Family journaling and what it can do
Happy February, kind readers!
In an earlier column, I promised to share more about writing and literacy. For some, including me, the word writing may bring to mind three-paragraph essays or two-page book reports assigned by malevolent teachers, armed with their favorite red pens. If so, please grab your favorite eraser and obliterate both the images and the negative feelings. That is not what this column is about, nor is it what writing should be about.
Those assignments of yesterday and today, painful though they may be, are used as part of the process of helping students become better writers. Do you want the 10 ways to become a better writer? 1. Write 2. Write 3. Write 4. Write 5. Write, etc. In other words, practice writing. It is just like anything else – if you want to be a better swimmer, swim; a better cook, cook; a better gardner, garden. Makes sense, right?
Yes, BUT, what if I don’t like to write?
The research on why writing is challenging and disliked provides insights. One reason has already been revealed in the opening paragraph – we associate it with “failure” or not doing well. If we like reading (and all good writers are readers), we know what good writing looks like, and we know that we cannot come close to producing products of similar quality. But then, why should we? Just because I watch and understand poker doesn’t mean I am automatically good at it. It takes time, practice and experience to become an expert at anything.
Another research insight is that very few of us grew up having writing modeled for us. I became a reader because I saw my parents reading and my mother provided books for me. How many of you have an author in the family? We aren’t all as lucky as the Kodish children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I am referring to a recent story in The Express about how Eleanor and her great-grandchildren Kayla and Khani wrote and self-published a book.
Without going into further detail about why we don’t become writers, let’s focus on what we can do to help promote writing in our families and our community, and that brings us to the topic of family journaling and family journals. As you would expect, Google searches, Pinterest, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble have lots to offer on the subject.
When my three children were growing up, and especially as they became more self-sufficient and mobile, I required that all family members leave notes on the kitchen counter that communicated where we were going and when we would be back. Notes might also contain very useful information such as “soccer uniform in the dryer” or “bringing pizza home for dinner” or “homework first, then Nintendo.” Sometimes we used the blank pages in an old notebook rather than slips of paper, and what I wouldn’t give to have those notebooks today. At the time, writing was an essential tool for communication (and yes, this was before cell phones and texting). If I had kept our notes and notebooks, I would have a snapshot of our lives through the years. In other words, I would have a simple and very authentic family journal to look back on.
There are many types of family journals, ranging from free to expensive, homemade to leather-bound. They can be kept for special occasions such as family trips and vacations, birthdays, holidays or for the more mundane, day-to-day life events. They can be for capturing memories or for facilitating communication. They can be hand-written or typed and saved in digital form, and yes, there are even family journaling apps such as Cozi.
A friend recently shared with me how a teenager and her mother used a silent journal as a tool for communicating about emotionally-charged topics. They kept it in a private place that only they knew about. They wrote when necessary, often to express angers, hurt feelings or to “talk” about things that would be more difficult to address face to face. After an entry was made, the journal was placed on the other person’s bed and might have gone back and forth several times before returning to the original hiding place. The mother believed that writing by hand allowed time for tempers to calm and problems to be more clearly addressed. The daughter felt that she had a voice and that her mother sincerely wanted to hear and understand her.
Whether it is an old notebook or one with prompts and a fancy cover, keeping a family journal can be invaluable. Even if only one family member writes, it models writing and communicates to the rest of the family that they are important and worth writing about. My newest family journal will begin in June when my grandson arrives and where we will capture… well, we haven’t decided yet… but I know that no matter how simple, it will be a treasure.
Would you like to know more about family journaling or other settings that could benefit? Let me know by writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the way, thank you, G. Weaver, for emailing me about your book group!
Kathy Gephart is a retired public school educator and the founder of Stone Soup Literacy (www.stonesoupliteracy.com) whose mission is to build readers, one community at a time. Email Kathy at email@example.com.