Picture Journaling for Children
By Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D., S.S.P.
Journaling is an effective way to teach planning skills, understanding of time (before versus now), and organization of both thoughts and materials. It is also a great way to help children practice viewing events, situations, and one’s self from present to past and into the future (what will happen).
Picture journaling can help children develop their life skills in relation to:
Differentiating past, present, and future
Determining logical and chronological order
Expressive Communication Skills
Conveying ideas with words
Planning and Execution
Goal-setting and the steps to achieving the goal
Journaling is a valuable, educational, and FUN way for children to record meaningful experiences in their lives and document them in words and pictures. It allows them to relive, validate, and express their feelings about those meaningful experiences.
Journaling can be modified to accommodate children at all learning levels. Whether they have already taken their first steps as readers or are just beginning to recognize letters, picture journaling is a great way to remember the special moments they won’t want to forget.
Journaling not only reinforces the importance of your child’s efforts (the words and drawings they record), it also helps them process the experience they wish to journal about in a meaningful way.
And journaling is a great way to create keepsake memorabilia that can be cherished for a lifetime.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to journal. What children choose to include in their journal allows them to express the importance of an experience to them. The most important thing about journaling is to enjoy the process and have fun!
Journaling Teaches Useful Skills
For children, journaling is a simple, fun activity. It is, however, so much more. The act of journaling is “naturally” imbedded with a learning process that involves various cognitive skills and the orchestration of those skills to achieve a goal. Journaling is a wonderful, interactive way for children to begin to learn a valuable set of proficiencies, such as:
Attention Skills –Journaling entails the use of various levels of attention—focused and sustained. Understandably, this may not necessarily be easy to accomplish at the beginning. Over time, however, the creation of a journal gives your child opportunities to practice paying attention to a task for an extended period.
Planning Skills –Keeping a journal will require that your child learn how to organize thoughts that will go into his or her memory book and plan how each page will be filled in order to record what he or she wants to remember.
Concentration and Thinking Ability –Writing in a journal is a thoughtful process that allows your child to stretch his or her “mind muscles” and make concrete decisions about what to include on every page.
Enthusiasm for the Work Process Itself –Journaling gives your child what may be his or her first opportunity to realize that “work” can be a joyful experience—a vital concept in sustaining motivation to engage in any activity.
Proactive Behavior –Before putting pen, pencil, or crayon to paper, your child needs to think about what will be recorded in order to begin the process. As a result, journaling increases his/her ability to self-initiate projects.
Organizational Skills –Your child will be called upon to decide what experience he or she wants to journal, and then organize his or her thoughts coherently enough to express to someone else, in a way that makes sense, how the experience or event will transform from a thought to a completed journal entry.
Communication Skills –“Thinking” and “telling” are two different skill sets; children frequently have difficulty expressing what they have in mind to someone for this very reason. Journaling requires that a child articulate his or her experience and express clearly what is to be put into the journal, how the journal entry will begin, what will go on each page, and how the entry will end.
Working Memory –After your child decides what will go on a journal page, he or she will need to keep that decision in mind as he or she proceeds and refer to that decision as the process of journaling continues.
Journaling Increases Emotional Wellness
Beyond the functional skills that your child will expand in creating his or her journal, there are also emotional skills that will develop:
A Sense of Accomplishment –Taking a journal from concept to finished product will give your child a sense of accomplishment that can serve as an important foundation for future motivation for the learning process.
A Sense of Pride –Completing a journal will give your child an empowering sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to take pride in a job well done. You can build on that accomplishment and develop expressive communication skills by setting aside time for your child to make an oral presentation (if he or she wants to) of the journal to friends, siblings, parents, or grandparents.
A Sense of History –Journaling gives your child an opportunity to reexamine an experience, ask questions, and retell special moments. This is the first step in a process that will be repeated again and again and will inspire future conversations as your child grows and goes through different stages of development.
A “Safe Place” for Emotional Expression –Journaling can serve as a powerful, therapeutic way for a child to process difficult and/or unique life experiences such as moving, separation from close friends, the arrival of a sibling, and so on. As a parent, it is important that you keep in mind that with more challenging emotional experiences, simply expressing difficult feelings is an important achievement; no solution needs to be given. So if your child is expressing difficulty with a situation, do not feel that it is your responsibility to “fix” things and offer solutions. Sometimes just being heard is enough.
How to start journaling with young children – Five Easy Steps to Journaling Success
A journal does not have to be created in one sitting, especially with little ones who are learning as they are journaling. Again, there is no right or wrong way to do this activity—just the way that works best for you and your child. If you wish to, you can modify the following steps to make the process more effective for your young learner.
Step #1: Discuss
The process begins with a discussion about what experience or event your child might like to put in his or her journal. We recommend that you keep the discussion brief to keep your child interested and attentive. The goal is to engage your child and make him or her receptive to the idea of journaling.
Depending on age, some children may have trouble with this step. If your child is having difficulty honing in on an event or past experience to journal about, begin by asking him or her to recall something that happened the day before or in the morning. You know what excites your child or when he or she has experienced an important event or situation, so you can remind your child if he or she can’t remember.
Step #2: Detail
Once your child has decided on the event that will be the subject of the journal, ask what he or she remembers most about the experience. If your child becomes overwhelmed by too many memories, you can facilitate the process by asking what are his or her top five recollections. And if your child names only one, go with that!
Here’s another approach: After deciding what to journal about, count the number of pages of the journal together. Ask your child what he or she would like to put on the first page and the last and what else should be included in the journal. If your child does not have ideas, you can suggest that he or she draw a picture (or insert a picture) of the event.
Step #3: Design
This is the fun part. Introduce your child to the stencils and ruler, and teach him or her how to use those tools. If you do not have access to stencils, you can make simple basic shapes for them and have the go on from there. Younger children can easily become sidetracked with the artful process of making designs with stencils, but that’s okay. One way to help keep the project on track is to do the Stencil Use Tutorial before beginning the actual journaling project a day or two before the journaling project.
Keep in mind that the process is more important than the finished product.
Step #4: Gather
Gather things that your child wants to include in the journal. It might be the pictures that he or she drew, photos you took (or will take) on a vacation trip, a ticket to a show, an airplane ticket, and so on. Use tape or glue to paste these items onto pages.
It’s a good idea to ask your child where he or she would like to put the item first before placing it on a page. This allows the child to practice thinking ahead (planning skills).
Step #5: Review
When the journal is complete—in an evening, two days or a week later, or however long the process takes—ask your child to tell you what is happening on each page.
When Kids Have Fun, They Stay Interested!
Journaling does not come naturally to all children. To make the process easier and more enjoyable for you and your child, remember to:
Focus on the FUN –This will keep kids engaged and maintain the motivation needed to stay with the task.
Enjoy the Process – There are many steps and many skills in journaling. Take the time to enjoy all of them. This applies to you as well as your child.
Be a Good Listener – Allow your child to “be heard” by paying attention to all the details of his or her story.
Be a Good Talker – Remember that words describing concepts you think of as simple—such as planning, commitment, or even past and present—are new and unfamiliar to a young child. When you use a word that you think may be challenging to your youngster, be sure to explain the word using language that is age-appropriate. For example, if you are talking about what will go on the pages of the journal, you might say to your child, “We’re going to plan what to put in the journal. Planning means thinking about something before you do it.”
Give Detailed Praise – Rather than offering general comments such as “Good job” and “This looks great,” be sure to give praise for the specific things your child has done and offer encouragement that they will repeat those tasks. This will help clarify to your child what the accomplishments are and the processes that allowed him or her to achieve the goal. So, for example, when your child articulates what will be included on page 2 or 3, that’s an opportunity for you to praise planning skills with a statement such as “You thought about what you wanted to put on the second page before you started working on the first page. That’s very good planning. I’m proud of you for thinking ahead.”
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© 2010 Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D. All rights reserved.
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