Writing becomes less of a chore when children feel a personal connection to the topic, and what’s more personal than family? Help your middle-schooler develop her writing and editing chops — while learning about relatives’ histories and hobbies — with a family newsletter.

From her grandparents’ decades-old arrival to America to her cousin’s recent win at a gymnastics meet, finding fodder for engaging stories is merely a matter of picking up the phone or sending an email. Just make sure your tween doesn’t stray into tabloid territory by avoiding topics your relatives would rather discuss in private (a messy divorce, a teenager arrested for drugs — every family has them but few put them in their newsletter)!

The project: Publish a family newsletter

Get ready: Create your story lineup

  • First, figure out the scope of the newsletter — will it include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins or just the immediate family?
  • Try to recruit other kids (such as siblings, friends, or neighbors) to help out with the reporting and production of the newsletter.
  • Have the kids think about each story they want to write and what it will focus on. If they’re profiling family members, make sure that not all the stories are a straight narrative of: “Aunt Mary lives on Chestnut Street. She has two kids and three dogs.” Help them think of new angles and formats (Q and A’s, a “guess who this is” puzzle, etc.) that highlight something special about each subject.
  • Family vacations are good fodder for stories, as are pets, hobbies, and projects. Ask the children to dig deep and come up with a variety of topics.
  • Have the kids mix up the content with a calendar of upcoming events that might interest relatives (birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, Little League games) as well as photographs, comics, and poems.

Make it happen: Write, edit, go to press

Have the kids interview family members — they can do it in person, over the phone, or through email or Skype. (You might need to help them take notes.) Make sure the kids get a photo or illustration for each story.

Keep the pieces short, and encourage the junior journalists to edit each other’s writing. They can build their vocabulary at the same time by consulting a dictionary or thesaurus.

Using desktop publishing software, show the children how to do layouts on the computer. Or if you prefer, try the old-fashioned approach by printing up the stories in columns and having the kids to lay them out by hand with paste and scissors. Once the newsletter is complete and printed, mail copies to every person who was featured in it or give it as a holiday gift.