I recently installed a journaling app on my kids' ipads, and I am now insisting that they use them. I have told them that I will not necessarily read their journals, but I need them to keep journals, and that I will give them assignments for them.
We purchased the Day One journal from the app store. I like how it is organized; you can move to a specific calendar date, or you can view a running log of entries in a list. It is simple to use, and you can make entries by voice dictation or keyboard input-- making this assignment as painless as possible was an important consideration for getting started, as is any new habit you wish to take hold, whether exercising or journaling or changes to one's diet! There are many good choices, including the tried and true pencil and spiral-bound notebook that fits in a hip pocket-- my husband's PhD advisor, prof. L. Nick Trefethen, FRS is well known for keeping notecards in his pocket at all times for the purpose of jotting down thoughts or things the people around him say that strike him as amusing or profound.
One assignment my kids have received recently came from the Bravewriter curriculum; inspired by author J.K. Rowling, it consists of jotting down unusual and interesting names and words in a journal entry, for possible later use in writing as people or place names. They can include interesting words they might wish to use in a writing lexicon. As my kids are studying Ancient Greek, Latin, Spanish, and German, and we travel a bit, study geography, and read widely, I expect their personal lexicons should become quite interesting. I am starting my own as well-- who knows when the writing bug might strike, and such a journal section would be quite handy!
Another section also relates to studying the craft of writing. I have asked them to note down any bit of writing they find particularly thoughtful, well-crafted, or descriptive, so that they can study it at will later to figure out why it works for them. Studying published authors is a time-honored method of learning the craft of writing.
However, probably one of the more important reasons for journaling, is brought to mind for me by Albus Dumbledore's Pensieve. In fact, the pensieve, that storage place for stray thoughts you wish to sift through at your leisure later, is how I think of my journal. Today my older son, 12, came to me with a question. I thought it was a great question, and I look forward to him really digging into it in detail-- later. He can (and will, knowing him) continue chewing on the problem now; however his skills are not yet ripe for a really well-organized, in-depth, well-argued essay or debate on the topic. Those are strong rhetoric stage skills, and at 12, he is, though in the gifted spectrum, strongly grounded right where he should be, in the logic stage part of his argument building skills, and not yet ready to give his question the full attention it merits. So I told him to absolutely record it in his journal, so that we would know to go back to it for very serious thought in a few years.
He thought I was crazy. "Mom, I have been thinking about this for a LONG time. I will NEVER forget this question!" Ah, how many times I have said that to myself! How many grand ideas and themes I wish I could call back to my memory now! Write it down or dictate into that journal son, please, do it now, before we forget. I do not doubt that he has been pondering this question, probably for months. We will talk about it now, too; I am not pushing it under the rug. But I think it is a great question, one that will merit revisiting in his high school (rhetoric stage) years. Why risk losing such a great writing and research prompt that he generated himself? He may even find it interesting to do it again four years from now and discover whether his perspective has changed. Maybe even again in college?
This is why we journal. Because we are human, and we forget, and some things are worth writing down in our pensieves. In today's world, we have so many options to make this easy-- we can use an inexpensive app on an ipad, we can blog, we can video record ourselves on our computers, or we can still scribble it down on notecards or in a spiral notebook. But we should get our thoughts and questions down somewhere where we can look over them again, and maybe connect the dots between today's thoughts and next week's thoughts and questions.
His question today?
Was Gandhi really a good person, or did his devotion to pacifism blind him to other good that really needed to be done? His refusal to engage in any kind of violence meant he refused to participate in WWII, even though he knew Hitler was horrifying and needed to be stopped, so he basically said that he knew Hitler had to be stopped, but it would be somebody else's problem to stop him so that he could go on being a pacifist. Or would his pacifist resistance have ever worked if everyone had signed on? Which is it? Can you be so stuck on one path, that you fail to see that you are letting great evil happen around you just so you can stick to what you said, or does that make it more important that you stick to your principals? How do you know to that degree that you are right?
Big stuff for a 12YO. He just told me he did put it into his journal, so I know it will be there to look back on and remember the question later, and I know him well enough to know that he will want to wrestle with it again later.
I look forward to an amazing essay from him in a few years.
I encourage anyone, of any age, to grab a journal of some type and just start jotting stuff down-- names of places, unusual names, vocabulary words, funny stuff people say, news events of the weird, and yes, these questions that pop into your head. It may take as little as 30 seconds a day. Put them into your pensieve, and you may be surprised at what could pop out years or decades later. It may not net you a few billion pounds, but it may help you sleep at night, because your thoughts have been safely stored for later.
Thanks for reading!
PS I included a link to Prof Trefethen's collection of index card thoughts below!