Ten tips for keeping a journal in preschool

Thinking about starting up a journal with your students?

There are many ways to approach the experience of keeping a journal in preschool. As you read about our journals, I hope you will be inspired to take what we do and run off in a direction that works best for your students. For today, I am just going to give you a little sneak peak at our journals and ten simple tips I use for keeping a journal…

Tip #1: Choose your method for keeping a journal

In our classroom, we use a blank book for our journals. I buy two sets each school year. The pages of the first blank book are usually filled up by the end of December and we begin with a new blank book in January.  I have seen folks use pocket folders with clasps in the center to hold paper, file folders with holes punched in the center, or spiral bound notebooks. Whatever your choice is, keep in mind how your journals will do over the long term (a matter of several months) and how well the children will be able to manage their journals during that time…

Tip #2: Choose where you will keep your journals

We keep our journals in a clear file holder on the wall. The children can get them out on their own and put them away on their own. We talk about this at the beginning of the school year and remind the children not to put their journals in their cubbies but to keep them in our journal holder so we will have them all throughout the school year…

Tip #3: Choose your writing tool for your journals

We use good quality Crayola crayons in our journals for several reasons…

  • One reason is that good quality crayons are bright, colorful, and easier for preschool age children to work with. With colored pencils, for example, the drawings seem to be too light to see clearly. This is due to still building fine motor strength and control.
  • A second reason is that crayons are less messy than using something like markers. Markers will bleed through the paper or smear and in time, this can make for one messy looking journal which does not do a very good job of inviting the children to do their best work. 
  • A third reason is because crayons tend to keep the children focused on the drawing or writing process rather than on exploring a tool. With pencils, for example, our students want to explore the erasing more than the writing or they can easily get distracted by wanting to sharpen their pencils.

So we save the markers, pencils, and other writing tools for the other writing experiences in our classroom and stick with the crayons for our journals…

Tip #4: Consider how often your students will write or draw in their journal

In my classroom, we have journal time once a week but I am considering changing that next year. I think next year we will stick with the once a week for the first half of the year so I can make sure the children have a good grasp on how to use and care for and write or draw in our journals. Then for the second half of our school year, I would like to leave the journal experience open to the children to explore anytime they would like…

Tip #5: Give your students guidance on your journal process

At the beginning of the school year, I walk my students through the process of opening the cover of their journal, then go page by page until they come to the first page that is still left blank before they begin adding something new.

  • Finding the next new page helps the children to use their journals in an organized fashion.
  • Finding the next new page helps us (the teachers or parents) to go back through the timeline of their journal entries.
  • Starting at the beginning and finding the next new page emulates the reading and story telling process for the kids. 

Tip #6: Decide whether or not you will write in the children’s journals

After the children complete a new journal entry, they know to bring their journal over to where ever Mrs. Courtney and I are and then they are invited to “Tell us their story.”

  • Sometimes the children will tell us long and elaborate stories and when this happens, we listen to their story then write the “condensed” version using as many of their words as we can. We do not add our own words to the story or modify their story – we just condense it.
  • If the children just tell us a simple title or make a simple statement, then we write that down exactly as we were told – even if their story doesn’t seem to go with their drawing.  
  • We almost always add a quick date below each journal entry for the parents to see the timeline on journal entries when the journals go home.

Tip #7: Know the stages of drawing

At the beginning of our school year, it isn’t unusual for some of our students to choose one color of crayon and quickly scribble one large blob (for lack of a better word) on their paper then say “I’m done!” We don’t correct this but rather still have the children come and tell us their story.  Even though it may look like a blob to me, it may very well be a meaningful picture to the child and scribbling anything is definitely an important part of the beginning stages of writing. As the year progresses and the children seem ready, we begin applying different techniques to slow the children down and to get them to focus on drawing something more specific in their journals. We try different techniques as needed…

  • Using more than one color. We might tell the children they can draw anything they want but must use at least three different color of crayons in their drawing.
  • Drawing cubes are an excellent way to get children exploring different type of drawing techniques and symbols and stories in their journals
  • Journal prompts (as shown below) work well for our older students.
  • Drawing Prompts (also shown below) work well for most of our students.

Tip #8: Using journal prompts

A journal prompt can be in the form of a children’s book you have read, a unit your are exploring, a trip you have taken, the weather you are experiencing, a specific word you are highlighting, and the list goes on. There are several ways to give a journal prompt..

  • Prompting from a recent experience: We might mention to the children something like, “You all spent lots of time building a snowman today – perhaps you would like to share something about snowmen in your journals today.”
  • Prompting from a well loved children’s book: We might say something like, “In our book, the children planted a seed and it grew big and tall – perhaps you could draw a story about a seed too.”
  • Prompting from a specific word: We might say, “What is one word you heard us talk about a lot today?” As the children choose a word, we will invite them to consider drawing a picture about that word in their journal and then writing the word in their journal too.

In any case, we still leave the journal process open to what the children would prefer to draw. Sometimes the prompt is needed and preferred and other times, the children will have their own ideas of what interested them that day.

Tip #9: Using Drawing Prompts

Drawing prompts are similar to the other journal prompts that were mentioned above but when giving a drawing prompt, I actually do a little art lesson on how to take basic shapes like circles or triangles or squares to create a familiar object. A drawing prompt is very helpful for children who need that little extra encouragement to try something new in their journal…

Remember, it is important to not take over the journal experience by structuring it too much to meet your own expectations. Use different techniques and prompts to help your students expand on their skills in drawing and story telling where needed but keep any approach or new technique in balance. While inviting new skills for writing and drawing don’t get so caught up on this that you begin to intrude on your students’ ability and opportunity to use their own ideas and imagination…

Tip #10: Encourage your students to tell each other their stories

At the beginning of the year, we only have the children share their journals with the teacher, but I have found that towards the middle to end of the year, it is a good idea to invite the children to share their journals with each other. When they share with one another, it brings new value to the journal experience…

  • By sharing their most recent journal entry with each other, the children are gaining even more story telling practice.
  • Sharing their most recent journal entry also encourages the children to reflect on their own thoughts and drawings.
  • I noticed that when the children take the time to share with their peers, they also end up answering questions from their peers about their choices, drawings, or the story.
  • And the process of listening to others tell their stories and the chance to look at other drawings gives the children new inspiration for things they can do in their own journals.

I am sure you have other experiences about keeping a journal that would be great for us to know or perhaps you have questions about something I have shared today. Feel free to leave a comment below and we will continue the discussion on journals in preschool.

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More ideas for Journals can be found here on my Journal Pinterest Board!

Deborah J Stewart

Deborah J Stewart

Every time I think I know everything I need to know about teaching young children, God says, "Hold on a minute!" and gives me a new challenge.

Let me tell ya...

With each new challenge that you overcome, you will find yourself better equipped and more passionate about teaching young children.

God didn't call wimps to lead, teach, or care for His children. Nope, he has high expectations, so get ready. You will have to give your very best but after teaching for over 30 years, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Whenever your calling feels hard, just remember, 'He who began a good work in you (and in the children you serve) will be faithful to complete it.'

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