As a young child, my mom encouraged me to write in a journal. I would come home from school to a snack and afternoon chores before going out to play with friends, and writing a few sentences in my journaling notebook was always among the to-dos.
I didn’t always like it, and remember complaining quite a bit–but my mom believed in forming the habit so her encouragement (and own journaling example) was consistent, even when I whined.
Eventually journal writing dropped off the required chores list, but by then I had developed the habit and loved to write–continuing to keep a journal through my teenage years. And though I had plenty of friends, journaling was often my outlet because it was a safe place to experiment with expressing my feelings (usually about the boys I was crushing on!).
My own journaling has changed somewhat over my adult years. I’ve moved away from a notebook into more scrapbooking and blogging. But free writing is still important to me because putting the words on paper (or screen) down helps clarify my thoughts.
In the classroom, journaling was the first thing we did every morning after handing in homework, hanging backpacks, and doing lunch count. When I try to describe it, it sounds strict and drill-sergeant like, but my first graders were well-trained to do their morning jobs, look at the whiteboard for a journaling prompt, and begin silently writing and illustrating a page in their notebooks.
We free-wrote for 10-15 minutes each morning, and though it took lots of practice at the beginning (as all routines do), it worked very well for me. It gave the kiddos practice writing and transitioned their brains to school time, but also allowed me a few minutes to check over homework and take attendance. In the beginning the brand-new writers could hardly form a sentence, but by the end of the year their free-writing skills had improved so much that most were filling the page (or more!) with ideas that stemmed from the prompt.
Not surprisingly, journaling is now a part of my kids’ homeschooling day. They finish their morning chores, then go right to the school room to take out their notebooks and begin with a journaling prompt. It signals the beginning of school, transitioning their minds from home-mode, and gives me a minute to make sure we’re ready to start the school day.
I want these journals to be a “safe place” for the kids. Since mine are still young and we’re using the journals as part of our schoolwork, I do read them–but mostly to assess how their writing skills are developing and to see where additional writing lesson instruction may be needed. I don’t correct this free-writing for spelling, grammar, or ideas because I want them to gain confidence in just putting down thoughts and “seeing” what they think.
Watching the beginning of this writing process has also helped me get to know my kids better. Last week some of our dear family friends moved across the country and I knew it would be difficult to say goodbye. But since my almost six-year old had been so quiet and unemotional about it I thought she was handling it pretty well–until she wrote about it in her journal.
Her writing and illustrations were simple, but I could see the emotion in her face as she wrote. When we had a few minutes of private time I asked her to share the page with me, and that was the first time she broke down. She cried for the loss of her best friend, and I cried for the heartbreak my baby girl was feeling. Later I cried with the realization that I would have missed the sweet moment with my daughter if she had not written about her feelings, because unlike her older brother, she has a harder time verbally expressing herself.
Do you keep a journal? Do your kids? Tell me about it.
Linked to Living and Learning at Home