As a parent of five kids, I’ve found that sometimes the hardest part of parenting is coming up with activities that appeal to all of my kids at the same time, despite different interests, attention spans, and ages. At times, it feels like the instant one person is happy it sets off a chain reaction that causes another to be unhappy.

(The best poems for kids.)

It’s a real challenge, but there are some great creative writing prompts that can work for all ages and skill levels. I know, because we’ve tested them at my household.

Make a Book Together

In 2019, McSweeney’s Publishing published a children’s book written by six-year-old Ellison Nguyen and illustrated by 13-year-old Hien Bui-Stafford titled Chicken of the Sea (read more about that here). It’s a cool success story of publishing, but I’ve been publishing one-off books (like the one below) with my young writers and illustrators for more than a decade.

All you need is a little paper, a writing implement, and some imagination. Here’s how we do it:

  1. Get four to six sheets of paper together. I prefer copy paper, but any paper will do.
  2. Fold the paper in half so it looks like a book. Four sheets suddenly turn into 16 pages; six sheets become 24 pages. If you have a stapler, you can staple them together at the spine.
  3. Fill the pages with your words and images. This is the imagination part, and I find it’s most fun when the kids lead this part (maybe with a helpful idea here and there).

The great thing about this activity is that you can do it together at any skill level. The younger kids can narrate the story that the parents (or older kids) illustrate. Or the kids can draw the pictures, and the adults make up the story that combines them all.

It’s super fun and can make a great family keepsake.

Create a Quarantine Journal (or Gratitude Book)

I’ve seen a few people mention they’re keeping quarantine journals, and I love the idea of filling a book with gratitude. There are a few ways to approach this one.

If you have older kids, you can clear a little time for everyone to sit together in the same room and write in their journals. Parents with younger kids may find it’s easier to jot down thoughts for their children each day—maybe with a daily picture of how they feel or something they’ve saw that day.

(5 new ways for writers to keep a journal.)

Personally, one of writing’s greatest gifts to me is that it gives me a way to take the thoughts and feelings inside of me and get them onto the page. That makes it easier for me to sort through them, sure, but it also helps me just get them out of me. Right now, that type of therapy is priceless.

Write Response Poems or Stories

I love reading poems or stories and finding out they were inspired by another poem or story. That makes me want to read the earlier work, which may have been a response to something else. It’s a fun reading exercise to dig backward, but it can be reversed as well.

A fun writing prompt is to take a story or poem and write a response story or poem to it. The new story or poem could pick up where the original left off, or it could imagine an alternate reality. Perhaps a secondary character can receive star treatment. Or maybe the happy ending wasn’t actually happy.

(Find hundreds of creative writing prompts.)

Another variation is to write a story or poem in which each person writes one line at a time. So a person in a family of four would get to write every fourth line or sentence. I’m just going to let you know right now that some weird stories and twists can happen in this kind of writing game.

Make Lists Together

Not feeling especially creative? That’s fine; you can still write. Round up your kids and make a daily list together. For instance, you could make a list of your favorite movies, books, animals, memories, heroes, food, restaurants, and so on.

Write them down and date them so you can look back on how they change over the years. And add another dimension to them by adding why something goes on each list.

Answer Questions of the Day

Along the same lines as making lists, come up with a question for the kids and parents to answer each day. Keep all the answers in separate books or combine them—like a scrapbook.

Here are some possible questions to ask:

  • If you could go one place, where would you go? And why?
  • What is the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?
  • The news announces aliens have landed on Earth. How do you react?

The possibilities are limitless. Just remember to keep them focused enough to give your young writers some direction but open enough that they can run with it in any direction they want.

Have fun writing together!