Friday, July 10, 2009

Train the Next Generation of Journal Writers

My introduction to journal writing came at a very young age. When I was five years old my mom bought journals for my brother and I.
July 1, 1984
I am writing for Michaela: Today we went to church. We went to primary. We obeyed the gospel. We took the sacrament. Before church we had blueberry pancakes. We got ready for church. We put on our Sunday clothes. I listened to stories from the Old Testament on cassette tape…
We would sit on the couch together, she with my journal and a pen, and I would dictate to her what I wanted her to write in my journal. I cannot adequately explain to you the wonderfully satisfying feeling of power I got from knowing that my mom had to write down EVERYTHING I told her to write. (The five year old gets the control in this situation! How great is this?!) Of course, how much I could say was limited by how fast she wrote, so I would have to wait while she finished writing, yet this helped me figure out what I wanted to say next. And I meanwhile I loved that feeling of power.
Aug 19,1984
We went to church. I love you always. And I love my Heavenly Father. He loves me every night. He always keeps us safe from evil every day. We walked to the chapel. We had a long talk…
Examining the frequency of these early entries, I see that my Mom was pretty consistent in giving us the opportunity to “write” in our journals. For about a year, there was usually one entry per month.

There’s one entry my mom wrote in my journal without my knowledge that today makes me wonder.
Jan 5, 1985
Michaela told me a dream she had. She said she dreamed she died & went to heaven and saw Jesus there. She said she liked it there. She said everything was bright.
I really wish I could remember that dream.

Even back in 1985 I was already very interested in the scriptures.
April 21, 1985
….Alma was a prophet. He went to Ammonihah to preach because they were wicked. They kicked him out and he started home. An angel told him to go back…
This was also the entry in which I began to write in my journal with my own hand, but soon my hand tired and my mom finished the entry for me at my dictation.

Mom kept our journals with hers in the back of a closet. To me this seemed to give them an aura of importance and adultness, so that when she brought them out for us to write in, I felt like I was participating in something of special maturity and significance.

In 1986 there are no journal entries, but they start up again in 1987.
Mar 29,1987
It has been a long time from when I wrote in my journal. On March 28, 1987 I was baptized. Today I was confirmed a member of the church…
A good portion of the rest of the entry is devoted to demonstrating my newest scholastic achievements in mathematics--the art of multiplication. I also chose to demonstrate another new skill—cursive writing—by writing random words in loopy script. I remember that my mother saw this and made a gentle objection that journals were for writing important things and in the future I might look back on that entry and think it was silly. I felt she was right about this, but I continued with the math and the cursive. I continued because deep down those things were important to me at age 8 and I wanted to show my progress, not just tell it. I now look back and I am glad I put it in because seeing the cursive and the numbers reminds me of the feeling I had of achievement. In one way my mom was right—the cursive and the math seems foolish now—but in another way I was right too—putting that stuff in helped me preserve the feeling I had at that time, which was not foolish.

After this, my handwriting takes over and the entries are fewer—about 2 every year until 1990—until the important day of October 20, 1990. On this day, my journaling began to gain a little more traction. You may ask how. Well, on this important day, we had stake conference, and outside the chapel there just happened to be a table of church materials for sale and on that table was a little red journal. I thought that journal was gorgeous. (My other journal that my mom had gotten for me was this big hideous thing of brown and white, which was so thoroughly adult and too thoroughly boooooorrrriinngg for any self-respecting kid. Why couldn’t it have been at least brown and blue like my brother’s?!) I looked at the red journal and I really wanted it. So I bought me that journal. (I don’t know why I had brought money with me to stake conference, but I had.)

Since then, I have filled up least 12 journals, which comes to an average of one every 2.5 years.

Looking back, I don’t know why my mom started us on keeping a journal. Maybe she was inspired. Maybe she had remembered an article in the Ensign that talked about helping children to journal. Maybe she was following counsel from the prophets. The only thing that I wish she had done different was get me a more fun-looking journal. But in every other way, she supplied all the encouragement I needed to become a prolific journal writer. Periodically when something amazing and epic would happen in my life, she would tell me, “You should write about this in your journal!” and explain to me why it was important. Then I would go find my journal to record the event or the sensation. She even taught by example; just about every Sunday she would spend a few hours writing in her own journal, which was always a large sober black book. (I always thought it was odd that she would always buy these black books, when she loved color so much.) By the time I was in college, I was thoroughly hooked on venting in my journal.

If you want to get your young child started on keeping a journal, doing it about once a month is a good way to keep it novel for them so that it doesn’t become a chore. It’s a good activity for a Sunday.

Overall, I think the following principles can help encourage journal-writing in children.

1) Choice in the journal itself
2) Giving service by taking their dictation (by hand or on the computer)
3) Pointing it out when an event is worth recording
4) Giving privacy (when they are older)
5) Being an example of journal writing

Don’t worry if your child acquires a journal for him or herself besides the one you have bought for them. They may be trying to establish their compositional independence. Don’t worry if your child acquires multiple blank books for him or herself. They may be using one book for writings of a one type and another book for writings of a different type. Don’t worry if they begin writing in a journal for a while and then move to a different one after only a few entries. Journal writing is a very tactile operation and they may have decided that the paper doesn’t feel right. Even the choice of pen can make a difference in whether they like to do it or not.

How did you get introduced to journal writing? Do you do anything right now to involve your children in journal writing?


Chas Hathaway said...

Journals are SO AWESOME! I wish I had kept more journals as a kid, but the journals I started keeping as a teenager are priceless to me.

I think it was writing in a journal that gave me a love for writing. It's so awesome to see all the new means that are available to encourage people to write down their lives. Speaking from a grandson's point of view, your journal will bless countless generations to come.

Great post again!

- Chas