The Polished Paragraph

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The kids are home all week! What the hell does a writer do with them?

“Words are like harpoons. Once they go in, they are very hard to pull out.”
Fred Hoyle

When life gives you lemons, you squeeze’em and make lemonade, right? So, squeeze the kids. Okay, maybe not literally, but what about squeezing  words and stories out of them? Kids say the darndest things, you know. So, it could be fun.

Write away, girl! Write away! (Photo by mokra at

Caveat:  Parents of teens, I do not advise these kinds of exercises unless your kid’s already into word games and writing. My kid would rather chew on her arm than do anything that I, as her mother, suggest might be “fun.”

There are all kinds of prompts and ideas to offer kids to start them on their way into a Storyland of their own making. Many are just scaled-back variations of those we use ourselves. Consider:

  • Pull out a bunch of old family photos, ones the kids aren’t necessarily even in. Ask them to create a story to go with the picture. (Whether a kid can actually write a tale depends on their age. A three-year old’s going to have to tell you what he sees.)
  • Buy them a cheap journal and a nice pen or pencil or crayon depending on their level. Urge them to go on a hunt for words that make them laugh and giggle (like cumulus and limbo), words that make them scratch their heads (maybe catalpa), words that sound cool when read out loud (try Lamborghini), words they like (parachute?), and even words they hate (broccoli). Encourage them to illustrate their words, maybe work them into a little poem.
  • Be tourists in your own home. Pretend that your living room or kitchen is a hotel room. Look around and out the windows. What do you see? Describe it to someone who had to stay home. Draw a picture postcard and write what you did today.
  • If they’re old enough to count syllables, introduce them to haikus. You remember the form: 5-7-5 syllables on the 1st-2nd-3rd lines. There’s no need to rhyme, but for an added challenge, older kids could try to rhyme the 1st and 2nd lines.
  • Here are some story “starts from Scholastic.
  • If older kids wish to try something a little more tricky, provide them with four words having nothing to do with one another. Now have them use them all in a story. For a variation, make it a game and give them 20 minutes to do the exercise. Sample words:  scorpion; mirror; floating; orange  OR  satin; lantern; patient; tunnel.

Remember: This is all about having fun with the words. Don’t make it like school. There should be lots of laughter.

Will these games give you the time you need to get your own writing in? Honestly, probably not. But, just maybe, you’ll start to instill a sense of playfulness and love of words into your spawn. And I bet you’ll feel at least some parental pride and get a few laughs out of their attempts. Unless they’re teens, of course. You’re on your own there. Just like me.

To anyone who manages to cajole their kid(s) into doing some writing this vacation week, I’m very willing and happy to “publish” their stories here. That way they can have the joy of seeing what it’s like to share their work with the bigger world. Just type it into the comments and include a first name.


Author: Laura S

Laura Salamy is a published author. Her essays and short stories have appeared in print and online. As the owner of The Polished Paragraph, she edits and proofreads other writers of all kinds. She is currently an assistant editor for the lit journal Fifth Wednesday, and she blogs on the fourth of every month for get born magazine. In her past life, Laura spent many years in the environmental, health and safety industry. She also worked for a non-profit completing grant applications and doing other "stuff." In her spare time, Laura creates colorful and less-than-traditional hooked rugs and mats. Many are "up-cycled" from old clothes, funky fabrics, and notions. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a teenager (oh no!), and a very silly dogs.


  1. Hi Laura,

    Unfortunately, neither of my two sons would be willing to participate in your suggestions, as interesting to me as they may be. I do not have a crowbar big enough to pry the video game controllers from their hands. The apples, in this case, fall pretty far from the tree concerning a love of writing. *Exaggerated, long-suffering sigh* 😀

    I hope all is well with you. Take care.

  2. I know just how you feel, Paul, and my kid actually likes to write some (a lot of fan fiction) and has a writing project die at school soon. But is she working on it this week? NO! But I bet she texts a good 500 words a day at least! Oh, if only they’d use their powers for good…