When my son was about four years old, I bought him his first journal. I had no idea how he would fill the pages, but I knew that I wanted him to be comfortable telling his story. As a child development specialist, I understood that children who connected with the power of words at a young age would be more comfortable and confident communicators and readers. To be honest, that wasn’t my main motive. I wanted my son to feel safe expressing his emotions as he grew into a man. I wanted him to be able to identify sadness, fear, and joy. I wanted him to recognize that putting words to his emotions would help him deal with them as they arose. It might seem a lot for such a young boy, but I knew that it was important to start this process early.
At first, I questioned my decision. Even though my son was a very verbal child, I struggled to get a story out of him. However, I didn’t give up. We kept at it on a regular basis. He seemed more comfortable and confident each time and the pages began to fill up. JM’s original stories were only 2-3 pages, but eventually they grew to 15-20 pages. He told stories about things that were important to him. Peter Pan, Knights, Zorro and, Blackie (his horse) were the topics of choice. As JM became more comfortable with the process, I noticed he began to intertwine emotions into the story. He shared about the mean guys, the house without love, and the scary rain. Before long, JM was asking me if he could tell a story, instead of me asking him. Some days, he would grab his journal and illustrate a story on his own. My persistence paid off. JM is now a college student, who is an amazing writer and storyteller. More importantly, he is a young man that is able to clearly identify and express his emotions.
Over the years, I have introduced journaling and book making to many children. I created a list of helpful hints to help you get started with your little one.
- In the beginning, suggest a topic for the story. A natural place to start is after taking a trip to the park, the zoo or even the grocery store.
- Have realistic expectations. It is unlikely that they will initially tell you an entire story. At first, they might only be comfortable answering questions.
- Ask good, open-ended questions. For example, “What was your favorite thing about going to the park yesterday? Tell me one thing that you really liked about our trip to the zoo.” After they answer the initial question, follow up with questions such as; What happened next? What else? How did you feel about that?
- The depth and length of the story will be dependent on their age, vocabulary, and level of comfort they have expressing themselves.
- Allow your child to choose the title of the story. This can be done at the beginning or end of the exercise. Always point out that they are the author and write that down, as well. This will help them connect the author to their words the next time you sit down to read them a book. Don’t forget to number the pages.
- Invite children to take pictures to illustrate their story. This provides natural interest and might be easier than illustrating on their own. You can print the pictures in about five minutes at your local pharmacy or discount store.
- Honor their words and write it down exactly as they say it. If you are constantly correcting their grammar or use of words, they just might shut down and this defeats the very purpose of this activity. There are plenty of years to teach grammar down the road.
- If they seem uninterested, put it away and try again later. Most children will talk about things that are important to them. If everything else fails, invite them to talk about their favorite toy, show, animal,etc.
- Allow children to try and write the words themselves. Scribbling, letter formation, and inventive spelling are all part of the writing process.
- Enjoy this time and be present with your children. At the end of the day, spending quality time with your child is the BEST part of the story.
Watch my periscope with Jack (age 4) telling his first story.
Check out Madeline Ann (age 6) telling her story about The Dream Pony.
And yes, we sell those lovely hand sewn books on our website.
We would love to hear your children’s stories. Share them with us on FB.