and to them no purpose. An audience was exactly the motivation strategy I needed to get my kids to write over the summer.
So I screened my Facebook friends for pen pal candidates. The criteria went as follows. First and foremost it had to be someone I knew well enough to ask. Heading the list were those that had a certain level of unfamiliar mystique, like my friend who had just come back from living on a boat for a year. Then, I had to be sure it was someone who would commit to writing back. The reciprocation bolstered motivation and filled the reading requirement – bonus!
Before I presented the pen pal idea, I put together a binder, which included paper, envelopes, stamps, pencils and a pen pal schedule, complete with addresses. I decorated the cover with scrapbook paper so it would be instantly attractive.
It was really well received by my younger son, Luke who is very social. He took the pen pal opportunity to create fiction stories for his new audience. Each week he wrote an original story for a different pen pal, effortlessly filling a loose-leaf page each day. On Wednesday he’d mail his first three pages, and on Friday, the epic finale. I have filled the binder with photocopies all his stories, and the notes he received from his pen pals.
My older son, Pad preferred to write about his own interests. He started with a journal of notes, but I knew this would fizzle out if he didn’t have an audience. To remedy this, he created his own blog with my help. My husband and I called on our friends to inflate his page views (Shhh!). It worked! Pad’s increasing page views made him feel famous, and even more conscious of spelling, grammar and interesting content.
In the end, our goal to get our sons to write over the summer just needed some simple social connecting. Journaling 2.0 if you will. The boys had a fun challenge and we got treasured keepsakes to enjoy and share.