Ten tips for keeping a journal in preschool

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on April 22, 2013

in Language Arts, Ten Tips for Preschool Journals

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…

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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…

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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…

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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…

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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…

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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. 

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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.

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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.

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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.

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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…

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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.

Ten tips for Journals in Preschool by Teach Preschool

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!

This article is being shared with you by Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool - Promoting excellence in early childhood education at home and in the preschool classroom!

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1 Andrea Diuguid April 22, 2013 at 7:43 am

What age are your children when you introduce the journals? Do you think very young threes could be successful with journaling? Would you make any modifications to you description above?

2 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 22, 2013 at 11:13 am

My students are three to five. For young threes, prepare to have lots and lots of scribble pages going on. The focus would be more on how to find that next open page in the journal but by the time they get to about 3.5 their drawings will gradually begin to take on new form. Just remember to make sure you are offering lots of different types of coloring and drawing opportunities throughout your classroom and not just in journals so that they gets lots of freedom to explore drawing tools. Threes really are all about exploring the tools for writing and need time to explore them before trying to get them to meet any other kind of expectation.

3 Eddie - The Usual Mayhem April 22, 2013 at 8:09 am

We journal too, and I love how you’re using it! Pinning.

4 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 22, 2013 at 11:20 am

Thank you for the pin:)

5 Jeanette Nyberg April 22, 2013 at 10:25 am

I love, love, love this post! Your tips are wonderful, and kids are so proud of their work when it is in book form.

6 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 22, 2013 at 11:20 am

I think even us grown ups love seeing our work in book form! There is just something special about having that collection of our memories and drawings all in one special book.

7 Trisha April 22, 2013 at 11:07 am

Thank you for this post! We have journal time too and I’ve never been 100% confident on how to approach journal prompts. This is great. Is there a particular time of day you find the children more receptive to writing in their journals? I just have as part of their center time, but I’m not sure it’s the best time as they are sometimes so focused on other things. Thanks so much!

8 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 22, 2013 at 11:18 am

We don’t do journals in center time – we sit as a large group to write in our journals for most of the school year. For young children – journal writing isn’t always something that they will find as interesting as going off to play in blocks, sand, or dress-up so the children just sort of rush through it to get it over with rather than really getting invested in the process. So we set aside a specific time each week to talk about our journals, brainstorm them, and then all the children go off to get their journal, add something to it, and then tell us their story. As time has progressed and with this consistent approach – my students have become very interested in their journal experience and are now at a point where we could probably let this be a center – but it has taken most of the school year to get to that point. I think partly because all my students are now age four and five rather than three and four.

9 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 22, 2013 at 11:22 am

Oh, and we do our journals at the very end of our day – before going home. We allow about 30 minutes for discussion and drawing and story telling then the kids go and get their bags and head to the pick-up line!

10 Trisha April 22, 2013 at 11:35 am

Thanks so much! At the end of the day is a good idea…I’ll try it:)

11 Erica April 22, 2013 at 11:53 am

Where did you purchase the journals? They look like they are just the right size.

12 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 22, 2013 at 12:58 pm

There is an amazon link at the bottom of the post to where you can purchase them. I get mine from our local school supply store here in town:)

13 Naomi April 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Hello, I’m writing from Argentina. I read your blog almost every day finding interesting new ideas for my class.. I work in public school in Buenos Aires, our everyday reality is different but I’m always looking for ideas to adapt to our situation, traying hard to improve it.
I loved this journals idea, I was wonderind how do you present the journals to the chidren? do you tell them they are going to write or draw about things that happen in their lives or they can draw anything they want?
I don’t know if my english is appropiate, I apologize if it seems unpolite, I’m trying to think in english instead of translating but I haven’t got the training on talking with wnglish speakers.. :)
Thanks for sharing like this, I’m thinking of starting a blog to share experiences although in Argentina we are not used to doing this…. yet!

14 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 22, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Hi Namoi,
If you look down on the left hand side of my blog, there is a translate button. It should translate the post to a language you might be more easily able to read and understand. In the post, I talk about what we write about. But to give you a quick answer, we take a variety of approaches. Sometimes we write about what we are doing in preschool (like making a snowman), sometimes we choose a specific word to draw (like a flower) and write the word too, and sometimes the children just choose what interests them to write about. I hope this helps! I love how you are working to adapt ideas to work in your situation – that is what good teachers always do!

Deborah

15 Heidi Butkus April 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm

This is a great article, Deborah! You should develop a session on it for pre-K teachers. I bet it would draw a crowd!
Heidi Butkus

16 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I would love to do that! PreK teachers could do so much with journals!!

17 Robin April 22, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Hi Deborah, thanks for posting this. I’ve also done journals in my Pre-K class, beside doing some of your ideas I also have the children draw a self-portrait and write their name. We do this once a month, starting the 1st week of school. It’s great to see the progress that they make during the school year and the children really enjoy seeing their own progress when I show them their 1st name writing and portrait at the end of the year

18 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 22, 2013 at 10:08 pm

I love that idea Robin! Will keep that in mind for next year!!

19 Ginny April 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Hi! I have used “Science Journals” with children as young as 3. The children draw pictures of things such as plants growing or even a tadpoles growth! We have the children describe what they see and then draw that, dictating their words on each new page. It’s great to see what they say and draw!

20 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 23, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Oh Ginny,
I love the idea of using a science journal! Oh I am going to have fun with that idea next year!!!

21 Kath April 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Lovely ideas. But I have 80 children. We glue some of their work into their ‘special books’. Do you do this too?

22 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 24, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Hi Kath,
That is a great idea! Do you also let them draw in their special books?

23 Juliana June 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Hello, I am a preschool student and I am looking for activities about animals but in that case is for deaf students that are integrated in a normal class! I would like different ideas. Thank you!

24 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 20, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Hi Juliana,
My best advice is to make sure you are scouring pinterest for ideas! You can start here! http://pinterest.com/teachpreschool/animals/

25 Rhonda H July 28, 2013 at 11:37 pm

You are amazing! I wish I could visit and/or be a student. Your journal ideas have helped me think about how I can move our journalling in a new direction and give the children opportunities to express themselves in new ways and at their own pace. Thanks for the inspiration!

26 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 28, 2013 at 11:44 pm

I am so glad you found this post so helpful and are inspired to take journals a new direction. I am constantly trying to come up with new ideas for journally too only I tend to get too many ideas which means we would be journalling all day! LOL!

27 Kristen August 1, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Could you tell me more about how you use your drawing cubes? I haven’t heard of this idea before. Did you draw the pictures and then they try to replicate? This sounds like a way to get some of my more reluctant writers to get involved!

28 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 2, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Hi Kristen,
We did something similar to what is shared in this post: http://www.teachpreschool.org/2012/05/a-sunny-day-drawing-cube-game-in-pre-k/ and in this post: http://www.teachpreschool.org/2012/07/the-color-of-birds-and-painting-with-color-cubes/

Basically, yes! The children toss the cube and then whatever lands on top – they draw! We start with simple lines, dots, and circle cubes and work our way up to more advanced drawings.

29 jenny hughes August 1, 2013 at 10:13 pm

When your class writes in the journals, do the children write together or in small groups. Thanks

30 Janice Galarza August 26, 2013 at 8:21 am

I am implementing journals in my pre-k class. Thank you for your advise!

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