By Emily Younker
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
For years, retired teacher Marilyn Horne had her young students keep a journal, a simple composition book in which they wrote at least one paragraph each day.
Sometimes she gave her students license to write what was on their minds, she said. Other times, she gave them prompts and encouraged the use of complete sentences and proper spelling. And she always offered to read students' entries if they wanted to share them, she said.
"Even if they just wrote a little bit, it was so good in composing and putting thoughts down," said Horne, who taught elementary school in Joplin, Webb City, Seneca and Miller. "I think it's a peek into that part of a person's life. I think it really describes you at that moment in time."
Journaling can help play a crucial role in the growing-up process for children, according to Kimberly Fielding, a trauma specialist at Will's Place, which is overseen by Ozark Center, the behavioral health division of Freeman Health System.
"It helps a person grow into who they are, and having that awareness of who you are is just so important in being able to make choices and knowing your values and knowing how you're going to respond in possible situations," she said.
Parents who want to encourage journaling with their children should talk about its benefits in terms of the past, present and future, Fielding said.
"In the past, it's a way of keeping a time capsule of your story so you can go back and track your personal growth," she said. "It's a non-judgmental way of looking at yourself over time."
In the present, journaling can reduce stress by allowing children to document what they're thinking or feeling, she said.
"It's things that get stuck inside of us that can fester or build up pressure, so journaling is one of the healthy ways to get those feelings out," she said.
And journaling can get children thinking about their future, Fielding said.
"It connects you to a bigger picture of life," she said. "It's not just about now, but you think about relationships and where things are going and other events that might happen in the future."
According to Fielding, journaling can promote a number of other skills, including solving problems and thinking before doing, as keeping a journal can help children imagine what a situation might be like before actually making a decision, and planning and setting goals, as children can anticipate the future and think about how they'll get there.
Lucia Capacchione, an author, art therapist and advocate of journaling, lists several values of journal-keeping for youngsters in her book, "The Creative Journal for Children":
Getting kids started
So how do you get your children started in journaling? Fielding said parents should be aware of the materials they give their children: A bound leather book could send the message that the journal has to be serious, while a box of notebook paper, construction paper, stencils, a disposable camera and markers could allow your child to feel less restricted in how they approach journaling.
"Journaling is about what you want it to be," she said.
Fielding also urges parents to allow their children to journal in whatever way they choose, whether it's writing out full sentences, copying their favorite song lyrics or sketching and drawing pictures.
Finally, parents should allow the journal to be kept private, and be sure to thank your children if they share parts of it.