As summer winds down and we begin to think about habits and structure of the new school year, I’d like to write about ways to incorporate writing and reading into everyday life — to make a culture of literacy.
Today, I’d like to share an idea that I hated as a kid.
I had a shared journal twice as a kid — once with my 3rd grade teacher, Edwin, and once with my mom when I was a few years older. The premise is simple. It is a space to write back and forth to each other, a conversation on paper. It could be a daily or weekly conversation, be a space for comics and inside jokes and collaborative stories, or just be a medium for moments when something is hard to say out loud. The one in my third grade was a simple, handmade book of a few pages tied together. The one I had with my mom was a beautiful store bought journal. A notebook would work well too — just something that can be closed, so the conversation has a level of privacy.
And why did I hate them?
Well, I did not think through how when something is written down, there is a permanent record of it. So all those awkward puberty things I didn’t want to talk to my mom face-to-face about and instead wrote down? They stayed written down. And every time I looked in the journal I felt their awkward pain. Over and over again. Unlike a letter, where what you write is sent away, everything both of us wrote was always just there, waiting to be cringed over, or for my sister to sneak read and use as ammunition. Because lovely as she is, she was definitely that kind of sister. As was I.
I’m selling this one hard, aren’t I?
If the journal is more of a place to write hard-to-say-out-loud things, perhaps it should be more of a notepad/mailbox than a journal. Something where each interaction could be saved forever (my mom says she’s proud of me!) or promptly recycled (I asked for deodorant!), as the content merits.
Because remembered cringing aside, there is something powerful about making a space to listen and respond to children’s thoughts and feelings at the gentle speed of writing. The medium creates space for time to pass, space for reflected and mature responses, space for hidden feelings to be held tenderly. It’s also great practice for kids to use writing to express their real needs and thoughts. Shared journals can be space to tell kids, especially older kids, all the mushy things we want them to know we feel as well. Kids might make faces if you hug them but treasure a note that says you’re proud of them. And that balances out some cringy notes about deodorant.