Finding Their Way with Words
Personal Journals Let Kids Develop Skills as They Explore Writing and Feelings
by Sara Marchessault
Do your kids like to write?
Most likely the answer to is “no. What if we could find a fun way to get our kids to write more at home?
When kids keep a personal journal, they have an opportunity to practice writing on their own terms. They can write about what they want to write about. They will develop over time the skills needed to succeed on standardized tests and effectively communicate through writing with others. Not to mention keeping a journal just may give a budding author an opportunity to learn a craft. Follow these five steps to get started:
Take a trip to the bookstore. Go shopping specifically for journaling tools. Let your child choose a journal that he or she really loves and as an added bonus, let him choose something to write with that gets him excited. Purple pens, skinny markers, colored pencils, whatever your child finds that he wants to use. This is all about making writing a fun experience.
Set a time for journaling. Just like practicing an instrument or doing math homework, choose a time that can be used for journaling. Look for daily practice time. Why not right before dinner or maybe first thing in the morning? Or plan around other already-planned activities. If you have piano lessons on Monday and Wednesday, maybe you can plan journaling time for Tuesday and Thursday. Find a system that works for you and your family. Once you select your time, write it on your family calendar or set a reminder on your phone to establish the habit of consistent journaling.
You keep a journal, too. This is a golden opportunity to practice what we preach. We may not enjoy dusting off our old algebra skills, but journal writing is something we can do with our kids fairly easily. It can be private for both of you, but something that happens side-by-side. Choose to share what you write about or keep it to yourself. The point is to set up the habit of writing. Make a couple of cups of cocoa or tea, get cozy, and get to writing.
Rule-free writing. Keeping a journal is a kind of writing that for centuries hasn’t been defined by rules. It’s a safe bet that by keeping the journaling process rule-free, your kids will enjoy it more than if it becomes another excuse to follow a lot of rules. The only “rules” for journaling are: Write whatever you want. Journals are completely private unless there is an agreement to share. Don’t worry about the way it looks or sounds. No one will check your grammar/spelling/punctuation. Your journal is a safe place.
Use journals as a place to noodle life’s big questions. Children who are starting to process big questions can use their journals as a safe place to explore their thoughts. Big questions may be related to finding purpose, defining identity in relationships to others, or even thoughts on life and death. The book Soul Pancake by Rainn Wilson, inspired by the website of the same name, is a great resource to pick up thought-provoking prompts. Use a shared prompt to start off your shared journaling sessions. For younger kids, you can use prompts too, but maybe explore questions more like “what would you do if…” and then fill in the blank. If you found a full wallet. If you accidently knocked over an elderly person. If you wrote the most popular book of your time. Then what?
With regular and consistent practice, your child’s writing skills will naturally improve. And something else might happen too – they just might start to love writing. That’s the power of shared journaling.