Journal writing success with a 4 and 7 year old

a little juice with your literacy this morning?

Having a mama who is a poet, a writer, and a literacy professional is not always seen as a good thing to my boys. Where it’s cool to have contact paper all over the house identifying things like the “toilet”, it can be a drag when you have to write in your summer writer’s journal again this week. For Sam, this has often been a real tough sell, and has involved bribery on occasion.  So far this summer, Sam is into it. Or maybe he knows it is just something you do. With “adding details to your writing” being a identified goal for him (he is my one sentence equals a complete paragraph guy) I felt the stakes were a little higher this year than last. By 2nd grade the writing standards are clearly looking at a paragraph as the norm, not the exception.

this is how you spell it, and don’t forget to FLUSH

For Marcel, my story teller, who can write his name, and “m-o-m” and “n-o” the goal is to help him record his stories, and to begin to incorporate some pencil holding skills, and the desire to write. I am not expecting him to craft a sentence independently.  If he chooses to, great. Below, I’ll show a fun way to simultaneously introduce ten common Kindergarten sight words by the end of August: a, at, an, and, am, can, do, go, I, me, we.

Materials: two notebooks, two pencils, a few crayons, and a bowl of letter tiles. I picked mine up from a Scrabble set at a thrift shop, and was also gifted a set from a Montessori teaching friend when she saw the bowl. Art stores sell them for crafts too. There are a zillion uses for them, but today I will just focus on how they help us with our journaling.

Keeping a journal-the Pre K version

1.  Any notebook is fine. Designing a picture, or using a post card from a favorite spot for the cover is a good start. Ownership of YOUR BOOK.  This is after all, a memoir in the making.  Using words like autobiography, memoir, and journal are all power vocabulary words too.

2. Once a week on either a set day, a rainy day or the morning after an exciting adventure- we sit down and journal. I have mine out too, making it a family event.

3. Collecting a ticket stub, or printing out a photo can be an added treat, but really is not necessary. It is the writing, and the telling, and in Marcel’s case the drawing that is the focus here.

4. I prompt Marcel with simple questions like; “Tell me one thing you never ever want to forget about yesterday?” Or I simply have him start on a drawing of a memory in his head. He then describes to me the the scene.  After he finishes his drawing, and I record the story, I have him craft a sentence using one of his sight words.  I give him a few tiles to choose from

It is…

to see if he can remember how to spell the word. In this case he wanted to say “It is…” and then think about what it is. He found the tiles, checked in with me, and then copied the words. Then he wanted to add the word loud. He found the first letter, and I added the rest.

Keeping a journal the rising 2nd grade version

1. We used last year’s journal which is a big boost to Sam’s ego.  Having tangible evidence of your progress is very important to all learners. So keep this in mind, and store this year’s journal in a safe place, or keep it going all year. (I failed there, but hey, he was writing in school.)

2. Sam is keen on having me print a photo of him doing the thing, like arm farts, and writing with the picture to help him to describe the event.

Summer Ballphoto, because I was too lazy to go all the way to the basement to connect the laptop to the printer. I did manage to do that today though, and will add the picture as a surprise next week.

2. We are working towards:  a) a title that “captures the reader’s attention without giving it all away” b) Using upper case and lower case letters appropriately c) adding details d) Finishing with a “wrap up” sentence.

Spelling is not important. He spells words the way he thinks they should be spelled phonetically-example; “peopol” for people. If you focus on spelling, it can shut down the young writer immediately. They don’t know how to spell. His kindergarten teacher told me last year, that Sam’s keen phonetic ability, allowed him much greater confidence as a writer. He is not prolific, but he is confident. That is huge! (And, now because he is reading more and more on his own, he is learning how to spell words that way.)

When he senses a word is misspelled he will ask. I will start the word with the tiles, and leave the end letters turned over. He can look for a clue, or just check after to see if he was right. He loves the challenge. I  try to prompt him to add details, by asking questions about color, size, texture, smell, and sound (adding the senses into his writing is great modelling too).

His passage reads; “Summer ball is fun because I met new peopol. I struck out #4 players. i had so much fun. love sammy”

How do you spell struck Mommy?

3. When we are all finished we “read” our entry out loud. Marcel was really PUMPED to be able to READ his sentence;”it’s loud”. He was anticipating the the fireworks that got rained out last night.

Sam then went back to last years journal and reread the entire thing. this generated a great conversation about memories from last summer, and what we HAVE TO DO AGAIN this summer. He could not believe

I had a lemonade stand and I got ten $ and I got jewleryhe used to write like that!

he used to write like that!

Now that you have your writing program wrapped up for the summer, bounce on over to my all time go to resource for all things literacy related (and more)  Pragmatic Mom for today’s post on teaching young readers to read independently.


  1. As a kinder teacher who helps all 24 of her five year olds journal EVERY day, I am in love with this post, great job mama!

  2. What an awesome idea. Mea writes letters and notes all the time. They are taped to every possible surface in our house. I think this journalling idea is right up her alley.

    When we had our foster son, in the beginning he had horrible handwriting. Time outs and taking away privledges didn’t really work as a “punishment,” so I had him write lines. “I will not lie.” “I will not steal.” “I will wait my turn.” His teacher couldn’t believe the improvement in his handwriting, and spelling.

  3. We are making a special trip this afternoon so Milo (rising 2nd grader) and Najah (pre-school, but hey, why not?!) can join in with me while I journal… Thank you for the inspiration and how-to. I teach high school English, how did I overlook asking my boys to join in? I’m apparently so excited, last night I dreamt that my family visited yours!

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