Teaching Children to Journal
By David L. Russell
This is a subject near and dear to my heart only because I am a dad who is hopelessly crazy about his children. Yes, I admit it, I admit it, I'm a doting dad! I can't help myself. I have four children each with different personalities (surprise, surprise) and only one of them really doesn't care much for writing. It seems that whenever I was writing in my journal one or all of my children were hanging around. My oldest daughter, Sandra, used to come into my study and watch me either do research or writing of some kind. I was in graduate school studying for my PhD, and my children would often come and ask me about what I was reading or writing. Sandra always seemed to be fascinated with academic things, but particularly reading and writing. She is currently attending Central Michigan University with the hopes of one day getting her PhD in Literature. She loves to write, and I am overwhelmed by having been able to contribute to her love for the written word. She wrote me a letter from college a couple of weeks ago and had this to say. "I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for all that you've done for me throughout the years. You have taught me a great deal that I am so grateful for. I credit my love for the written word to your influence and to God. You have helped instill in me a rare quality of true passion for the value of the intellect. I'll be praying for you and thinking of you, Love, Sandra Joy" This comes after more than two years of virtually no communication with her. We had a falling out two years ago, that has since been redeemed and healed. How grateful I am.
This all boils down to teaching by example, does it not? Children will typically imitate their parents, and this is the most important thing to remember when attempting to pass things on. I have always believed that writing (particularly journaling) clarifies our hearts and souls. It is a way of bringing out those inner thoughts and feelings that help make us what we are. What better way to sharpen the mind and purify the soul than to dialog with yourself about your life and where it is going, what you've learned and wisdom gained? All of this to say, what better gift to pass onto our children (or any children in your life) than gifts that will help them develop great inner qualities of mind and spirit? All the money in the world could never buy the gift we can give to children in the form of love for the written word.
I had the chance to pass journals out to my son Weston's class on the last day of school this year. The kids were thrilled and asked me many good questions about journaling. One child asked me what he should write, while another wanted to know how I got started. I enjoyed telling them about the importance of cultivating their thoughts even on simple things about which children think. One child thought she would write about how she felt about her cat dying and wanted to know how to start. So I gave her some lines to consider starting the process of reflection on how she felt. All it took was a line, "My cat died and I feel just awful about it. I miss her very much." She sat at her desk and by the time class ended, she had more than a page filled. It's like priming a pump. Once primed, the water flows. I wanted the children to understand that they don't have to wait to be flawless articulators and writers to get started. Mastering the language and learning to be articulate come with time. I was not able, for obvious reasons, to address spiritual issues in journaling, but the discussion was fun and I know of at least three kids who have kept to their journals all summer long. In an age of video games, cable T.V. and computers, it's a wonderful thing to see children develop a love for writing and reading. That means it is possible to win the battle against the media age in which we live. I have noticed that if I sit and waste any time with television or computers, my two youngest children will want to do the same. On the hand, when I am writing or reading they follow. I was writing a letter the other day when my youngest daughter, Vonnie, came over and sat on my lap and asked, "Who are you writing to?" I told her, and within a minute or two I noticed she went over to her little art table and started writing a little story book with pictures she had drawn. I enjoyed watching as she worked away at it.
I don't mean to make it sound easy, and believe me it's not always like that with my children. Sometimes I stop and ask myself just where I've dropped the ball with them. The only redemption is being consistent with exercising our love for journaling in the presence of our children. Generally, they will love what we love, value what we value, and imitate us when we're not looking. Now that is a sobering thought don't you think? I get a great deal of inspiration and wisdom from the Bible (perhaps some of you do as well) and I have always believed that the following verse from Proverbs holds true. "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6). Many people refer to this only from a spiritual or theological standpoint, but I believe it applies to any kind of values we hope to pass on to our children. We have a wonderful opportunity to model to children who are productive, thinking, and value driven individuals. We need to encourage one another to stay the course and in the end we can participate in a more redemptive world. It all starts with us.
About the Author
David Russell, Livonia, MI
More Details about Teaching children to journal here. David L. Russell Ph.D is a watchful observer of life, a seeker of wisdom, clarity, and insight. He's the Editor of Journaling Life.com (http://www.journalinglife.com), writer, musician, and father of four. He is the CEO of Westvon Publishing, providing educational materials for homeschool families.(http://www.thehomeschoolshop.com)
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