What to Play? Summer is Time to Absorb the World

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Stories and Reading and Writing and Drawing

The flood of articles is out for the end of the school year. Summer reading. The percentage of material lost over the school vacation. Summer classes. Summer learning activities. Educational trips. I ask, “Is there a play solution to all these things we, as parents, are told to worry about during July and August?” Absolutely.

I believe summer vacation is vacation. A break from the routine of school. Time to be a kid. Time to explore your favorite things.

I have an avid reader. Books are the favorite free time activity at our house. The trick is to keep up with her. Library visits. Bookstore finds. Recommendations from friends. 

My daughter loves to share her books and ideas over meals, on walks and during car rides. This means I am constantly reading chapter books—more in the last two years than I did myself from elementary to high school. We compare ideas. We talk about things we would change in the story line. We talk about the people. We connect relationships between books. (There is a frequent pattern of 3 tweens/teens heading out on adventures without adults. The lead adult stays back and gives vague or puzzling hints at the solution.) She lives in her books. Books with female heroes are quickly consumed. She needs to draw and write about ideas and experiences. Blank notebooks, pens and pencils go everywhere we go. Books and drawing are a big part of our summers. I believe reading and creativity are necessary to enhance all other aspects of learning.

If we can do her favorite things over the summer and keep up the desire to learn and explore, we have our family solution to all the issues the articles think we should worry about. We have fun and enjoy our summer. It does not become a chore to be ready for fall. Easy.

Here is what we do. Reading together started at 2 months old. Every night. Books are in every room of the house. My art theory and garden how-to books are shared freely. My mom periodically sends the books I read as a kid. We go to the library for books and movies about the books we read. I never refuse a request for a book. I limit video games and apps. No limit on books. We share books with friends. I leave fiction, non-fiction, magazines and Times articles out for easy access. Grandma clips and sends their favorites from the Sunday comics. Together we draw pictures of characters we read about. I hang her writings and drawings up on the fridge. Lastly and out of my control, she inherited a reading gene from Grandma. Neither of them can get enough books. Another one of the many things they share long distance from Michigan to Massachusetts.

One of the ways we connect her books and her drawings are with blank books and story sheets with space for drawing at the top. I included a PDF here to print out your own drawing/story pages. Two years ago I picked up a manga how to book and template/sketch book. This combined her need to draw with writing and reading. A fun way to keep up her favorite things and move back into school activities come September. Some stories and pictures we just share. Some I propose an easy question or two to get her thinking about story writing and character development. Something we do together. There is no pre-planning. No lesson plan. I wait and see what happens. Some things get dropped instantly. Some things encourage us to learn more.

Blank books are also a great way to keep memories of summer fun. Ticket stubs. Post cards. Drawings of details. A sentence or two about the crazy car ride to the cousins. A line about the cousins or a description of other tourists at the rest stop. If I encourage observation as we explore this summer, I am hoping the observation skills grow this fall.

I know I am lucky to have a reader. I have listed two books to inspire readers. They have great ideas for parents and families to bring back the love of reading. Ways to make reading a part of your home. Have fun. It’s summer. Play with your words and drawings.

How-To Web Sites

Books to Inspire Readers

Books to Inspire Drawing


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

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