In middle school, students start to analyze literature in deeper and more complex ways. As their skills grow, teachers also expect them to write in a more involved style. Want to give your middle schooler a leg-up in her writing and literature skills? Next time you take a family trip, invite your child to make a special “labyrinth” travel diary. She'll practice separating narrative and commentary - an important skill which she'll continue to utilize through high school. At the same time, she'll create a special memento of a shared time together that the whole family will treasure. This is the perfect activity for your child to do during a summer trip, to keep her mind active and stave off those dreaded cries of "I'm bored!"
What You Do:
- Start by creating an accordion-folded trip diary. Have your child fold several sheets of card stock paper in half, so that each side is 5-1/2”x8-1/2”. Use tape to attach the right edge of one page to the left edge of the other, as if you are making hinges, like this:
- Keep going until you have one 5-1/2”x8-1/2” page for each section of the trip. If it’s a long day trip, your child may want to have a page for each stage of the day--one for getting ready; one for the morning, afternoon, evening, and so forth. If it’s a multi-day trip, you’ll probably want one page per day. Either way, your child can decide how she would like to organize her trip diary.
- Now lay your accordion stack on a protected surface, one that can stand up to a craft knife. Open the front flap and the back one, and fold them out separately, like this:
- Now have your child use a pencil and ruler to mark a rectangle, 1” wide and 1-3/4” tall, on the middle right of the top page in the stack, like this:
- Use the exacto-knife to cut out this “window” from every page in the stack (except for the front and back flaps which will be unfolded from the stack). When you open the booklet, you’ll see this:
- Have your child use the scissors to cut several long strips of colored paper, 11” long by 1-1/2” wide, and help her attach them to one another to make one long strip. This should be done before inserting the strip into the booklet. You can attach the stips together however you like. Once you have connected all of the strips together to make one long strip, have your child glue one end of the long strip to the inside of the book’s front cover, and then run the strip through each of the “windows” you have cut. Stretch the book all the way out, and make sure your strip is long enough to go all the way to the back cover. Then glue that end to the back cover, like this
- Once the glue has dried, have your child make a title for the book on the front cover, such as “My Trip to the Top of Half Dome and How I Didn’t Fall Off! “Make sure she includes her name as the author.
- Now, on each page, follow a steady format: on the top, your child can glue one or several (depending on the size) pictures. On the bottom, she can write a description of what happened and the events that took place. On the colored strip that runs throughout the book, have her describe her perspective on it all: What are her thoughts about the trip? About what she has done so far? What did she think and feel at each stage?
When you’re done, you will have a stunning, creative record of a special time - something to keep and look back at for years to come. But there’s another benefit as well: This activity requires your young writer to exercise important middle school literary skills. In recording what happened, she'll practice descriptive writing techniques, which will be expected in high school. In the meantime, the colored strip highlights the literary skill of developing perspective and insight, and she'll be bulding her analytical writing and thinking skills. Many of us adults do this automatically, but for kids it takes practice. This project mixes it all together with great summer fun!
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school history and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.