As an educator, one of your main goals is helping children thrive in both their cognitive and emotional development, which is why it’s so important to encourage them to express themselves in a variety of ways. One such way is through journaling; a creative outlet that can have a significant impact on a child’s overall well-being. Not only can regular journaling sessions help improve children’s writing and literacy skills, but studies have also shown it can be beneficial for their mental health, self-expression, and self-awareness. Even before they have learned to write, preschoolers can use journals to share their ideas, express themselves creatively, and explore the joys of writing.
In this blog post, we’ll explore how journaling can be helpful for young children who are just learning how to write, what considerations you should take into account when introducing journaling to your child, and some fun ways you can help them experience the joys of journaling for years to come.
Benefits of journaling
Journaling is a great emergent writing activity that teaches children to express their thoughts on paper and helps them develop linguistic, motor, and social-emotional skills.
Drawing pictures and making marks in a journal helps preschoolers learn how to express themselves on paper.
Journaling also helps preschoolers develop print awareness, the understanding that words, letters, and symbols convey meaning. In addition, encouraging children to tell stories about their journal entries helps them improve their verbal communication skills.
Using a journal helps preschoolers practice important motor skills like turning pages in a book, holding a writing implement, and drawing shapes and scribbles. Journaling and other pre-writing activities help children strengthen the muscles in their hands, improve hand-eye coordination, and learn how to focus for an extended period of time, all skills that will prepare them for future writing.
Drawing pictures and scribbling in a journal helps children actively express their emotions and can help improve self-awareness. Encouraging children to draw pictures of their strong emotions can help them learn to identify their feelings and share them when it’s difficult to communicate verbally. In addition, when children describe their drawings during journal activities they can gain confidence in their work and begin to understand and name how they feel.
How to teach journal writing
When you teach your children journal writing, choose activities that are appropriate for their ages and skill levels.
Follow these tips when teaching your preschoolers to use journals:
1. Consider the stages of writing development
Children progress through multiple stages of development as they learn to write:
- Scribbling: Children randomly scribble as they learn to hold writing implements properly.
- Letter-like forms and shapes: Children start recognizing patterns and drawing lines, curves, and other letter-like forms.
- Strings of random letters: Children realize they can convey meaning by creating strings of letters and symbols. At this stage, children start to copy down what they see and draw things in their environment.
- Invented spelling: Children attempt to write words by sounding them out. At this stage, children become more aware of phonetics, the sounds associated with letters of the alphabet.
- Conventional writing and spelling: Children know how to correctly use uppercase and lowercase letters. They begin to spell words correctly and understand sentence formation and punctuation.
It's important to nurture children's creativity and encourage their growth as they progress through each stage. Have your children complete developmentally appropriate journaling activities that correspond with their stage of writing development.
Families may want to learn how their children's writing skills are progressing in the classroom. You can share real-time updates with your children's families using a tool like brightwheel's daily activity report feature.
2. Use colorful, fun materials
Have preschoolers use crayons and markers rather than pencils when journaling. Using colorful supplies makes the journaling experience more fun and allows children to create more expressive and creative journal entries.
You can request that families buy unlined composition notebooks for their children, or you can help the children create their own journals by folding a piece of colorful construction paper in half and stapling folded pieces of plain paper between the halves of the construction paper. Write each child's name on their journal. Then, encourage your children to decorate the covers of their journals with drawings or stickers.
3. Schedule time for journaling
Make time for journal writing in your classroom schedule. You can set aside time every day or once a week for your children to draw and write in their journals. Choose a time when the children are seated and relaxed, such as after breakfast or lunch.
By making journal writing a part of your classroom routine, your preschoolers will learn that they'll have opportunities to write in their journals on certain days or at certain times during the day, which may help them get excited about writing and drawing.
Writing prompts for children
Writing prompts are open-ended questions that aim to inspire children to come up with creative responses or solutions. You can use writing prompts to inspire your preschoolers' creativity and encourage them to use their imaginations while drawing or writing.
Pros and cons of providing writing prompts
Writing prompts can give children ideas when they are struggling to think of things to write or draw while journaling. Prompts also give children a starting point to expand upon by creating a complete piece of writing or a drawing with its own story. Writing prompts can help children gain confidence in their writing and drawing abilities because prompts remove the stress of coming up with an initial idea each time they start a journal entry.
However, it can be argued that writing prompts may also discourage children's creativity. Children may feel stuck if they can't come up with a response to a writing prompt. Additionally, some writing prompts, such as those that ask about family members, may apply to only some children.
Writing prompt ideas for preschool children
Writing prompts for preschoolers often prompt children to imagine themselves in different scenarios or share information about themselves and their hobbies.
Some writing prompts that you can ask your children to complete include:
- When it rains, I like to ...
- My favorite story is ...
- If I were a cat, I would ...
- My favorite food is ...
Observation and assessment
Observing children's journal entries is a great way to assess how their pre-writing skills are progressing.
Here are a few ways that you can assess children's journal entries:
- Ask children to tell stories about their drawings while having them point to different aspects (e.g., people, objects, and animals) that they've drawn.
- At different points of the school year, flip through your children’s journals to see how each child's skills have become stronger from day to day or week to week.
- Ask yourself questions about your children's journal entries. For example, can you see letter forms in the lines that your children have drawn? Has a child drawn sequential marks that represent letters? Have any children asked for help writing words that describe their drawings?
Asking children to describe their drawings and making note of improvements in children’s pre-writing skills throughout the year helps you assess how well the children are progressing toward their writing milestones.
Journaling gives educators and families a visual record of children's progress as they develop pre-writing skills throughout the year. Practicing journaling with preschoolers can instill a love of writing by making the process fun and giving them opportunities to express themselves in new ways.