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The Benefits of Journaling for Kids

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Teenage Girl Writing in a Journal.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Journaling is one of the most important tools a parent has at her disposal when it comes to practicing writing skills with her children, especially teenagers. Though a journal can be used to recount daily activities and thoughts and feelings about those activities, journaling should not be confused with keeping a diary.

What's Journaling Used For?

Journaling is often a good activity for kids who are reluctant to write or, in some cases, reluctant to speak. The versatility of journaling means it can be incorporated into many different areas of learning, including math, science and social studies.

If your child is having difficulty figuring out how he's solving math problems, try putting together a math journal. It can be as simple as a notebook in which he writes various facts and formulas as well as having space to show his work. Going back and looking at his work over time can help cement his thought process.

A science journal can be used to write about experiments he's tried, hypotheses he has, observations he makes and to store newspaper or magazine articles of interesting happenings in the science world.

Journaling As an Outlet

For children who have a hard time expressing their needs verbally or making decisions about things, keeping a journal of their thoughts is a great way to help learn emotional organization. Even if all your child does is write about an interaction she had during the day, she can always go back to explore that interaction more objectively.

But, she will only be able to do this if she feels secure that this journal is for her eyes only. If you can't make this promise, you can't expect your child to take on this type of journaling.

In this way, journaling provides the opportunity to have a little drama. It's okay to explore the details of her friend's character. It's even okay to write sparsely and to the point. All because nobody is going to read her emotive journal without permission.

She may share her conclusions with you, but not the whole entry that helped her come to that conclusion. In this way, journaling provides the opportunity for her to:

  • explore and identify emotions
  • feel anger
  • express fear
  • examine the pros and cons of something in order to be more decisive
  • look more carefully at her thoughts about something after the immediate situation has passed
  • gain some insight into her own and other people's motives
  • see the positives as well as the negatives
  • plan out difficult conversations ahead of time

Guided Journaling or Using Prompts

More traditional journaling used for learning-- guided journaling--often involves writing to a prompt. It can be a self-provided prompt, prompt picked from a journal jar or parent-directed prompt. Even though it's still more personal than a math or science journal, this type of journal is not so much a diary as it is a way to practice all the skills of writing in one place.

It's a storytelling tool, a place to learn how much information completes a story, what words work well to paint the picture of a story. It's also a way to practice the mechanics of grammar and spelling. This type of journaling can:

  • Improve written communication. The more your child writes to prompts, the more your child's writing skills will improve. He will learn how to answer a question by rephrasing the statement and learn how much information is needed to convey a full thought.

  • Improve spelling and grammar. Though it's not necessary to hold your child to a perfect spelling standard, expecting him to always spell his sight words correctly is one way to help him to spell them correctly all the time. The more he writes, the more he will learn what makes a complete sentence and how paragraphs are made up of sentences that all support one topic.

  • Improve reading skills. Kids imitate what they know. When you first start prompted journal writing with your child, you may find that his writing is structured a lot like his favorite books. He may even use some of the same catch phrases. The more he writes, the more likely he is to read in order to discover different voices and styles. Eventually, he'll find one that is uniquely his own, but in the meantime, you may hear a lot of phrases that sound suspiciously like Junie B. Jones or Jack from The Magic Treehouse books.

Types of Journals to Try at Home:

  1. Nature Journals. A Nature Journal is a way to keep track of observations about the natural world. There are many different ways to use a Nature Journal, some of which include: drawing pictures of insects, animals or birds you see; describing the sounds you hear; and gluing in interesting bits of nature to research.
  2. Daily Prompt. A Daily Prompt journal is exactly what it sounds like, writing to a daily prompt. Since it's not always easy to think of a prompt everyday, it's not a bad idea to make a journal prompt jar, fill it with ideas and pick a new one each day.
  3. Feelings Journal. A Feelings Journal is a great way to help a younger child build an emotional vocabulary. It can be done a few ways. Your child can identify her current emotions, draw a picture and label it, choose a feeling from a feeling poster or wheel to write and draw about or learn a new emotion to draw and write about.
  4. Vacation Journal. A Vacation Journal can be a family project and it's lots of fun. In a nutshell, this type of journal chronicles your vacation using a combination of writing, pictures and souvenirs.

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