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How to Start a Journal with Kids: 10 Fun Methods to Explore

Explore Journaling with Kids

For kids and grownups alike, journaling has been shown to reduce stress, improve mental health, create a sense of order, and much more. With just a few minutes on a regular cadence, we can help our kids (and ourselves) develop gratitude, plan their day, or work through something traumatic. 

But what are the different types of journaling for kids? And how do you get started?

In this piece, we’ll explore a range of possibilities. Young kids might practice the simplest version of these types of journaling — perhaps in the form of doing a daily drawing or writing a single word. By contrast, teens might use these types of journaling to spark an inner transformation and discover habits that help them for the rest of their lives. 

Types of journaling for kids:

1. Log personal stories
2. Record gratitude
3. Set an intention or goal for the day
4. Work through a traumatic event
5. Compile quotes and jokes
6. Write down personal insights
7. Record dreams
8. Add elements of nature
9. Create a travel collage
10. Describe moods and emotions

Let’s explore each in detail.

1. Log personal stories.

This is likely what most people think of when they think of journaling: Writing a daily diary of events in their lives. This can range from simple (“Visited the beach with grandpa”) to complex (full narrative form, including dialogue). The value of this exercise becomes clear over time, as kids re-read their old entries and discover events they may have forgotten about or see how their ability to record events changes over time. (They might even be delighted to see how their handwriting has improved!)

For kids who feel constrained by the whole notion of recording things as they happened, this process might spill over into fiction — perhaps inspired in part by books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. If a kid decides they want to hyperbolize an event in their life, it could be just the thing to get them in a regular writing habit.

2. Record gratitude.

Getting into the habit of seeing what’s good in life results in better relationships, better sleep, and reduced materialism. And, thankfully, it doesn’t have to be difficult. 

You can help kids work it into their morning or nighttime routine by adding it to a task list alongside brushing their teeth. Write down three things they’re currently feeling grateful for. (Young kids might decide to draw a picture of one thing.)

3. Set an intention or goal for the day.

“Be kind to Noah.”
“Turn in my homework.”
“Have fun with Alyssa.”
“Find someone who’s feeling sad and help them feel better.”
“Feed the cat.”

Whatever it might be, setting an intention or goal each morning can bring just a bit of focus to life. At the end of the day, you can revisit the goal and either move it to the next day or mark it complete. Bit by bit, kids can learn that they can do the hard (or kind!) things they set out to do. It’s a foundational practice for building character.

4. Work through a traumatic event. 

Researchers at Cambridge University invited people to write about stressful or emotional events for 15-20 minutes on 3-5 occasions. They found that the practice resulted “in improvements in both physical and psychological health.” In addition, medical reviewers at the University of Rochester assert that “keeping a journal helps you create order when your world feels like it’s in chaos. You get to know yourself by revealing your most private fears, thoughts, and feelings.”

There may be times when it’s essential to journal about traumatic events under the guidance of a counselor and specialist. However, kids can start to process these events on their own by just writing down their experience of the event, their emotions around the event, and then imagining how someone who loves them unconditionally would respond. If they have a hard time imagining someone who loves them unconditionally, they can imagine how they would respond if the event happened to someone they love. In any case, journaling affords the opportunity to explore traumatic events with care and compassion.

5. Compile quotes and jokes.

Some kids are drawn to the writings of other people — from inspirational wisdom to hard truths to funny jokes. Journaling can be a way for them to compile these quotes in what’s traditionally called a commonplace book. Here are a few quotes on journaling they might start with: 

“Keep a journal. Pay so much honor to the visits of truth to your mind as to record those thoughts that have shone therein.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer

“What sort of diary should I like mine to be? … I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through.”
— Virginia Woolf, British writer

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” — Anne Frank, Jewish diarist

These lines can serve as a light during disturbing times.

6. Write down personal insights.

Kids are often more insightful than they’re given credit for. With the right prompts at hand — including those we list in our journaling lesson — they may realize things about themselves that they hadn’t previously considered. Here are a few such prompts from Allison Pond, a writer who offers courses on journaling

  • How does my body feel today?
  • The hardest thing I did today was …
  • The easiest thing I did today was …
  • I’m really looking forward to …
  • I feel really close to …
  • I feel really distant from …
  • I’m feeling bothered by …

7. Record dreams.

“I believe that dreams — daydreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing — are likely to lead to the betterment of the world,” wrote Frank L. Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of OzI. “The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization.”

These dreams, whether they happen in the day or at night, are often worth recording. Who knows but that a children’s dream written down will serve as inspiration later in life? Better that they write them down than forget their dreams as they get older. 

8. Add elements of nature.

Tape or glue pressed flowers and leaves, rub the pigment of plants on a page, draw animals seen in the outdoors — all of these ideas are part of adding elements of nature to a journal. 

Credit: Cary Bates
Photo Credit: Cary Bates via Unsplash

9. Create a travel collage.

It’s easy to forget all the adventures you go on with a kid. Documenting the event in a journal can help — as long as it doesn’t eclipse the adventure itself! 🙂

They might take photographs, keep playbills, put some dust in a jar, draw a building they find interesting, keep a museum map, or something else. The goal is to have mementos that help them remember and relive the experience. 

10. Describe moods and emotions.

“In the journal I am at ease,” writes Anaïs Nin.

Sometimes the best way to morph frustration into calmness is to write it down and explore it from all angles. What led to the frustration? Why did it happen? What can be done about it? What happens when you let the emotion settle?

Put simply, children who reflect in a journal regularly gain greater awareness of their emotions and are more capable of calming any anxiety arising from their daily experiences. A consistent practice improves both mental and physical health, including a stronger immune system, reduced stress, and lower rates of depression.

Over time, the practice can help you and your kids tap into your inner compass and experience transformation from the inside out.

Bonus: Here are three formatted journals for kids worth considering. 

Check out more from Uplift by getting a free sample lesson.

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