If you’re not keeping a personal journal, your children will most probably follow your example. But even if you are keeping a journal, there is still no guarantee that they will do likewise.
What is needed is for you to take your child by the hand and say, “Let’s do this fun thing together!” It doesn’t matter if you have never been a keeper-of-records. Take the time to help your children establish a legacy that will bring heartfelt joy to them, their children, their children’s children. No special skills are required to begin. Muster a desire; then get started.
Purchase a hardback, bound, blank-paged book for your child to use as a journal. Hardback books not only are durable but also seem by their very appearance to be “special.” These books are available at stationery stores or office supply stores. Of course, the more children you have, the greater the strain on the budget. But the investment will pay off both in fun and in the virtues of order, discipline, and responsibility, which strengthen when one works at keeping records.
But don’t let lack of funds hold you back. Spiral or loose-leaf notebooks, or even loose sheets of paper kept in a stack, can be the basis for a treasured history. It is important, however, to find and use a type of paper that is in some way different from the scratch paper your child uses daily in his play. Children will realize from the visual and tactile distinctions as well as from the verbal explanations that this activity is new and special.
You might introduce your child to the mechanics of record-keeping on the day following a special day. Perhaps your family spent a lovely day at the beach. On the first page of the journal, have your child draw a picture of one of the nice things he remembers about the activity of the day before. When he finishes his picture, tell him that below (above, beside) the picture you are going to write down anything he wants to say about yesterday.
You may have to ask some leading questions.
“Did you like going to the beach?”
“Should I write down for you ‘I liked the beach’?”
“What did you like best?”
“I liked the sand touching my toes.”
“Should I write down ‘I liked the sand touching my toes’?”
Before you write down anything for your child, check it out and get his complete approval. He’ll soon come to know that this book really is his book for saying what he wants to say. After only a few entries, he’ll begin to find delight in reviewing earlier recordings.
Don’t make the keeping of a journal become a burdensome chore. Use wisdom in choosing times when your child would be more amenable to doing this kind of sit-down activity. If he’s jumping or running or in the middle of some make believe fun, don’t pull him to your side and announce that it is journal time. There will be plenty of times when the journal activity can be fitted pleasantly into his busy life (and your busy life).
And don’t push your child to make routine entries. When something out-of-the-ordinary, something especially meaningful, happens in the life of your child, encourage him to make a simple sketch of the happening. Soon he will be initiating the entries on his own.
As your child learns to print, he can add short statements of explanation to his drawings. Eventually, of course, the story drawings will give way to totally written records—unless your child has a special interest or ability in art and wishes to incorporate illustrations into his continuing history.
Avoid the temptation of having your child record his adventures by collecting and pasting memorabilia into a book. A scrapbook is not a journal. A scrapbook tends to become a detached collection of visual remembrances, whereas a journal remains a compilation of thoughtful statements of fact and feeling laid down in strict chronological order.
Help your child to get into the habit of dating his entries. At the pencil-and-crayon beginning, this will be your job. But let your child know what you are doing. When he is able to print letters and numbers, tell him the month, day, and year and let him write it out.
Granted, there must be effort involved in this journal project. Granted, the temperaments of some children may seem totally unsuited to such an undertaking. But give it a try! You may be in for some pleasant surprises. You may even find yourself becoming reexcited about the idea of recording a personal history.
And as you help your child learn to set down his thoughts on paper, you’ll be helping him eventually to clarify his understanding of the gospel. His written record will become a recounting of joys and sorrows, a reflection of growing knowledge and understanding, and a declaration of his testimony to generations yet unborn.