Keep Your Kids Writing: Story Hikes
If you can keep your kids reading and writing over the summer holidays, they’ll be ready to jumpstart their next school year. Reading is easy. Just 30 minutes a night before bedtime will advance their reading skills. Some schools have even abolished homework in favor of reading every day. That’s how important reading is. It’s a good habit to nurture with your kids over the summer.
Writing is a little trickier. The sun is shining. Everyone wants to be outside—including mom and dad. How do you take advantage of those glorious summer days and still find a way to get your child to sit down with a pen and paper? Actually, you don’t need to give up outdoor time to encourage writing. You can combine the two by creating your own Story Hikes.
Ready for our first story hike!
Our family’s story hikes involve a hike, a story scenario, and a scavenger hunt. For our first story hike we drove to a marked trail in a rocky region close to our home and hunted for trolls hiding in the woods. The kids’ mission was to find the trolls and tell us about them. During the hike the kids took pictures of any rock formations that looked suspicious (a troll face, gnashing teeth, puddles of snot, a cave). We took breaks along the way to sit down, review what they had found, and write their stories. To help them get started, I asked some open ended questions. How did that troll get there? What is the troll doing? Why is the troll so angry? If the troll is asleep right now, what will it do when it wakes up? Then I asked them to write their own fairy tale in which the troll was a main character. Before we left they shared what they had written with the whole family. At home they continued their stories on their own…because they wanted to. That’s a win in my book. I even got to start a story of my own, which eventually turned into Mathilda and the Mullerthal Trolls.
If you’re interested in creating your own story hike, but you don’t live in a region where trolls are hiding out in the woods, don’t worry. You can take this scenario and tweak it in any number of ways to suit your location. Here are some step-by-step tips you can use to set up your own story hike.
Step One—Select Hiking Location
Depending on where you live, different landscapes can help you create a variety of writing scenarios. Select your hike based on the type of story scenario you’d like to create. For example:
Forests: search for fairies, elves, and gnomes.
Mountains and canyons: spot the trolls in their rocky hideouts.
Pastures: describe secret communities of talking animals (such as the rats in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh or the rabbits in Watership Down).
Downtown: solve a mystery, like a bank robbery, or turn into a spy kid on a top-secret mission. You can even hunt for boxtrolls.
Unless you’re hiking along a marked trail, you might want to plan your route ahead of time. If you’re headed downtown, for example, try printing a map and drawing your route to make sure you pass by landmarks that might be important to your scenario.
Step Two—Create Scenario
Once you’ve selected your hiking location, it’s time to set the scene. You’ll read this to your kids at the start of the hike. You don’t need to go into too much detail. All you want to do is give your kids a springboard to get their own imaginations flowing. Here’s an example from our troll hunt:
“Welcome to [name of location]—famed gathering place of trolls from every corner of the country. They come here to debate the most pressing issues in the troll community. The last time they met, they were discussing whether or not humans are in fact food. I’m not sure if they reached a decision. Our job will be to find these trolls and figure out where they stand on the debate. You’ll need to take pictures, otherwise your friends may have a hard time believing what you saw. Remember, trolls can be hard to spot. They blend in with the rocks so well that most people pass by without giving them a second thought. Oh, and be careful. If you notice it’s raining salt and pepper, it might be time to run.”
See the troll face?
Step Three—Create Scavenger Hunt
The scavenger hunt is a simple list of things your kids should look for during the hike. They’ll need to take a picture as proof that they found the item on the list. Here are some examples of troll features we looked for in the rocks or in the woods:
If you’re searching for gnomes, you might want your kids to find the different kinds of mushrooms where they make their houses. If they’re searching for a bank robber, they might need to find change on the ground that the robber dropped as s/he was fleeing. You can even brainstorm this list with your kids over dinner.
Step Four—Pack Backpacks
Here’s a handy checklist of what each participant will need to make the most of the story hike.
Camera (fully charged): My kids had spy watches—they’re fun little watches that can take photos and videos—but any camera will do. If you have old cell phones with a camera you no longer use, that’s a good option too.
Notepad: Since you’ll be outside, make sure the notepad is stiff enough for children to write in their laps.
Pens: We use erasable friction pens. Pencils need sharpeners.
Scavenger hunt list
That’s all you need. If you create your own story hike, I’d love to hear from you! Please get in touch to share your experiences, and have a great summer!