Last night I got an email from my niece, Ella. She said she wanted to get more comfortable with her writing and would like to practice by writing me. How incredibly sweet, and smart on her parents part for giving her a safe place to practice a vital skill.

Getting kids writing outside of school where they can choose their own topics is an valuable way to help them improve their skills and stop hating writing. Here are some fun ways to get your kids writing this summer (and any time!):

1. Write postcards to friends and family when on vacation or a day-trip to a fun location.

2. Send thank-you notes for gifts, parties, etc.

3. Create fictional stories (most kids love doing this, you just need to encourage it).

4. Craft a letter to the editor about something they care about or to promote a scouting event, etc.

5. Ask your kids to label everything in their drawings and then write a caption (for more on this, download Steve's Writing Teachers Strategy Guide (see p. 46).)

Want to learn more about the value of nurturing kids' writing life? Read this article by Erica Jacobs in the Washington Examiner that mentions Be A Writer, the first book in the series Steve and I developed. The second, Be A Better Writer, won the a Gold Medal from the Independent Publishers Associationin 2007. I'm currently working on the third and fourth installments: one for college students and another for corporate employees.

As a writer, teacher and hirer of writers, developing a strong "farm team" is very important to me. Helping young writers develop their abilities to communicate effectively is crucial. Not only for the writing itself, but because writing is a gateway drug to better reading and better thinking.

What are you doing to help the kids in your life become better writers?