Family Journals: A Legacy

By Mary Miller
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journalOur family has marked milestones and created memories with a family journal – a cooperatively written record of our everyday life and special occasions for a number of years. Today, even though diverse and hectic schedules scatter us, the journal entries keep us connected as a family. Sometimes individually, sometimes together, we laugh and reminisce over the memories and stories spilled in ink across the pages of our early journals.

Your family can create a unique family history with this fun and inexpensive activity, too. Here’s how it works.

As a family, gather daily, weekly, or whatever time best fits your schedule, to share your personal stories. A designated recorder enters the stories. In the beginning that may be a parent, especially if the children are too young to write. Your family journal can be a wonderful pre-writing exercise for young children that teaches them how their unique verbal expression and world view can be transferred to a page and preserved. They may become more confident communicators as a result.

How to get started To garner enthusiasm for the family journal, include everyone from the start. You’ll need paper and pen to begin. The journal should be something special, but doesn’t have to be more expensive than a 79-cent spiral notebook that you personalize. Using magazines and glue, have the family decorate the journal to reflect your interests. For instance, if Dad is an avid golfer, you might glue an illustration of a golf ball on the front. Or perhaps your family has favorite outings-biking, going to the zoo, swimming-that you can depict on the cover. Individual letters can be cut from the magazines to spell out “family journal” or names of family members.Other ideas for family journals include:

A three-ring binder with a clear vinyl pocket you can fill with family photos to create a collage for your journal cover. Because you can use loose-leaf paper, this type of journal gives you the opportunity to work simultaneously as individuals with your own piece of paper, as well as collaboratively.

A clothbound artist’s sketchbook sold in art supply and bookstores. Choose from many sizes and covers, including splashy-colored canvas or sophisticated leather. Illustrate your words by pasting special mementos next to them, as you would in a scrapbook.

The pen should be as special as the journal itself. Inexpensive pens can be decorated as easily as inexpensive notebooks. Use glitter or brightly-colored tape and top it off with a feather. You might even want to let everyone have their own color ink to represent your family as individual colors that come together to make a beautiful rainbow.

What to put in your family journal When you’re ready to begin making entries, keep it simple. Your first entry might just be a declaration of your family’s intention to keep a journal. Here’s an example: “On this first day of October in the year 2001, the Smith family declares that it will share the stories of our lives with each other every evening, at bedtime, and record them in this journal.” Not only does a declaration like this express your intent, but, by specifying how often you will make entries, it also expresses your commitment.

To get the best entries, ask questions that elicit compelling and colorful responses to fill your journal with. Here are some question asking tips:

Avoid questions that can be answered with just one word, like “yes,” “no,” or “fine.” For instance, instead of asking, “How was school today?” ask, “What did you see on your way to school today?”

Ask easy questions. There seems to be a question-answering anxiety gene in all of us, so create a comfort zone by keeping your questions simple and to the point. This is supposed to be fun, not agonizing. One effective way to begin is with a biographical sketch of each family member where the first question you ask is: “What’s your name?” From there you can go to “How old are you?” “When’s your birthday?” “What’s your favorite color?” “Why is that your favorite color?”

You can prepare questions ahead of time or ask them off the top of your head, but always listen carefully to responses so you can ask follow-up questions for more details.

Don’t let parents ask all the questions; kids are sure to have some of their own.

How much time will it take? Not much. In fact, if you don’t have the time for a daily or weekly journal, try other forms of the family journal, including these:

Vacation journal. Collect post cards and travel brochures from the places your family travels. Then fill the journal with family vacation impressions-the best part, the worst part, favorite activities, etc.
Holiday journal. Engage extended family members in this journal. When you host Thanksgiving ask all your guests to make an entry about what they’re most thankful for. If you’re not hosting the holiday, bring your journal along to pass around with a question appropriate to the occasion you’re celebrating.
Birthday journal. Who did you invite? What did you do? What were your favorite presents? What do you think you’re going to like best about being this age?
These are things that all family members can record on their special day.

No matter how much time or money you invest, family journaling pays big returns, immediate and long lasting. In addition to improving communication between you and your children, it can help everyone in your family to:

  • become more keen observers of life, knowing that they’re going to be asked for details when it’s family journal time.
  • learn the importance of personal story and honor it by sharing it with each other.
  • close the door on one day, knowing the next day holds a fresh, blank page to begin a new story or continue an old one.

Mary Miller’s writings has been published in Northwest Baby and Child.

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