“What did you do on your summer vacation?” is a classic back to school essay.  But what if you could breathe a little fun and life into it and make it meaningful and memorable? Think of it as a way to share a family story. You kids can write a story in their words — and you can write one in yours.

If you’re wrapping up your summer, it’s a great time to write your stories. If you’re still in the midst of making memories, get some ideas about how to capture them when you are done. (These ideas work well for journaling while you are on vacation too!)

How to Write about Your Summer Vacation

Writing about your summer vacation can be a lot of fun. Whether you choose little moments or a big trip, events from the beginning of the summer or things that happened yesterday, you get to relive those memories. But one thing that often makes this kind of writing dull is lack of detail. A catalog of places you went or things you a did isn’t that interesting. Kids (and sometimes us grown ups) have a tendency to write “And then … and then … and then” stories, but let me show you how you can go deeper and create a memory worth sharing and reading again and again.

Brainstorm first

Start by brainstorming about the summer. If you made a summer list as a family, you can refer back to that for ideas. Once you get started more ideas will come. This IS the time to simply list places you went, things you did, people you visited, foods you ate … There may be some details: instead of just going to an amusement park, mention riding the Cyclone; instead of fishing, note that Henry caught a 5 lb bass. List whatever comes up. If you brainstorm with your kids, they may remember other details you didn’t notice. And doing this together brings you back to the fun time you just had.

Dig into details

Pick one thing on your list – If you did get into some detail and have related items, such as hiking Mt. Carrigain, camping, and sleeping in a tent, you can lump them together.

Using your senses start to get down some of the details –What did you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Think about the bright green moss on the misty day, the warmth of the sun when it finally came out. Think of the smell of pine and the sound of the trees creaking in the wind. Jot down as many details as you can. I find writing in short stretches makes it seem less daunting – set a timer for 20 minutes and just write down what you and/or your kids remember. Get stuck? Try looking at the pictures on your phone to jog your memory.

The details you have listed will breathe life into your writing and when you read your story later, you’ll have stronger memories of the trip — and a better sense of what stuck out to your kids. For example, maybe you remember the rock that was a lump in your back all night long, but they remember how good mac and cheese tasted after a long climb.

Get at feelings

In addition to concrete, sensory details, tapping into your emotions and reflections will make the writing more meaningful. You need to get past, “I loved it” or “It was fun,” though. Ask questions like:

  • How did you feel when we saw that bear in the distance?
  • What do you think about camping now that we’ve tried it?
  • Were you proud of something you did on this trip?
  • What would have make this trip better?
  • What was amazing about what we did?

Your questions will vary based on what you did as a family, but open ended questions give the most space for response. You can dig deeper by asking follow up questions.

And here’s one more: What was the funniest thing about this situation? Writing doesn’t have to be serious. In fact many of our favorite family stories make us laugh. So as you are gathering ideas, think about the things that made you laugh.

Get words on the page

Help your kids get their words on the page.

If your kids can’t write yet, have them tell you a story about vacation. Write down their words. You probably won’t get it exact, but aim for their words, not your own version of what they said. Sometimes it helps to have them draw a picture and tell you about it.

For beginning writers who struggle with getting words out fast enough, have them write a sentence or two, then ask them questions and write down the answers to get more detail.

For kids who are writing fluently, use the brainstorm and idea gathering above to start them writing about your vacation. If they need to write for school, have them follow any guidelines from their teacher. If it is simply for your family, let them write it as they’d like. You can ask them questions to get more detail. Most kids have more to say, but don’t always write it down, so asking questions gives you a chance to talk and get their ideas on paper while they are fresh.

And what about you? Have you written your ideas about summer vacation down? Write it in your journal. Write a reflection to include in a photobook. Write a letter to each of your kids about your memories and thoughts about them specifically during this summer vacation.

We think we will remember things … and some we will. But often with time, memories grow fuzzy. But when we write our stories and share them again and again, we keep them. So build in the nuance and detail now and keep preserving and sharing your precious stories.

This is a great exercise to starting writing all your stories down. Save the memories and teach your kids to do the same. You’ll be surprised how much it means — to you, the writer, and to those who read it. Often the first step in saving family stories is learning them, which means asking questions. Here are 5 to get you started.