Illustration by Andrea D?Aquino
When my eldest child, Lauren, now 11, was in the first grade, she began learning a bit about writing sentences with correct punctuation. She understood the concepts and dutifully completed her assignments, but I'd still find periods missing at the end of her sentences and other errors. To give her more practice, I had her complete worksheets, read stories with me (taking particular notice of the structure of each sentence), and try some cut-and-paste word activities.
But it wasn't until we started journaling together that the lessons really started to hit home. For this challenge, the best solution was also the easiest. All it took was a spiral-bound notebook and a little time.
To get the process started, I would sometimes pose a question ("What kind of ice cream should we get at the grocery store?") and sometimes make an observation about Lauren or her activities ("You did a good job cleaning up your room."). Then she'd write her answer or ask me a question.
Our only rule: we both had to write in complete sentences, even if the answer could easily be offered in a word or two. Soon it was a routine. I marked corrections on Lauren's entries as needed, and her skills just kept on improving.
The most special—and surprising—thing about this simple activity is that, four years later, my daughter and I are still writing to one another. Nowadays, it's definitely less about the grammar (I no longer mark corrections) and more about the journaling. I'm so grateful that we've stuck with it. Over the years, we have picked up our notebook to jot down our thoughts about all sorts of things. If there's an issue between us that feels unresolved, we start an exchange in our journal. It's nice to have a safe place to express ourselves and to have the space to say what we think without interruption.
Photograph by Winnie Yu
Looking back over the entries, I'm touched to see how we both have grown over the years. It's also fun to have a record of how Lauren's writing has changed. Her letters, which once spanned two or three lines, are now petite marks that fit neatly into the designated spaces. She occasionally writes in cursive, a skill that was quickly covered in third grade, but that she rarely uses anywhere else. I?m glad she practices it in our notebook.
When we began our journaling project, there was no such thing as texting. Today, when my sixth grader has something to say, she definitely prefers to text her friends. But she still turns to the journal, a perfect way to balance the tech-y socializing. With her teen years just around the corner, I hope she holds onto the urge to grab a pen and express her thoughts on paper.
Only time will tell if Lauren's four younger siblings will be as open to the idea of journaling as she has been, but I plan to try it with all of them. Even if we don't answer any of life's great questions with our musings, I'll be certain that the kids know how to punctuate a sentence.
Stephanie, her husband, Isaac, and their family perfect their punctuation in Augusta, Georgia.