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3 Back to School Pain Points with Solutions

(Pandemic Edition)

As we all continue to adjust to an ever-evolving new normal, surviving a back to school season in the time of a pandemic, remains challenging.

From experiencing unexpected school quarantines (e.g. a student in your kid’s class tests positive for COVID-19) to being waitlisted for after school extended care and all the driving around for drop-offs and pickups, here’s how three moms at ActivityHero are managing the chaos.

1. Hacking (Unexpected) School Closures

Meet Kathrine: Mom to a Kindergartener (Los Angeles)

We were so excited to go in-person to the ‘big’ school this year. Just a few days in, school communicated that a child in my Kindergartener’s class tested positive for COVID-19, so the classroom was going to shut down for 10 days. My daughter was sent home with a computer for virtual instruction along with packets of information and materials for next two week’s instruction.

Solution: Register for last-minute online camps with classmates to squeeze in some virtual play dates.  

Distance learning was scheduled for 9-11 am daily. With half the day still remaining, we found online classes to help with the afternoon so she wasn’t parked in front of the TV for all of that time. She really enjoys Minecraft and Roblox so finding social clubs or easy 45~min classes to support her favorite interests was easy. To help support some physical activity, we did also add an online Ballet class.

2. Mind the After School Gap

Meet Tabetha: Mom to a 3rd Grader (San Francisco)

After months of distance and hybrid learning, having school for a 6 hour block of time has been an amazing improvement. We were hopeful at first, then officially waitlisted for after school extended care to get us through to 6pm. As a household with two full-time working parents the 3pm pickup is challenging. With the luxury of school facilitated enrichment programs like Chess and Basketball (and this coveted time for when homework could be done with an on-site tutor) missing this year, panic-mode started to settle in. And then we chatted with some of my son’s friends and realized we could do online classes.

Solution: Find online extracurriculars for your kids so you can attend a meeting and make dinner. It’s a win, win situation for everyone.

Fun classes where learning looks like play is our usual approach for extracurricular activities so our son’s hobbies helped with the selection process. LEGO and Pokemon are his current favorites. Even better, the themed classes we found are actually great for problem solving, building and creativity. Dancing to burn off energy is also a must. Different than last year, only having a small window of online classes has been much more manageable. 

3. Less Driving = More Learning

Meet Kristen: Mom to a 7th Grader & 11th Grader (Sacramento)

We couldn’t wait for in-person school to start this year. For my 7th grader, this meant going to a new school. With two kids at two different schools and two different sets of activities, we didn’t realize all the added back and forth driving until it was happening. 
Beyond the everyday drive to and from school, I now have to make a 3rd and 4th trip, 4 days a week for sports. This is in addition to the same daily drop off to and from school at a separate campus and several evening practices for club sports at least an hour each way. Today, we spent over 4 hours in the car driving back and forth and didn’t get home until after 9pm. The boys had to do their homework in the car and I won’t even mention what they had for dinner.

Solution: Fuel kids’ brains with fun online classes to minimize time spent in the car.

We never thought we’d say this, but we were missing online classes and virtual sports. (We saved so much time and gas last year!) To help offset the in-person activities, we decided to go back and add online classes into our weekend schedule. Online Drawing and Art classes have become our time together to connect as a family. The kids are also now signed up for virtual Martial Arts and Coding classes. All of which can happen in the comfort of our home.  

Find your back to school solution! Create an account and profile for your kid to find even more personalized classes and camps at ActivityHero.

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8 Ways to Save or Repurpose Summer Camp Art Projects

Summer camp is almost over and your kids had a blast! As proof of said fun, all the exciting activities have accumulated to become a large pile in your living room. Now what? Here are some creative ideas to manage the chaos.

1. Double down. When kids develop an interest in a certain type of medium, like clay, double down. Exhaust every facet of clay while you explore new techniques and test new projects.

Quick Tip: Once your kids tire of the medium, use the opportunity to have conversations about organization and material attachment. Together, you can discuss why they may want to keep something or whether they can find new use for their old items.

2. Innovate. Continue learning! Kids can practice problem solving long after camp with a project that’s returned home. Using everyday household tools and materials available, your kids will think of new ways to improve a project by making it look and work better.

“My kid designed a backpack at an innovation camp this summer. He added small details after realizing the water bottle holder wasn’t strong enough. He also included a waterproof side pocket as a new feature.”

Tabetha, ActivityHero Marketing + Mom

3. Repurpose. Channel your inner Marie Kondo. If it sparks joy, keep it to create a whole new personalized project. Finding new purposes for old items is a great way to give new life to items while preserving memories.

“I have a canvas in our living room that I decoupage paintings my kids did when they were toddlers. I also save artwork throughout the year to decoupage onto keepsake boxes and memory frames for our extended family.”

Kathrine, ActivityHero Designer + Mom

4. Personalize gifts. Kids’ art is great for everyday items like custom mugs, iphone/ipad cases, or mouse pads. It’s a quiet way to keep your loved ones close, wherever you go.

“My nephew took a lot of online art classes in 2020 and we used his drawings to create a custom iPhone case as a grandparent’s gift.”

Peggy, ActivityHero Co-Founder, CEO, Mom + Aunt

5. Document the whole memory. Get pictures with your kids holding their designs. It documents the special creations and their ages of completion. It also offers the perspective of scale to show how large and small the items were.

This bridge lasted a while on his shelf but was eventually tossed to make room for LEGO builds. Looking back we’re so grateful to still have pictures of my son holding the special projects.

Nicole, ActivityHero Marketing + Mom

6. Practice postcards. Creating postcards or packages can be a fun project itself! Practice writing letters with old paper projects. Gather, cut and fold old projects to create a package for far away loved ones.

Quick Tip: Use this as a teaching opportunity about the postal service and how it works!

7. Host an art gallery. Celebrate a summer’s worth of artwork! Let kids choose their favorite pieces to display around the house for an art walk. Whether it’s with just the family or with more friends, a gallery day is the perfect way to give your art collection a send off.

Quick Tip: You can even make snacks and decorations to complete the “museum day” and spend time reviewing each piece of artwork.

8. Revisit the classics.

  • Frame your favorites. 
  • Convert drawings and paintings into gift wrap or note cards. 
  • Create a digital photo album.
  • Transform your kids collection of summer camp t-shirts into a quilt to use when they are cold or hang as a work of art to admire on the wall.
  • Breakdown and recycle the projects because there’s only enough room to keep a select few.

Now that all of your kids’ most recent art projects are organized, take some time to start planning their next round of enrichment camps and classes at ActivityHero.

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Academic Writing Academics Camps Creative Arts Creative Writing Language Parenting Resources Play/Outdoor Vacations

4 Ways to Prevent the Summer Slide

Here are some simple tips to help your kids from experiencing brain drain during summer break.

Summer vacation is traditionally known as a time for kids to pause academic studies and just have fun. So while taking a break is important, preventing the Summer Slide is also a priority worth considering. In 1996, the first studies of the Summer Slide showed us that kids lose large amounts of knowledge in reading and math over summer break, which can contribute to an escalation of future skills lost.

Younger kids are more at-risk of experiencing learning loss. “In general, kids learn a lot more in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade than kids in middle school or high school, because learning follows a curve where it’s accelerated early in life and then plateaus,” says James Kim, Ed.D., an assistant professor of education at Harvard University.1

Summer Learning Loss Facts2

  • 1 month (equivalent) of overall learning is lost after summer vacation
  • 3 months of math skills + 2 months of reading are lost over the summer
  • 6 weeks is spent re-learning old material in the fall to make up for summer learning loss

Yes, these numbers sound scary, but don’t worry! Being informed is the first step and knowing that we’ve got you covered with solutions is the other key part of this process. This summer, keep your kids engaged with these teacher-approved brain-building activities.

Read

60% of kids ages 6 to 17 say they love or like reading books for fun a lot.1 Kids gain more from reading when they actually enjoy it. Let them choose. 

Play

“Learning through play is about continuity; bringing together children’s spheres of life – home, school, and the wider world, and doing so over time.” Susan MacKay, Director of Teaching and Learning at Portland Children’s Museum.3 Kids’ math and vocabulary skills extend beyond worksheets and can be found in hobbies related to board games, S.T.E.A.M., sharing stories, and more.

Imagine

Paul Harris, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who studies imagination. “The imagination is absolutely vital for contemplating reality, not just those things we take to be mere fantasy.”4 Through imagination, kids expand their cognitive abilities to think, know, remember and experiment with new concepts. Even though it may not seem like it, they are learning! Familiar skills are being used to develop new ones.

Explore

Through exploration, curiosity is encouraged. With that, more experiences and interests for your kids emerge. Studies show that exploration also supports social-emotional development by allowing kids to build confidence for both independent and collaborative interactions with others. Try something new today. 

Create an account and profile for your kid to find even more personalized camps and classes at ActivityHero.

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Academic Writing Academics Camps Creative Arts Creative Writing Language Parenting Resources Play/Outdoor Vacations

10 Amazing Discounts for ActivityHero Families in LA

Did you know that you can access MemberDeals discounts to your favorite amusement parks, zoos, and other popular destinations as a free benefit of being part of the ActivityHero community?

Find great, money-saving deals at you and your kids’ favorite outdoor locations across Southern California for now and all year long.

  1. Six Flags Magic Mountain

This “Thrill Capital of the World” features over 100 rides and attractions that will satisfy the whole family! Within this 260-acre theme park, Six Flags contains 19 thrilling and exhilarating roller coasters that your kids will greatly enjoy. From smaller toddlers to thrill-seeking teenagers, Six Flags offers a number of rides to everyone’s liking. (See discounted price.)

  1. Disneyland

At the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, your kids can enjoy the characters and environments from their favorite childhood stories. They can meet their favorite princesses and villains, go on adventures with the stars of their most-watched movies, and explore fascinating attractions like “It’s a Small World” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Children of all ages will be entertained at the “Happiest Place on Earth!” (See discounted price.)

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers

With tickets to watch the splendid Los Angeles Dodgers, your kids can cheer for their favorite team in an exciting and electrifying atmosphere! Fans of all ages can enjoy the perks at this magnificent Dodger Stadium that features great outdoors seating and delicious food to enjoy during the game. This spirited venue brings people to their feet and gives them gripping games and exhilarating plays. (See discounted price.)

  1. Los Angeles Angels

At the Angel Stadium of Anaheim, fans can enjoy thrilling games, delicious concessions, and great merchandise from their favorite team! This exhilarating game is a great experience for fans of all ages as they get a chance to make wonderful memories with their family. The modern Angel Stadium has splendid outdoor seating where your kids can watch the game they love in an exciting environment. (See discounted price.)

  1. Aquarium of the Pacific

At the Aquarium of the Pacific, get a chance to view the wonders of the largest ocean in the world. With over 100 exhibits, you and your family can explore the fascinating underwater world with the animals and creatures you love! Featured exhibitions include the June Keyes Penguin Habitat, the Shark Lagoon, the Lorikeet Forest, and more. (See discounted price.)

  1. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor

This exciting water park is the perfect place for adventure-loving kids! Six Flags Hurricane Harbor features exciting and heart-pumping water slides for your thrill-seeking kids and calmer lazy rivers and family-friendly rides for you and your toddlers. Kids of all ages can enjoy the several rides here as well as the delicious food while making wonderful memories with their family. (See discounted price.)

  1. Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Discover over 1,400 animals at the immersive and lush habitats at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens! Your kids can learn about the fascinating wonders of wildlife by visiting the wide variety of animals at this zoo. Los Angeles Zoo also features exhibits like Elephants of Asia, Rainforest of the Americas, and the Lair. (See discounted price.)

  1. Knott’s Berry Farm

This small family farm has now grown into a world famous theme park and is the perfect place to visit with your family! With several rides and attractions, everyone can find an activity for them at Knott’s Berry Farm. From water rides and thrilling roller coasters to family-friendly activities, Knott’s Berry Farm has something for every member of your family. (See discounted price.)

  1. Urban Adventure Quest: Los Angeles

This scavenger hunt that takes you through LA is perfect for puzzle and adventure-loving families! Starting at the Los Angeles Public Library, this adventure helps you discover and learn about the historic downtown Los Angeles. This walking tour of the city is a great way to experience the outdoor life of LA! (See discounted price.)

  1. Warner Bros Studio Tour

Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood gets you closer to the entertainment you love. The Studio Tour gives guests a revealing look behind the camera at how Hollywood magic is made. From Friends to Harry Potter and Wonder Woman, fans get to see the real sets and soundstages where the greatest names in entertainment made history as they touch, tour and explore the iconic 110-acre studio. (See discounted price.)

Explore more locations and deals outside of Southern California!

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Academic Writing Creative Writing

Tips and Resources for Young Writers at Any Age

ActivityHero shares the insights of writing professionals who work with kindergarteners through high schoolers. With these tips, parents can help support kids’ writing goals.

By Wendy Chou

Writing is a key life skill that engages and empowers kids–and is highly correlated with overall academic success. ActivityHero talked with professionals from two writing programs to learn their favorite tips. We also list online resources that will appeal to today’s tech-savvy kids, ‘tweens, and teens.

Tips for Elementary School Writers (Age 6-8) 

1. Have some fun

Darrell Dela Cruz, of Cupertino’s Communication Academy, recommends playing word-centered games to boost knowledge of words and definitions. Some examples are Mad Libs, Boggle, Scrabble, and Bananagrams.

2. Be a role model

Remind kids that writing matters in daily life. Adventures In Writing (AIW) Camp co-founder Jen Hartvickson tells parents: “Write lists, write thank you notes, write letters. When they see you writing, they will do what you do!” 

3. Check out these resources for elementary school writers

  • Storybird is an online forum that allows kids to create and share their own books or to read from the free online library.
  • Three Good Things – A Happiness Journal is a free app promoting a simple and positive message.
  • Krakeln is a friendly vocabulary-building app suitable for even young users.
  • Orange Street News  is a newspaper created by Hilde Lysiak (with her dad’s assistance) when she was just 7 years old and is the inspiration for her own book series.

Tips for Tweens (age 9-12)

1. Practice, practice, practice.

All the experts we consulted agreed that practice leads to writing improvement. Journaling and writing to pen pals can encourage regular writing habits. Jen Hartvickson also finds that tweens are more motivated when given free rein to choose their own topic.

2. Read widely, then discuss.  

AIW Camp Co-founder Hans Hartvickson sees value in parents and kids reading books together, then talking about “what worked” for them and why.

3. Try a song.

Hans Hartvickson suggests songs help teach writing traits and are fun too. AIW Camp has published many songs on YouTube.

> > Find writing camps & classes near you

4. Check out these resources for tweens

  • Stone Soup Magazine is a high-quality literary publication (in print and online) by and for kids.  
  • Youngzine presents current events for a school-aged audience and accepts kids’ submissions of articles and book reviews.
  • KidPub.com has featured kids’ works since 1995 (requires small fee to publish).
  • Brainstorm great reads with blogs like Brightly which lists dozens of titles sorted by age and genre.

Tips for Teens (age 13+)

1. Experiment with styles.

Take chances and try out new styles and content. Teens are starting to develop their unique voice.

2. The more practice, the better!

Consider entering contests at libraries and at school. Don’t stop there: find open mic events and poetry slams. Teens may enjoy blogging about a particular hobby and developing an audience. Many sites host blogs for free. 

3. Find online networking sites devoted to teens

Online writing communities allow teens to network and seek advice from other writers. Here are 4 recommendations:

  • Underlined is a teen-centered website that provides opportunities for collaboration and feedback.
  • Wattpad is the largest and most visible online reading and writing platform, giving it the nickname of “YouTube of writing”.
    Teen Ink hosts writing submissions by teens, including essays, articles, fiction and poetry. Teens can also contribute their art and photography.
  • Power Poetry is the largest online community for teens interested in poetry.

Final words of advice: Lighten Up!

According to Dela Cruz, parents shouldn’t make writing feel like a chore or something with a clearly defined “right or wrong answer”. The Hartvicksons believe kids need reassurance that mistakes and editing are to be expected along the way. Most of all, our experts all agreed that parents should provide fair and constructive feedback to kids. A “Goldilocks” balance means avoiding unrealistic over-praising, while also refraining from giving only negative comments, which can be demoralizing for kids. 

> > Find writing camps & classes near you

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17 Movies, Books & More About School






Whatever their thoughts on school, kids identify with these books, movies, apps, and TV shows about students learning life lessons in the classroom.

By the Kids’ Media Experts at SmartFeed

Education has long been a popular setting in mainstream media, both for inspiration and for entertainment. It has introduced us to famous teachers (Mr. Kotter, Mrs. Frizzle), famous schools (Ridgemont High, Rushmore, Wayside School, Hogwarts), and famous school-centric stories and shows (Wonder, South Park, Saved by the Bell). In each case, we watch with excitement, empathy, or humor, based on our own set of school experiences. And sometimes we get to relish the experience of seeing school (and the learning process) in a whole new light.

See a list of academic classes near you > >

Find a tutor > >

Here, we have gathered a list of titles for families who want some academic role models or lessons for their children, as well as a couple selections that simply offer a little scholastic comic relief. Reflecting a broad mix of real-life and fictional stories, the listings here prove that there are many different ways to learn and many different ways to teach.

Great Books with a Schoolroom Setting

The Year of Miss Agnes book coverThe Year of Miss Agnes
Ages 6+
Schoolteachers don’t usually last very long at this one-room schoolhouse in Alaska. Miss Agnes is different. Not only does she stick around for a year, she also makes learning relatable and enjoyable to the citizens of the remote village.

 

 

Frindle Book CoverFrindle
Ages 8+
Adventures in vocabulary are in play in this story. A boy creates a new word for an ordinary object, and his creation catches on, much to the chagrin of his teacher and parents!

 

 

princess-academy-coverPrincess Academy
Ages 10+
Strong community and deep friendships form in this fantasy novel. Love of words and learning propel the heroine to become an invaluable resource within her community.

 

 

An App for Kids’ Academic Enrichment

wizard-school-cover


Wizard School

Ages 7+
This creative app taps into the user’s imagination and enthusiasm in true 21st century fashion. Videos, photos, drawings, and inventive challenges combine to inspire learning.

 

Kids’ Movies with Inspiring Academic Role Models

akeelah-and-the-bee
Akeelah and the Bee
Ages 7+
A girl’s journey to a big spelling bee is supported by her community. At times she struggles to embrace her own intelligence and worth.

 

 

spellbound


Spellbound

Ages 9+
This documentary follows several competitors for the National Spelling Bee. Hard work, family, and big dreams are part of the equation that helps get these kids on the big stage.

 

on-the-way-to-school
On the Way to School

Ages 9+
Most Americans have a simple way to get to school; a short walk, bike ride, or trip in a car or bus will get us there. For other kids around the world, it’s not easy, or comfortable, but it’s worth it because they desperately want an education.

 

the-miracle-workerThe Miracle Worker
Ages 9+
The story of Helen Keller and her teacher is beyond inspiring. Helen has no understanding of language or of interacting normally with family members. Through ingenuity, perseverance and patience, teacher Annie Sullivan opens up the world of words and language to her student. Annie is a testament to all teachers’ hard work. A must-see.

 

rudy
Rudy
Ages 10+
Determination and hard work are the life lessons strongly represented by the main character in this fine film. With the help of a kindly teacher, teammates and friends, the underdog Rudy fulfills his life’s dream. Definitely best for tweens and older, due to language, a death and sports violence.

 

See a list of academic classes near you > >

Find a tutor > >

TV for Kids’ Academic Inspiration and Fun

little-house-on-the-prairie
Little House on the Prairie
Ages 7+
The one-room schoolhouse in this beloved series is not the only location where education takes place. Pioneer children living on a farm learn a variety of practical tasks and life skills every day. History and geography are natural discussion topics when watching as a family.

 

mythbustersMythbusters
Ages 8+
Exhibiting a strong level of curiosity, the crew of Mythbusters sets out in each episode to prove an idea, sometimes an urban legend, sometimes an idiom like “a bull in a china shop.” There are often explosions, items being thrown into walls, or things launched skyward, all in the name of science and discovery.

 

More Mature TV and Movies About Academics

These titles have more mature themes and language, so they’re recommended for older teen audiences.

dream-schoolDream School
Ages 14+
The mission at this school is to inspire and encourage teens at risk of dropping out. Celebrity mentors and teachers have their work cut out for them. Be aware: Strong language and personal circumstances mean this is best for teens and older.

dead-poets-society
Dead Poets Society

Ages 14+
This classic is an inspiring coming-of-age story that celebrates creativity and a free spirit. There are mature themes and activities, so this is best for older tweens and teens.

 

good-will-hunting
Good Will Hunting

Ages 14+ (rated R)
This Academy Award winner demonstrates that academics can open doors for people from all classes (e.g., a working-class Boston youth), but you have to believe in yourself and want to walk through those new doors.

 

freedom-writers
Freedom Writers

Ages 13+
An idealistic high school teacher discovers the way to connect with her students is to help find their similarities. Her emphasis on really listening to her students is notable. The hip-hop soundtrack will appeal to teen viewers.

 

 

stand-and-deliver
Stand and Deliver
Ages 13+
Sacrifice and hard work are front-and-center in this inspiring movie. It is based on the story of a real math teacher who went to extreme lengths to teach his kids math, and eventually AP Calculus. The students struggle with life issues outside of school, but while in school they become driven and engaged. Real-life scenes can be rough, and the language is questionable at times, but relevant to the movie.

to-sir-with-love

 

To Sir, With Love
Ages 13+
This classic is another inspired teacher tale. Real-life issues such as class and race are addressed, while the teacher works hard to connect with and discipline his students so that they are ready and able to learn.

 

See a list of academic classes near you > >

Find a tutor > >

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Creative Writing

How to Inspire a Love of Creative Writing in Your Child






A professional writer shares inspiring secrets and 9 games to help inspire your kids to find the fun in putting words on a page. (Smash book, anyone?)

By Reesa Lewandowski

creative-writing
As a blogger, I know that staring at a blank page can be daunting. I also know how good it feels once it’s filled with words that (I hope!) can help other people. By inspiring your children to love writing (especially if they now say they hate to write), you’ll be giving them a gift that lasts a lifetime. Strong writing skills are important everywhere — on a school exam, in a college course, and at the workplace. Here are a few of the things that bolstered my love of writing — and how they can give your reluctant writer the boost he or she needs.

Do Some “Creative Reading” with Your Child

One of the best ways to get kids to love to write is through reading to them. Ask your child to point out phrases and words that he finds fun or interesting. Encourage him to predict what might happen in the next chapter. Almost every child loves to share their opinion.

See a list of writing classes near you > >

Create a Sacred Writing Space

girl_writing_1
Let them be in charge of what inspires them! Create a bulletin board where they can pin pictures, words, and other clippings that jump out at them as inspiration. Think a Pinterest board for kids! Let your kids choose where their writing space will be. Let it be a place they really love.

Plain white paper doesn’t excite anyone. Take your child to a bookstore or office supply store and let her pick out a journal that resonates with her. Or for a different twist, purchase marble notebooks and allow your child to Mod Podge the covers. (Simply gather a few old magazines and tell him to clip out words and pictures that inspire or describe your child, then attach them, following the Mod Podge instructions.)

Next your child needs some distinctive writing utensils like pencils, colored pencils, and fun erasers.

Last, something you may not think about is a dictionary. In today’s tech-forward world, we often rely on autocorrect and spelling checkers to think for us. It is still vital for your child to learn how to spell and to know synonyms and antonyms of words. (Think SAT and ACT tests!) It also can be fun to flip through a thesaurus and read random entries.

Get Creative with Everyday Writing

Boy_writing_1Now that your kids have their writing supplies in hand, it’s time to get those creative juices flowing. Here, 9 totally fun assignments to get kids thinking about writing in new ways:

  • Make a smash book. This is essentially a completely unplanned scrapbook. Have your kids paste in photos, brochures, stickers, or anything else…and let them then do a little “caption writing” on the page they created.
  • Invent a bedtime tale. Print off the first sentence of a few of your child’s favorite books and put them into a jar. Or write your own story starters. Aim for a variety of topics: outlandish or suspenseful, sci-fi or realistic, etc. Have your child pull out a random prompt and write what happens next.
  • Create a picture book. Art is a big part of the writing process. Have your child draw an image to go with what he or she wrote.
  • Do some local reporting. Writing doesn’t have to be fiction. Have kids write letters or cards to family members or friends. Encourage them to create a family newspaper or newsletter.
  • Include writing in playtime. Is your child playing restaurant? Have him write a menu, including meal descriptions. Are your kids replaying a scene from a trip or vacation? Ask them to make up a brochure about their experiences.
  • Keep a daily journal. This can be a great outlet for a child who has trouble talking about feelings.
  • Make a Mad-Libs book. Then have fun filling in the blanks!
  • Create a family recipe book,  favorite dishes. Also include any “secret” family recipes, and make copies to hand out as gifts.
  • Be a pen pal. Write letters back and forth to your child in a notebook or journal.

Remember to keep your kids’ writing environment stress free and unrushed. Let them take as much time as they need to get their thoughts out. And be sure to let them carry around their writing journal with them: you never know when inspiration will strike!

Find the “write” workshop or class for your young wordsmith. If one of your children shows a real love of writing — or would like a little extra support and guidance in making use of the written word — find writing classes or camps in your area.

See a list of writing classes near you > >

Do you have an aspiring writer in your family? What does your child like to write about? Let us know in the comments!

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Academics Creative Writing Reading

Best Books to Get Your Middle Schooler Interested in Reading






If your middle schooler hasn’t fallen in love with reading, take a look at this list of books. From fantasy to nonfiction to movie stories and more …

Blog Best Books 2

Getting your child to read can be a matter of simply putting engaging material in front of them. My personal strategy is to pre-read books with my son’s taste in mind, then put only the best books in front of him. Not only does this ensure my tween has compelling (and appropriate) reading material, but it also gives us plenty of things to talk about around the dinner table. Consider trying out lit in many forms — graphic novels, Kindle books and good old fashioned paperbacks.

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Here’s an intriguing roundup of everything from end-of-the-world tales to mysteries to nonfiction. You just might find a title that will entice your middle school child to start turning pages (whether paper or electronic) immediately!

Dystopian or Post-Apocalyptic Books for Middle Schoolers

Dystopian literature is a popular Young Adult genre that is typified by a society unlike our own with unsettling or unpleasant living conditions that must be overcome. Post-apocalyptic novels are set in a period after a world-changing cataclysm. Here are a few in this category to consider if your tween likes games and TV shows that are a little darker.

Matched by Ally Condie

In a world rigidly controlled by the “Society,” young people at age 17 are matched (by the powers that be) to their life partner. Cassia is matched with her best friend, Xander, but sees that an outcast named Ky was a discarded possibility. This sends her on a journey to question the choices made for them and how little control they have over their futures. It’s the first in a three-book series that Disney purchased for future film production.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Teen Thomas wakes in a service elevator being lifted into a harsh world populated only by other boys his age. They have to survive within a courtyard surrounded by a maze with walls 50 feet high and dodge the monsters that lurk in it. When they don’t progress fast enough, the stakes get higher. This has been made into a hit movie and is the first of a trilogy, so there’s plenty of reading available.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

The setting: an alternate world where everyone grows up looking average until they get mandatory life-changing cosmetic surgery when they reach age 16. But physical perfection comes at a mind-numbing cost. A band of rebels fights against the ruling overlords to be who they are no matter how they look. This is a great book for pre-pubescent kids already feeling the pressure to look a certain way. It’s the first in a series of four novels.

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Science Fiction Books for Middle Schoolers

This isn’t your mother or father’s sci-fi. Today’s futuristic YA novels are more complex and look beyond simple travel to (or life on) another planet. Or they look to the future of our own Earth, where new technologies craft our societies and how we live. If your tween is all about high-tech stuff and enjoys movies like Ender’s Game, this is a category of fiction that encourages them to explore their imaginations.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Michael and a group of teens were born in a hospital while a new medical devices were being tested — and now they all have superpowers. Vey can manipulate electricity. He has Tourette’s and is being raised by a single mom while on the run from the corporation trying to collect the kids. He makes friends with more super kids and they confront the evil Dr Hatch. Four books have been released of this gripping seven-novel series.

Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

The sci-fi Escape from Furnace series borders on horror and is perfect for tweens who dig The Walking Dead and Attack on Titan. In the distant future, Furnace Penitentiary, a fictional highly secure London prison for troubled teens, is buried a mile beneath the earth and is guarded by creatures in gas masks and deformed howling beasts. Chills ensue as the teens try to escape unjust sentences and monsters.

Feed by MT Anderson

This science fiction novel falls under the new class of cyberpunk. Set in the near future, people have brain implants called a “feed” that is a pipeline to an advanced and aggressive Internet. Corporate ads, social media, and online chats consume the brain while corporations run America. Teens enjoying Spring Break on the moon begin to question the system and try to break free of the feed.

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Fantasy Books for Middle Schoolers

For tweens who have an interest in supernatural shows and movies, YA fantasy covers a wide swath of subjects. From vampires to werewolves, fairies to witches, angels to ghosts, there is a wide array of books and authors to choose from — and best of all, many come in a series that will keep them reading.

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

Set in New York City, this series starts with City of Bones. It’s considered urban fantasy and involves a set of young teens. Demons have invaded the world, and part-angel part-human Nephilim, called Shadowhunters, hunt them down and protect the world. Fifteen-year-old Clary doesn’t know she’s a Shadowhunter, but soon finds out and discovers her world has werewolves and vampires as well. It is a gripping series.

The Secret Watchers by Lauren Klever

A rare YA fantasy with a male protagonist, this series starts with Visions where 14-year-old Owen Ryer visits a pawn shop and happens upon an old watch that unlocks a gift to sense dark energy and evil. Now he has to figure out how to support the greater good while dealing with homework, bullies, and other challenges that high schoolers face. Owen is an unintentional hero that will inspire your teen reader.

Echo’s Revenge by Sean Austin

Everyone likes a good video game, and 14-year-old Reggie draws the admiration of fellow teen gamer Claire. A new game monster ECHO-7 is released into the real world by game developers, and this fantastical creature is now going after the top gamers and taking them out. Reggie has to learn to apply his online gaming skills into real-world adventures to keep his fellow gamers safe. Great for gamers that hate to read!

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Movie Adaptation Books for Middle Schoolers

This may be one of the easiest ways to lure your tween into reading: Get them to investigate their favorite movie in book form. While a number of the above have been adapted into movies, most of those listed below became popular after they hit the big screen. Leverage your kids’ interest in the characters to get them reading.

Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

If your tween ever wondered exactly how Katniss came to be so good with that bow, the trilogy of books offers lot more back-story on her (and Peeta’s and Gale’s) childhood in District 12. There’s a lot more story than even four movies can show, and these books are great reads.

Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

The Divergent movie didn’t have enough screen time to truly explore the strange and dangerous world Tris grew up in, the books do so quite nicely. And once your tween hits the halfway point of book two, they will be shocked to find out the real story of how Chicago came to be the land of factions and what waits beyond Amity and that imposing fence. This is one you may enjoy reading along with them!

Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan

The Percy Jackson movies were fun, but the books may help your tween pick up knowledge to ace a class on mythology. There’s enough story there to keep them reading all summer long. Riordan wrote seven primary novels about Jackson and his pals, plus five supplementary books and three graphic novels. The cast of characters suits male and female readers alike.

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Mysteries for Middle Schoolers

If your tween is a fan of the shows Sherlock and Elementary or could never stop solving Blue’s Clues as a toddler, mystery may be a great genre to unveil for them. Some of these mysteries are whodunits where crime takes a darker and more lethal turn, while other books involve less deadly crimes. A good mystery can be quite the page-turner to keep your tween reading and engaged.

Heist Society Series by Ally Carter

This one is fun because the female heroine is both criminal and crime solver. Katarina was raised in a family of highly skilled cat burglars, but then she chooses to leave the family business. When her dad is suspected of stealing a painting from a dangerous mobster, his life is on the line. Katarina and her crew of teen accomplices must find the painting to save her dad. There are three novels and counting.

Young Sherlock Holmes Series by Andrew Lane

Picture Sherlock as a teen in Victorian England solving crimes as a young rogue. The series begins with 14-year-old Holmes investigating mysterious deaths. The second installment has him investigating whether John Wilkes Booth is alive and well in England. Intrigue and adventure accompany the teen prodigy as he develops his investigative skills across the UK, Russia and even China.

Echo Falls Mystery series by Peter Abrahams

A YA series by a best-selling writer of crime novels for adults, these books are genuinely thrilling and perfect for tweens. Ingrid is a busy girl and a big fan of mysteries, but when her shoes are left at a murder scene, she has to retrieve them without implicating herself. Ingrid must solve the murder of the town’s resident loon while sorting out the strange undercurrents she never noticed in her small town. You may want to read it too.

Nonfiction Books for Middle Schoolers

Not every kid digs fiction, and that’s okay. There are a ton of great reads on the nonfiction shelves, from biographies to how-to’s to historical accounts of great events. This is a genre to experiment with, so explore your local library’s generous nonfiction section. Below are a few suggestions to get you thinking about what true-life things your tween may like.

We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

This memoir by a Paralympian who lost a leg at age 9 to Ewing’s Sarcoma is surprisingly hilarious. He’s been unlucky in love since middle school and goes back to talk to each of his former girlfriends to find out why he’s so clueless and where he went wrong. In addition to being a compelling coming-of-age story, this book explores Josh’s cancer struggle, what it’s like to have lost a limb, and how he found the courage to compete as a Paralympian.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L Swanson

This slice of American history vividly describes the race to capture John Wilkes Booth. Swanson used rare manuscripts, as well as interviews with those who pursued Booth, to explore the 12-day manhunt that ran from the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C., across Maryland and into Virginia before they caught Lincoln’s assassin. Your tween will impress their Social Studies teacher with knowledge gleaned from this book.

I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson

This is a survivor’s account of life in a concentration camp. The author was 13 when her family was sent by Nazis to the Jewish ghetto and then to Auschwitz. She details living at the camp, wearing the yellow star, and being forced into labor, as well as how her experience strengthened her faith. Bitton-Jackson’s survival tale is moving and poignant, and it brings to life this terrible and important chapter of history.

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Whether reading entertaining novels, visiting museums or attending academics-focused summer camps, make sure your tween makes the most of summer by keeping their brain active!

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Those of you located in the Bay Area should look into Journey Across Time’s Marco Polo Camp in Palo Alto. Children are taken on a 10-week journey through time as they read and learn about art, culture, languages, and history through a unique, hands-on, role-playing summer camp experience for kids ages 8 to 13. Storytelling and role-playing historic events are a great way to immerse your children in reading historical literature, while also keeping them entertained all summer long!