When most of us think of journal writing, we often conjure up an image of a cute little diary with a lock and key that contains pages of feelings, and is often tucked away in a nightstand or under a mattress. So let’s take a moment to erase that preconceived notion from our heads. Officially, journal writing is “a personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections kept on a regular basis.” Preschoolers have “occurrences, experiences, and reflections” so why can’t they write in a journal?! I know what you are thinking…preschoolers cannot WRITE so how can we expect them to write in a JOURNAL?
It’s widely established that literacy activities in early childhood are essential building blocks for future school success. However, too often, we think that “literacy” just means that we read books to children and provide a print-rich environment. Children need opportunities to learn that they can use language to communicate with others. Journal writing with young children serves five major purposes:
1. It teaches children that their thoughts, feelings, and words can be transferred from their minds onto paper for others to see and read.
2. Children learn to value writing, and to respect the writing of others.
3. Journal writing gives children REAL and RELEVANT opportunities to learn the conventions of print such as: a)print goes from left to right; b) there is a difference between pictures and text; c) print goes from the top to the bottom of a page; d) letters make up words, and other rules of the written language.
4. Young children need to experiment with letters, letter sounds, and inventive spelling in a non-threatening way.
5. Writing gives children time to practice the fine motor control that will help them become better writers.
When you begin journal writing with young children, there are some general rules to keep in mind:
1. Involve children in creating and decorating the journals. Make it fun and allow them to be creative so that their journal feels special and unique. The journals can be a few pieces of paper tucked in-between construction paper or tag board, or it can be more elaborate. Keep a few blank books handy so children who use up all their pages will be able to continue their writing without missing a beat! Here are some links to book-making for children:
2. I suggest using plain paper on the inside of the journals as opposed to paper with lines. Children will have enough time to HAVE to “write on the lines.” Journal writing should not have such steadfast rules. Besides, if you look at children’s story books, text is not ALWAYS at the bottom. Sometimes the text is next to the pictures, sometimes above, and sometimes below. Let children be the boss of their own writing!
3. The adult (parent or teacher) is NOT allowed to make any corrections. Journal writing is purely free expression and children should not be worried about writing their letters and words the “right” way.
4. Only write in the child’s journal if they ask you to. If a child dictates a sentence to you, ask them WHERE on the page they want you to write and write it EXACTLY as they say it. Do not make any edits. Give the children control over their work.
5. Pictures convey meaning so it’s ok if a child does not want to write words (real or pretend) in their journal.
6. DATE each entry. I would give the children a choice, they could copy the date from a sentence strip that I prepared (sentence strips are easier than writing on the chalkboard because children can take the paper right to their seat) OR they could stamp the date using a stamp and inkpad. Dating the entry helps teachers, parents, and the child see progress over time!
7. Provide a regular time and place for writing. Make the special time happen at least once a week. Also, don’t require children to sit at the table/desk while writing. If they want to curl up in the corner with a pillow and a handful of crayons, then that’s OK. We often impose so many classroom rules that we stifle children. Allow children to choose crayons, markers, or pencils. Again, it’s about giving children some level of control over their creations!
8. Encourage children to use inventive spelling. If they write a string of letters and words, ask them to read those “words” to you. Help them to understand the power of their writing. If you are tracking progress, you may want to write the child’s dictation on a post it note and date it. You can save the post it note with your classroom anecdotal records, but do not rewrite what the child said in his journal. Doing so sends the message that their spelling was incorrect or not good enough.
9. Provide time for children to share their journal with a friend or teacher. After journal writing time, I would randomly pair the children and let them go to any place in the classroom to share their journals with each other. Think of it this way: would the author of a book be happy if NO ONE read her work? Most authors write because they have something to say that they want to share with other people. So give children this same opportunity to share.
10. Most importantly, make journal writing fun and relaxing!