getting kids to stop, observe and write

how to get kids to stop, observe and write

Our Everyday Journal cards have proven to be a really incredible—and sneaky—way of getting the kids focused and thinking in a way that I’m not sure they’d be willing to do otherwise.

There’s something exciting about choosing a card, about having the topic be a surprise, and about being willing and open to trying something totally new.   And  Maddy, Owen, and Cora have each slowly discovered their favorite areas of focus with the cards—photo inspiration, nature inspiration, poem inspiration, techy inspiration, and artsy inspiration.

But one of our first topics involved nothing other than finding peace and quiet, and still it remains one of their top activities.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Getting Kids to Stop, Observe, and Write: The prompt was simple.  All it said was

Go outside and find a quiet spot.

Pick one thing that you can see and describe it the best way you know how—how does it feel, smell, taste, sound, and look?

I said, Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So you’re going to find a quiet spot—all to yourself—and then what are you going to do?

Maddy jumped in: Looks like we’re just going to sit in a spot that we choose and pick something to write about—like everything about it.

Right, I said. You’re going to use your five senses to write about what that thing looks like, how it feels, how it smells, how it tastes—if it’s safe to taste it!—and how it sounds. Cool?

Like if I were going to sit here and observe this one blade of grass, I would write something like, ‘I am green, long like a string bean, but flat.  I’m thick at the bottom and get skinnier to a point at the top.  I have tiny lines on each side of me.  I am dancing gently in the wind, moving side to side.  I’m quiet—I don’t make a sound.’  I smell fresh and crisp right after I’m cut or picked, but I don’t have a smell if I’m left alone. And how does it feel?

how to get kids to stop, observe and write

We began with a challenge–having our kids stop, observe, and write–and it got their creative juices flowin!

Some are soft and others are pokey, said Owen.

You’re right.  Very true.  But for this journal we’re picking just one—and I know it’s hard—but one object to write about. So look at this piece of grass (I pointed to the grass by our feet) and tell me how it feels.

It’s soft and bendy when you walk on it but still a little pokey at the top, he said.

Okay, so I’d write something like, ‘I’m mostly very soft and smooth and bendy when stepped on but have a gentle pokey top.’

Then for taste? Hmmmm.  How does a piece of grass taste? I asked.

It can taste grassy, said Cora.

You’re right. It tastes like grass—let’s try one. Anyone want to try to eat a piece of grass?

No one did—which surprised me—so we left that part to get kids to stop, observe and write

Cora worked on her letters in her workbook–to her insistence–and that was cool with me.

So let me read what we have, and we can make sure we have all of the pieces before you go and do your own observation writing, okay? Listen closely for all of the senses—how it looks, feels, sounds, tastes, and smells–you think you have anything we should add, let me know.

I read it, and they said it sounded great and could they please please please go do theirs now?

So they did.  Off they ran to find a quiet spot in the yard to stop, observe, and write.

And though this activity was a bit above Cora’s abilities, she did want to take her letter-writing practice book out to a quiet place in the yard to practice writing her letters.  I suggested she go out and choose one object to draw—but she said she wanted to write.  And really, since this summer and it’s all about fun with some learning stuck in, I let her go for it.

Maddy and Owen took longer than I thought, but they didn’t write a whole lot—another reason that modeling is so totally important.  Once they shared their pieces, we talked about whether or not they included all of the five senses, and both kids did not. So they re-read what we wrote together, went back to their spots, found their object, and did a bit of revising.


It was fun. And they really loved it, so much so that we’ve done it several times this summer, even on days that they didn’t choose the card.

It was a matter of finding what got my kids going–and interested in writing–that helped me here. Like Jolie Stekly, writing and literature expert and former classroom teacher says in her piece on Mom’s Homeroom called, The Writing’s on the Road, it’s all about finding little gems of opportunity to give our kids reason to write and at the same time to avoid that dreaded summer slide.

She encourages parents to “in the same way we sneak greens into our kids’ other foods — like adding a few leaves of spinach into a fruit smoothie — we can do the same with writing during the summer months”  She says that “summer travel and events (vacations, road trips, camping, day outings, summer camps) provide great opportunities to put your kids’ already-acquired writing skills to use in a meaningful way” and that they’ll see the writing as fun–not work.

I like that–simple and sneaky like spinach in a smoothie. So if my kids are game to write in the backyard, quiet and carefully, I’ll take it!  Happy writing!





  1. says

    This is a wonderful post! Encouraging my 4th graders to stop and think about what they were writing was such an important (and difficult!) job. I love that you talked about using the five senses while writing. :)

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