The Value of Journaling

by Christy Peterson

x14“The hills and river Clifts which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance. … The water in the course of time in decending from those hills and plains on either side of the river has trickled down the soft sand clifts and woarn it into a thousand grotesque figures, which with the help of a little immagination and an oblique view, at a distance are made to represent eligant ranges of lofty freestone buildings . . .”

~Meriwether Lewis, May 31, 1805,

Imagine if Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had undertaken their journey west in 2013 instead of 1804? What recording devices might they have employed to record and recount their experiences? A blog replete with video recordings and photos? Tweets from the trail? Hourly Facebook updates?

Actually, this is not a knock on modern-day explorers and their ability to regale us all with real-time updates. These “vicarious living” opportunities are fantastic educational tools as well as windows into worlds we might not otherwise see.

However, there is one old-fashioned recording method used by both Lewis and Clark on their journey that I believe warrants a little time in the spotlight—journals. These low-tech tools offer unique qualities that cannot be replaced by twenty-first century technology.

Benefits of Journals

There are many benefits of journaling that cannot be replicated or replaced with tech devices. Here are a three:

Journaling is Inexpensive

At its core, journaling requires paper and writing implement. You can start with a pencil and a cheap, spiral-bound notebook. Even if you splurge for pens, colored pencils, and fancier notebooks, it will still not approach the cost of a camera, phone, or tablet device.

Journals Become Keepsakes

I still have the journals I wrote in high school, filled with angst-ridden (bad) poetry and dismal accounts of teenager life. I’m not sure I’ll ever read them again, but maybe my kids will. The journals I’ve kept since I started my freelance career remind me how far I’ve come in my professional life. Journals are a tangible link with the past, and an invaluable primary source for historical researchers. Will your journals become hot, historical property? Probably not, but your great-grandkids might appreciate them.

Journaling Helps Us See the World in New Ways

Journaling forces us to slow down and pay attention. Whether we are sketching a leaf, writing a first draft of a poem, or just noting how our day went, the simple act of stopping long enough to write something down takes us out of our usual dash from one thing to the next. In a fast-lane world, this skill will benefit our kids no matter where their life journeys take them.

Getting Kids Started with Journaling

Choose a Journal

As I mentioned above, you can start with a spiral-bound notebook and a pencil. But choosing a special notebook or bound book is more fun. Many bookstores carry very nice journals. These are fun, but tend to be more expensive. Department stores (and sometimes craft stores) have less expensive variations. Splurge for some pencils with fun designs, colored pencils, and good erasers.

Give Each Person Space to Find Their Own Style

There is no one “right” way to journal. Some people faithfully write accounts of daily life. Others keep nature journals with sketches of plants, animals, and landscapes accompanied by written description. Some keep creative journals in which they write down ideas for stories, games, building projects, etc. Others keep art journals, where text is accompanied by drawings and paintings.

You can model the different styles for your kids (see the websites below for information on different journaling styles). They will eventually gravitate toward the approach they prefer.

Let Kids Keep Their Journals Private

It is much easier to pour your creativity into a journal when you know no one is looking over your shoulder. Give your children opportunities to share their work if they wish, but don’t force them.

Journaling Websites

Journaling for Kids from

Beginning Art Journaling for Kids from The Artful Parent:

Nature Journaling with Kids from Simple Homemade:

Christy Peterson

Christy Peterson is notorious for shouting “Look, LOOK” when she spots wildlife while riding in a car. Her husband begrudgingly admits that this can sometimes be useful, like when she spotted the grizzly bear in Yellowstone. When she isn’t nearly causing road accidents, she is a freelance writer. She lives in Vancouver, WA with the aforementioned husband, two kids, two dogs, three cats, two guinea pigs, one frog, three lizards, and some fish! She blogs at