Do your kids journal?
There are several types of journals. The “freestyle” variety is probably what most often comes to mind when we think of journals. These journals are used to document thoughts, observations and feelings about events or experiences. The writer can write/draw freely without worrying about conventions or others’ opinions of his writing. Topics are self selected and the writer writes when the mood strikes. Regular freestyle journal writing is motivating because it’s a safe vehicle for self-expression. This kind of journaling shouldn’t be evaluated by anyone but the writer. It’s valuable for literacy development because it helps writers build fluency, stamina and a love for writing. The more you write about personally meaningful topics, the more you develop as a writer.
A more structured version of journaling, (where children follow a specific format and respond to an assigned writing prompt in a notebook), is popular in elementary school and beyond. School aged students need to be able to take a position and defend it in writing, write to explain how they solve problems, and write to connect and demonstrate learning. Even young elementary school students can practice and develop these skills in structured journals. Accumulating writing samples in notebooks allows teachers, parents, and most importantly students, to look back and see growth over time.
So, what’s the best way to approach journaling at home with children?
Prompt-driven, graded journals have a place, as long as they are just one piece in a child’s diverse writing experience. But if your child goes to school, he’ll do plenty of structured writing.
That’s why I think it’s especially important that home writing is casual, highly motivating, personally relevant, and fun.
A few suggestions:
- Give your child a journal to use as he wishes, and teach him what it means to journal. Most young kids are unfamiliar with the concept of freestyle journaling. Do you keep a journal yourself? If so, use it as an example. Emphasize that the journal belongs to him and he can write whatever, whenever and however he chooses. Don’t force it.
- Teach your child how to create a “lifebook.” Here’s one example of how a teacher helped students grasp the lifebook idea. You could try the same thing at home!
- If your child isn’t interested in journaling on his own, consider writing a family journal.
- If your child is interested in journaling, but wants some direction, you could brainstorm together and staple an idea list inside the cover of his notebook.
- For very young children, a picture journal is the way to go! You can support them by asking a question about what he did that day, then invite him to draw something that reminds him of the day.
- Art journals are awesome for all ages, and can be a great way to hook reluctant writers. This post on beginning art journaling from The Artful Parent is a great place to start if you aren’t sure how art journals work.
- Start a thankful log to help kids learn journaling and the (even more important) habit of gratitude at the same time.
- If you have a kid who dreams vividly, she might like keeping a dream journal. Dreams can be pretty funny when you try to explain them in writing. If your child doesn’t usually remember dreams, try a daydream journal!
- Keep a journal related to a specific hobby or interest. A reading journal, a movie journal, a bug collecting journal, a sports stats journal… Record questions, facts, images, and everything else related to a particular topic.
- If you feel like your child needs some extra support and practice with the skill of writing to a prompt, you could try having him keep a separate journal dedicated to more structured writing. Be sure to use funny or personally meaningful prompts. Try it just for a short period, or every once in a while. Work with your child to create a list of prompts to choose from or try these. If it’s not motivating to your child, think about another way to accomplish the same goal… Practice responding to prompts verbally. Use prompts like these as discussion starters at mealtime. Keep a circle journal, and ask questions for your child to answer. (And as you write your own responses, you’ll be teaching by example.)
Keeping a journal can be a fun way for children develop writing skills at home. It’s certainly not the only way though. So if your child doesn’t enjoy it, drop it for now and try something different. Maybe making books or oral storytelling is more interesting to your child right now. Just offer some different ideas and let your young writer decide on the best fit.
Here are some of my favorite resources for young journal writers: (This list contains affiliate links.)
- Connect the Thoughts An unusual and creative visual journal!
- Amelia’s Notebook A kid-friendly example of freestyle journaling.
- My Listography A list-style journal for kids with fun prompts.
- For some really creative and fun topic ideas, I like this book.
- A notebook! I like using large sketchbook-style notebooks like these best because the paper is thicker, they’re large enough to suit all ages, and there are no lines -for ultimate creativity. I prefer notebooks with the binding on top because my left-handed sons hate bumping into the coils.
- These are durable and portable, and come in lots of fun colors. Or you can decorate your own cover with these.
- For simple lined journals, we like these Mead journals and composition books because they offer different line sizes for different writing levels. Plus they’re durable, easy to find and very affordable. (You can make the cover fancy by attaching fabric, contact paper, duct tape, or decorative paper.)
- And of course, a good stash of pencils and erasers is a must. Add colored pencils, markers, glue stick, stickers, stamps, photos, collage materials and other fun embellishments if you like.