Journal Basics

coollogo_com-122946639One of the best things about summer here in Alaska is the all night sunshine.  Though the sun does move to the horizon, it just skips along there for a bit.  We end up with beautiful sunsets that last for hours!

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With all this sunshine, it’s easy to lose track of time.  I often glance at my phone and realize that it is after 11:00 PM!  The kids have the same problem, and our summers end up messing our schedules up to the point of frustration.

This was not a problem when I was homeschooling my kids.  We lived in Washington and though summer nights were shorter, it was nothing like it is here in North Pole, Alaska.  I kept a fairly tight schedule, and it helped me stay organized.

Each morning, while I prepared for the day’s lessons, the kids wrote in their journals.

What is a journal?

Click here for a video overview of this lesson.

It is a place where the kids could write about whatever they wanted.  No assigned topics.  No specific number of pages.  No rules. No rights. No wrongs.  Allow your kids to feel free to express themselves.

These can be lined or blank sketchbook.  There is no wrong style when it comes to journals.  Only what your kids want. We made buying a new journal a special event, so writing in it became special, and each school year began with a new one.

journal with pencilThe point of journaling is to get kids comfortable with expressing themselves through writing, or at least acquire a good grasp of what journaling is all about.   It’s a written record of their thoughts, experiences, and observations.

I made it clear that I would be reading their journals.  This wasn’t a diary, and I always reserved the right to read and comment on their journals.

Whether you decide to read their journals or not, make it clear before they write.  The worst thing you can do with a young writer is to make them feel like their privacy has been violated.  They need to feel secure to write freely if you want your kids to become comfortable with the process.

I read their writing for several reasons.

  • to see their progression with writing concepts
  • to see how their spelling and grammar skills were improving
  • they would sometimes write about a problem or concern they were having


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I never corrected or gave negative comments on their journals.  This was a completely safe place for them to write.  I only read it to provide positive feedback and to get an idea of how their writing skills were progressing.


The addition of drawings was encouraged, but not required.

I had my box of picture files, along with writing prompts, that were available.

Another possibility was for them to write about something they were studying.  For example, if we were doing a unit on The Civil War, they might choose to write about how it would feel to be a soldier.

One of my boys didn’t really like to write, but the more I allowed him freedom to choose topics, length, and style, the more he wrote.  I have one of his stories that he worked on for several weeks and it’s quite long.  He didn’t fill up journals, but he was pretty proud of what he did write.child-1529218_640 (2)

 The basics of how I got my kids to write in their journals.

For the prewriter, I asked them to tell me a story and I wrote it down.  It wasn’t always me doing this.  I often had my older kids work on journals with the younger ones.

creative-725811_640 (2)Younger kids have tremendous imaginations, and my problem wasn’t usually getting them to tell me something, but rather getting them to keep it to less than book length.

If they couldn’t come up with a story or just didn’t want to, a thought or description would be fine.  For example, ask them to look out the window and tell you what they see, or what do they think about the new neighbor, or what is their favorite truck and why.  No topic is off limits.  Write as fast as you can while they talk, but make sure you are writing it just as they are telling it to you.

Always read back to your kids so they know that you wrote it just the way they wanted.  This helps to begin their writing lives knowing that anything they say is safe to put on paper.

It also helps them with story structure.

This is a biggy.  When you read back to your little ones exactly how they said it to you, they will hear it when it sounds wrong.  This is a huge learning opportunity.  Take the time to let them correct their story.

I had those mornings with grumpy little ones.  For whatever reason, they would refuse to tell mepoems-clip-art-poetry-clip-art-11 anything.  Then I would start talking about what might be bothering them, and I would write down what I was saying.

For example, I might say something about the dragon that flew them to Hawaii the night before.  After playing at the beach all night, they were too tired to wake dragonup in the morning, let alone write anything.

You know your own kids and what will work with them, but I liked to get silly.  That usually brought out their creative side and they would finish their story.

Do this for a bit, but stop if it’s not working.  Tomorrow is another day, and one day without a journal entry isn’t the worst thing that will happen to you as a homeschool parent.

children-1450128_1920 (2)After I wrote their short story or thought or description, I would ask them to draw pictures of what was written.  Don’t worry, they will want to start writing and you will see them begin to copy some of the letters and words you have written.  It’s thrilling to hear your emergent readers sounding out their own writing.  Happy day!

I homeschooled my younger kids from the beginning, but my older seven started out in public schools.  They had already been taught the basics of writing, but it took some time to encourage them to write for fun or spontaneously. We struggled for the better part of a year, but they finally began to see that writing was not their enemy.  It was difficult for them to see writing as anything other than something required to complete an assignment.

In the beginningStinky Cheese Man, I always read a book before the journaling.  That often sparked an idea, and one journaling possibility was to retell stories.  A fun story to use to show your kids that it’s okay to rewrite material is The Stinky Cheese Man.

When they were comfortable with retelling stories, we progressed to discussions, and finally to picture prompts or writing prompts.

A fun journal entry is a stream of consciousness.  Start with a word and allow your kids to write the next thing that pops into their heads.  Often, when they share the lists they have created, a story forms that peaks their interests.

Sharing is an important part of journaling.  I always left it up to them.  They only shared if they wanted to, but more often than not, they asked to share.  After all the hard work of putting words on the paper, they enjoyed having positive input from their siblings.

I went as slowly as the kids needed me to, and the benefits were lifelong.

One of my boys writes poetry, and two of my girls are published authors.  All except one of my kids is comfortable writing and most of them still journal daily.

  Journals are a time for free writes and expressing ourselves.   The possible topics are limitless.

Let’s keep writing fun!

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If you have any journaling suggestions, be sure to send them my way.  I would love to hear about your journaling experience with your family.  Leave any comments or suggestions below.





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4 Replies to “Journal Basics”

  1. I know exactly what you are talking about then you mention about kids asking for your attention when they want to share anything, not just in their journalist skills alone but in many other things. I learnt my lesson, I ignored this a few times. I agree with you that sharing is an important part of journaling! It is one sure avenue to help kids learn and express themselves, but i know it takes a great deal of patience. Great article, thanks a lot!

    1. Daniel,

      Thanks for the comments! When thinking about patience, I always tried to remember that the time I spent now would cost less time in the end. Patience is so very important with kids!

  2. Hello Irvie, it’s funny that I ran across your article today because I am struggling to get my kid to write. They will read a book but writing is something different. I want them to write because I think it works on penmanship and not just their imaginations. I am going to use what you have written and see if it works for my boys or some variation to what you have written. I think once they really start to do it they will like it because I have very artistic children. I think the best information is what is how you showed patience while you help them along the way. Do you mind if I share your article on FB my mission is about building families and I would like to add this piece because it is something parents can do with their children? Phenomenal work as a mother.~ Sherry

    1. Sherry,

      I’d be happy for you to share on FB. So much of my time as a homeschool parent was spent finding curriculum that it was crazy, so my main goal is to help parents find help all in one spot. Journaling is so useful, and once my kids got comfortable writing and realized that it was “safe” because I never shredded what they wrote, they found it so much easier. Thanks for the comments!

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