Journaling to See What You Think

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.

Flannery O'Connor: I don't know so well what I think until I see what I say

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.

journaling with kids

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.

journaling with kids

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.

journaling with kids

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

13 Comments on Journaling to See What You Think

  1. katie e
    November 26, 2013 at 12:31 am (2 years ago)

    Thank you, Pam, for the journaling prompts. This past week, I have “known” that we need to journal more as a family – especially because our 2nd grader is having a hard time in school and her teacher suggested a writing diary, because I saw something in my scripture reading about how an ancient people (even when ill-behaved) still kept a record of their people, and because I feel that my children will be more grateful for what they have if they write about their lives and how blessed they/we all are. I have been reading your blog and saw the link to the question jar of journaling prompts – thank you for being the answer I needed!

    Love you, My Dear Dear Friend! And I miss you so very much …

  2. Jessi
    October 27, 2013 at 2:27 am (2 years ago)

    At what age do you recommend starting a journal time? Thanks!

  3. Inspiration Station
    September 4, 2013 at 4:01 am (2 years ago)

    We homeschool too and I love the idea of journaling, but it doesn’t seem to go very well when my kids can’t think of something to write about. Do you have a list of journal prompts to share?

  4. Jenni Price illustration
    September 3, 2013 at 3:28 am (2 years ago)

    This is a wonderful idea Pam! I think I’ll try this at home also. What a great way to know how your little ones are feeling :)



  5. Amy
    September 3, 2013 at 1:46 am (2 years ago)

    I remember having a journal at school starting in early elementary. So far I have been careful to not expect my son to have to write too much each day (he just turned 5), but I bet this year he will be able to do a little more than last. Journaling would be a great idea! I’m going to think more about how this might fit into our day.

  6. libbywilko
    August 30, 2013 at 2:27 am (2 years ago)

    I journaled all last year and found it great although I found a overseas trip disrupted my evening habit and I have not got back into it… Although I do write little notes on my iPhone regularly. I keep the kids little notes and school work in album and that has little bits of journaling.

    • pameladonnis
      September 4, 2013 at 9:28 pm (2 years ago)

      Keeping notes on your iPhone is a good idea. I need to do that more often, because I never seem to have paper when I need it, and then forget the idea!

  7. Cathi Curen
    August 28, 2013 at 3:21 am (2 years ago)

    Hi Pam,

    I have journaled regularly since 1983. This post is a beautiful representation of the power of the pen. I am so glad that you are passing the practice of journaling on to your children!


    • pameladonnis
      September 4, 2013 at 9:29 pm (2 years ago)

      It’s awesome that you’ve been so consistent in writing. What a treasure to your future generations!

  8. Laurie
    August 28, 2013 at 2:06 am (2 years ago)

    I used to have my students journal years ago when I taught public school. I like how you work yur theme around writing. That’s why I started my blog…to play with writing. Thanks for visiting my blog!


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  1. […] am School starts. We begin the day with the subjects we complete together: journaling, scripture study, history, and […]

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