Journal Writing ( for pre-writers)

literacy activities for kids Guest Post by Rebekah Patel

One way I build literacy skills with my preschool daughter is to dedicate time to journal writing.  Our journal time is inspired by what I learned when I facilitated Lucy Calkin’s Writing Workshop with my former students.  My daughter is a pre-writer because she writes only a few words and no sentences, but she can develop language skills by composing her thoughts into a writing journal.  Through journal writing, she learns the ideas she  talks about can be put onto paper.

For journal writing, I provide her a journal and colored pencils.  The journal can be handmade or a store bought sketch book.  It is important the pages are unlined because pre-writers will mostly draw in their journal.

We begin journal writing by reviewing what we wrote about the previous day.  Then, I model one simple writing idea in my own journal.  When I first modeled journal writing, I drew a picture and wrote.  I observed that my daughter was very hesitant to write anything in her journal.  Now, I only draw pictures in my journal, and she has become more confident and independent in creating her own ideas in her journal.

Below are some writing ideas that I have used for my daughter, but when you model writing for your child make sure the writing is relevant to your child’s life.



Writing Ideas

  • How To’s – brush teeth, do laundry, bake cookies
  • People and Pets  – Mama, Papa, grandparents, cats
  • Events – parties, trip to library, holidays
  • Their World – rain, home, school, grocery store
  • Likes – food, clothes, places, television shows
  • Feelings – sad, happy, angry
  • Learning – topics of interest such as planets, wild animals, weather, numbers

After I have modeled writing, my daughter begins to write about her idea.  She is free to write about a topic that interests her, and she doesn’t need to write about the same topic I showed her that day.  During this time, she works independently for about five minutes.  She often writes about a new topic, but I do notice she has other typical behaviors displayed during journal time.

 Writing Behaviors

  • writing name over and over
  • letter writing practice
  • scribbles
  • copying Mama’s work
  • a lot of family and pet pictures

Once she has finished writing, she tells me about her writing.  I transcribe her words on the page.  Sometimes she doesn’t want me to write directly on her page, and I will write her ideas on a sticky note.  I stay positive about the work she shows me even if she has spent the entire time scribbling.  I know she doesn’t end up scribbling every day, and there may be some days she has hard time figuring out what she would like to write in her journal.

literacy activities for kids

 Journal writing builds children’s confidence in their writing ideas.  It allows children to learn to stay focused on writing tasks.  As children develop, they will start writing more words in their journals.


Rebekah is a former elementary school teacher who now is a stay at home mom.  In her blog, The Golden Gleam, she shares art, play, and learning ideas to light up kids’ lives.   
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  1. says

    I did something similar with my daughter when she was 4, and am doing again with my current preschool sidekick. We read a fairy tale, then the child draws me a picture of something from the story and dictates what they want me to say about it. Some of them are hilarious! Others..well, let’s just say that maybe my daughter watched Shrek too many times that year. 🙂

  2. says

    What a great guest post!

  3. says

    Great post. Thank you! I had a reluctant writer and drawing the pictures really helped. He liked nature studies because they were concrete, not something he had to be creative about. For example, we happened to see ducks on our walk one morning. I had my 4 & 6 year old tell me 4 observations about the ducks and was amazed by what they observed. They drew illustrations and I wrote down their observations. My 6 year old copied what I wrote under his picture; my 4 year old did not (not writing yet). Another time we did toadstools. Other fun topics: caterpillar to butterfly, a seed sprouting and growing, tadpole to frog.

    • says

      I am happy to hear that journaling is helping your child who is reluctant to write. I am going to have to steal your idea about journaling about what we observe on our walks. Just today we were looking at all the new buds and leaves on the trees, so that would be perfect for our journal time.

  4. says

    This is a great post and idea. I have been looking for a way to work on writing together with my son (he is 4 1/2) this is great! There is so much room for creativity and yet they are building useful skills to. Thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to start adding this to our daily routine.

  5. says

    Oh, this topic is near and dear to my heart. I started “writing” a journal at Age 4 and have stacks of them that have lasted me, well, until I started a virtual journal! I enjoy looking back particularly to my younger years at where I was (good, bad or in between) at that stage in life. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  6. says

    This is a fantastic idea. We accidentally made our own journal a couple of weeks back and have been drawing and sticking things in it ever since. Our journal writer is only two and I hadn’t thought of facilitating anything as structured as this but I think we might give it a go.

    Great list of ideas too. Thanks:)

  7. Heidi says

    This is brilliant! I have never done anything like this before with my kids but I am wondering how to go about tackling it with a group of kids? Would it be better to just give them a subject each day and tell them to draw a picture about it since its a big group? Any ideas are appreciated! Thanks!

    • says

      I think your idea would work. If it is a journal entry of how to do something, you could have them divide their paper into four or six blocks to help direct their drawings in order instead of just random drawings all over the paper. I love these ideas!

  8. says

    This is such an excellent idea to encourage language and writing skills. It is so intuitive and creative. Children express themselves through scribbling, markings and art long before they use the letters of the alphabet. It is all about developmental skills. Thank you for sharing this post!


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