Journals are often overlooked, and I think they are one of the most important parts of the day. There are a few things to keep in mind when asking your child to journal:
- This is their journal, so they should be able to choose their own topic if they don’t want to use the one you provide. Always remember that what they are writing is not as important as the fact that they are writing!
- They should always feel safe about writing in their journal. Though I do point out that this is not a diary and that I will be reading it, I don’t criticize. This a place to praise only, and give positive feedback. You might want to say something thoughtful about the topic, or maybe make note of a particular word. For example, “You could have used a boring word like pretty, but the word ‘ornate’ fits so much better and provides much more information. Nicely done!” Just make sure your comments are thoughtful so your kids know that you read for interest, not because you had to.
- Journals are not a time for grammar rules, including spelling and handwriting. The more they write, the better they will get. But often if your kids feel that all their writing has to be perfect, it will become more about the work and not about simply writing. There’s truth in the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Give them the tools, guidance, and time, and they will learn!
- Always allow them the opportunity read what they wrote. This is an important part of any writing and helps young/new writers understand that what they have to write about is important enough that you want to hear it. Though you provide an opportunity for your kids to read what they wrote, they should never be required. It won’t take long for even the most hesitant reader to share, because we all want folks to hear what we have to say.
A few terrific journaling ideas!
There are so many ideas out there that you should never run out, but I have a few of my favorites that have stood the test of time. Over the years I was homeschooling, these were loved not only by my own kids but by most of the homeschool classes I taught.
Stream of consciousness is great. Do this orally with the kids a few times to help them get the hang of how it works. Start with any word and have one of your kids say the first thing that comes to mind. If you have more than one child, let them take turns, using the last word that was spoken, and don’t forget to include yourself! If you only have one, include yourself and take turns. Example: Red, truck, monster truck, Godzilla, lizard, Kimono Dragon, islands, Hawaii, sunshine, love, summer solstice, holiday. Again, the cool thing about a stream of consciousness is that there is never a wrong answer.
Five-minute writes are a big hit. I give them a suggestion for a topic but let them write about whatever they want, and I time them. They have to be writing the entire time. Thinking is not allowed. Pencils are required to be moving for the entire five minutes. Seriously. If they get stuck, they write, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck,” until they can think of something. This helps them engage the creative side of the brain and helps them get out of the habit of correcting before/as they write.
There is no erasing allowed.
A funny thing that tends to happen during a five-minute write is that their hand begins to cramp up. Remind them to loosen their grip on the pen/pencil. It turns into a fun activity, and most of the kids got a kick out of reading what they wrote.
Even if your child decides to be snarky and begins writing, “I’m stuck” all the time at first, it will get tiring and they will stop. Just let them do it until they get it out of their system.
I will never forget the young man in a creative writing class I taught at the homeschool program who decided it was funny to write his name over and over. He was eight years old. Each time I asked who wanted to read aloud, he raised his hand. I called on him and he read his name over and over.
At first, the other kids laughed, but it only took four or five days of this and the kids were groaning when it was his time to read.
This is when patience is crucial. I supported him, and each time he began reading his name, I insisted the other kids show him the same attention and respect that they wanted when they read.
One day, rather than reading his name, he began to tell a story. I realized that he wasn’t reading what he wrote, and later that day, while the other kids were working on their stories, I asked if he would show me his story. His skills were quite a bit below where they should have been, but there were words in his journal. I was excited!
I explained that writing was just telling a story on paper, and that he needed to continue to write as much as he could. Each day, his stories got a little longer and he wrote a bit more.
All homeschool situations aren’t as successful as his, but when he realized that I wasn’t worried about his handwriting, his spelling, or even his grammar, he began to write. By the time he was in my high school creative writing class, he was bringing in between 10 and 30 pages for us to workshop every week!
After he graduated, he stayed in touch with me and is currently working on his first science fiction novel. He credits the ideas I talk about here for his breakthrough in learning to love writing.
Though all writing successes aren’t as striking as this young man’s, I’ve had many students who hated writing decide that they actually liked it when they were allowed to write without rules. The point is, give them the freedom to write what they want how they want, and they will learn. Rather than teach the rules, let them discover the rules as they learn to write.
A stream of consciousness works here too. Because this is a five-minute write, it doesn’t need to contain complete sentences or even complete thoughts. This gives them the freedom to make lists until they find a topic they want to write about. Keep it fun!
Write about pictures or photographs. I have a file of pictures that I cut from magazines or got off the internet. I choose one and they write about the picture. Write the five senses across the top of the page, then start with lists. When they have all the ideas they can think of, have them start forming their thoughts into sentences. I have included a link where I discuss writing from pictures in much greater detail.
Write while your kids are writing!
Above all else, remember how important it is to model the journal writing process. I always wrote, even in my classes. I also shared, just to let them see that their writing doesn’t need to be perfect, just their own.
These journal ideas are my favorite, though there are many others. I have had classrooms of homeschool kids ask for five-minute writes, and my own kids loved them. I am including a link to a very nice journal, and I have found that writing in a special journal can make the writing feel special. Of course, the writing is what is important, not what they write on.
Have fun with journaling.