Let us sing praises for the summer: At last I'll learn what is really going on in this neighborhood. The children here, with the noisiness of youth, unearth all the neighborhood news and publish it in a one-page, sporadically produced newspaper.
We start with a group session, each child promoting what he or she thinks is the most interesting news. Then the kids go out and get the facts, knock on doors, peer down sewers, and draw pictures. Each child takes his favorite beat -- the neighbor he knows best -- and chats about vacations spent, rooms renovated, and gardens produced.
At first, I cautioned the children not to write about forthcoming vacations, to protect the neighbors from any harm such knowledge might bring. Then I found that not much else was being discussed at these interviews, and I looked for a way to help the kids ask questions without imposing my own ideas.
The "staff" sessions now include an exchange of interview techniques, with the kids helping each other phrase thought- provoking queries. We've found that questions like "What did you like best about your vacation?" and "Why are you fixing this room?" elicit more specific answers than "Did you have fun at the beach?"
The reporters also inscribe Who When What Where and How across their notebooks as reminders to get the essentials.
Some of our reporters are too young to write even these basics. These cubs are assigned to an older child, who helps them transcribe their impressions.
Six-year-old Ricky and his 11-year-old sister, Lori, collaborated on an interesting piece this way. They scrambled over a growing superhighway at the end of our street one day when the construction stopped and wove their impressions -- Lori's outrage as an environmentalists, Ricky's fascination with mechanical methods -- into a balanced account of the on- going building.
Anything that interests the children is fair game for the paper. Sherry, 8, enjoys making her own snacks, an interest that produced a food column. Seven-year-old Kira's interest in architecture evolved into a descriptive piece comparing the varioius houses in our jumps-and-starts development.
And my five-year-old daughter, Emma, used her curiosity about the past as an approach to an interview with two longtime residents. Between them, they painted a picture of the neighborhood as it appeared 20 years ago.
When the children finish gleaning the facts, they return to our home and write up their findings. My own editorial skills are called into play at this point to answer everything from spelling questions to "What do I say next?" We discuss articles that leave the writers blank, but let the rest of the pieces ride on their own bubbly enthusiasm.
All stories submitted are typed up, but the words -- and spellings -- are left intact. Then I "dummy up" a sheet, arranging the articles around pictures drawn by Sherry, our resident artist.
My husband "publishes" the page on copy machine, and the children distribute them proudly around the neighborhood. Occassionally one gets tucked into a letter to Grandma.
If I were an English teacher, perhaps I'd use this forum to emphasize writing skills: the devising of leads, proper grammar, and finding appropriate headlines. The opportunity exists for finely honing all such skills, and if the children should ask for such guidance, I'd be happy to provide it.
But it's summertime -- not school days -- and I'd rather use the paper for a more worthwhile cause: to find out what's really going on in this neigborhood.