pre-writing · preschool · slice of life · writing

Preschool Journal

I’ve been thinking a lot about preschool writing ever since my TWT colleague, Dana Murphy, shared her daughter’s writing on TWT last week.  Maddie, Dana’s older daughter, is about 14 months older than Isabelle. Maddie starts Kindergarten this fall.  Isabelle has another year of preschool to go. Developmentally, these girls are in different places.

I know better than to compare Isabelle’s writing to Maddie’s.

But I’ve been coming back to Maddie’s writing quite a few times since Dana posted it. (I even shared it with my husband, who was impressed and amazed by the words Maddie wrote on the page.  I was impressed by that and the level of detail in her illustrations.) And every time I do, I wonder, will Isabelle be able to write like that by this time next year?

Now here’s where I’m going to stop to talk directly to my parents, in-laws, and husband who I know will be reading this in the next 24 hours.  I am not comparing Isabelle to Maddie.  If I’ve learned anything about parenting in the past 4+ years, it’s that I should never compare my child to anyone else’s. Isabelle learns at her own pace. She always gets there — in her own time.  My purpose for posting this in a public forum, not on the family-only blog, is to get some feedback from other early childhood educators I know. I’m hoping to get some suggestions from them about how I can work with Isabelle at home. Anyway, back to my post.

Back in October, Isabelle received her journal in school.  We had the pleasure of inscribing the first page.  Here’s what one of her early entries looked like:

Click on the image to enlarge.
Click on the image to enlarge.


I went into her classroom in November and February to work with her on her notebook.  November’s trip was a semi-disaster since she didn’t want to work with me. February’s work was better.  Take a look:

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Better, right?  She drew the picture and talked with me.  I wrote what she said and labeled the faces.

Here’s a small sampling of her work from February – present:

Let me say, before you open this, that my kid hates cauliflower. I have no idea what this page means. Nonetheless, this must've been one of the days she didn't want to sit down to write in school.
Let me say, before you open this, that my kid hates cauliflower. I have no idea what this page means. Nonetheless, this must’ve been a day in March she didn’t want to sit down to write, but had to.
Click on the image to enlarge this entry about Isabelle playing blocks at school.
Click on the image to enlarge this entry about Isabelle playing blocks at school.
Even once you enlarge this one, I don't know how well you'll see the figure of Isabelle, in peach, on the right. Casey is her cousin.
Even once you enlarge this one, I don’t know how well you’ll see the figure of Isabelle, in peach, on the right. Casey is her cousin. This is from late April.
Apparently this is me. Also done in late April.
Apparently this is me.
This was written last Friday. I have no idea what it is *really* about. Click on the image to enlarge.
This was written last Friday. I have no idea what it is *really* about. Click on the image to enlarge.

We had Isabelle’s parent-teacher conference with her teacher today.  She made note of some things that show progress in the area of writing:

  • Isabelle has developed a more positive attitude to non-preferred tasks, which includes anything that requires her to sit at a table — like writing.
  • Isabelle is becoming more confident and in control of writing utensils.
  • Isabelle has become more interested in writing. She has been creating illustrations that are more representational and often tells about events of experiences from her own life.

These are all FANTASTIC things, some of which I’ve noticed progress with at home. But I’m worried.

  • I’m worried because Isabelle had no interest in starting an at-home story journal with me a few months ago. (I’ll try again once school is out this summer.)
    • We’ve been practicing oral storytelling at home since I know talk is the step before drawing and writing.
  • I’m worried the journal work she’s doing now isn’t showing a clear trajectory of growth (as evidenced by the 5/29/15 piece, which feels like a step backwards).  While I see growth from November, I’m still concerned.
    • My personal goal for Isabelle is to be able to tell a story across three pages in the early part of Kindergarten.  (I realize that’s over a year away.  A lot can change in a year.  This video represents what my expectations are of Kindergarten students.)
  • I’m worried that she isn’t using what she knows about stories (and we read a lot of books!) and bringing that forth in her writing.

And I know she’s only four.  And I know she has another year of preschool.  And I know she needs to play and socialize and learn how to ‘do school.’  And I know she may grow up to be more like my husband (a math and science person) than like me (the ELA/SS person).  And I know I don’t want to force her to sit down and write because that would kill the joy of writing she may find on her own in a year or two.

I know all of these things, but, yet, I worry.

Head over to  for more slices of life.
Head over to for more slices of life.

35 thoughts on “Preschool Journal

  1. First, it’s our job to worry about our kids! Lily calls me a “worry-head,” because I’m always cautioning her, reminding her, trying to protect her and encourage her. Second of all, Isabelle has come such along way! Woo hoo! Something you could try is a little bit of interactive drawing (like interactive writing), where you draw parts and she draws parts, to make some drawings together that are representational. She might like side-by-side drawing with you (on her own terms, of course) and she’ll be super proud of the things you make together.

    1. Oooh, I like that idea Beth. We just started working on a Priddy coloring book together over the weekend, which she’s really enjoying. I’ll try this once we get a few more days of that under her belt. Easing into it (aka: trying to make her think it is on her terms) will be key! Thanks for the tip!

  2. I know it’s been a while since my girls were Isabelle’s age, but I remember that kindergarten was the magical year when things fell into place. My youngest child took the longest, and this worried me until I realized she had a fall birthday which made her almost 6 months younger starting than my other two. And yet by the end of kindergarten magic was happening.
    As a teacher, I know that the best readers are the best writers. Keep reading to her. The time you spend with her is so valuable. Stop worrying. You know nothing changes by worry.

  3. Oh, don’t worry Stacey. Everything will be alright. My eldest daughter had me coaxing crayons into her hand at age 2 when she had no interest. She resisted writing and was not the best speller at school….but……she became the best teacher I have ever known and was a journalist for a radio station doing live crosses on air and writing all her own scripts. She did all of this and then….she gave me the most beautiful grandson in the world 4 weeks ago. Some kids just love the smell of pencils and some just don’t and would rather play with baby chickens and make up cubbies for their dogs and read, read, read. She will write. She will write when it counts. Don’t worry.

  4. I know I could tell you not to worry, but I know you still will worry. I love the suggestion of interactive drawing and labeling. I think that would be something Isabelle would love. I also know you are doing all the right things I would tell a parent to do. One other suggestion is to immerse Isabelle in writing just like you have done with books. I know you are always writing, but make it intentional to show her writing has a purpose. Make a point of putting signs up around the house with you drawing and labeling your drawings. Share your shopping lists, directions, recipes, notes, etc. Hopefully, she will want to start leaving notes for you. It will happen!

  5. From all that you have written here, it is evident that you are a great mom! (I feel like we’re always afraid to really believe that of ourselves.) I love the idea of writing side by side. I also think back to our basic writing instruction, which asks us to read as writers. While reading to Isabelle, you could notice text structures, story elements, and patterns. I notice how much my own tot enjoys the power of three and the use of a great onomatopoeia. Your house is filled with love language; your kid will get there!

  6. I am chuckling as it is almost the opposite of the nurse’s/doctor’s child. I have many friends and family members in the medical profession and they are always the last ones to take their kids in for something medical. We teachers don’t want our kids to struggle so want to do whatever we can to set them up for success. I think the best rule of thumb is what would you tell a parent of a child in your class? If they were developing at an appropriate rate for their age, what would you have them do at home? At the same time, parenting decisions are different that educational choices and how much a child is pushed varies greatly (with a huge variety of results). The main thing? Don’t worry. She is doing exactly what she should be doing!

  7. So much good advice above, Stacey, & my early childhood work was a long time ago. I imagine Isabelle is doing what she wants to be doing, & will be inspired next year by classmates & by her teacher. Each person is unique, doing what feels good & often ignoring what doesn’t. I can see this in my middle school aged students, too. It’s a big risk to do what you don’t know if you can, or don’t especially like to do. She’ll get there!

  8. The more you worry, the less you will enjoy. On the scribble that you said ‘Oh My’ about, I thought ‘how lovely’. I miss those relaxed drawings of my children. That work where they weren’t worried about what it had to be. I promise you, she will amaze you with the path she takes. It will not be the path you thought would happen and it will open your eyes to how different your own child is from those you’ve taught.

  9. Never having had any children and being a Middle School teacher I really have no advice to offer. What I can say, however, is that as a outsider looking at Isabelle’s work progress is evident. She is her own person and will blossom into the person she is meant to be. I am sure that one day you will look back and think, “Why was I worried?” I know, easier said than done.

  10. It has been years but one summer I worked with a little one who struggled at everything. We drew and wrote in the sand and let the water wash it way. We used paint brushes and water to write on the side walk and watched it disappear. We used colorful chalk up and down the sidewalk. We drew and wrote together all summer but never really touched a pencil by fall she was ready to use a smaller pallet – so we moved to large paper, then notebooks – Let writing being play this summer – she will grow into it when she is ready.

  11. You’ve been given great advice, Stacey, and I’m not sure I have anything else to add. My children did not keep journals until they were older, and they got to in because they wanted to and felt ready. I see Isabelle as fully present in her life, noticing and enjoying everything and building experiences that she can remember and write about when she’s ready. Joanne wrote about chalk – my kids did a lot of that kind of “writing” in their early years, and (this is going to sound crazy) but I used to spread shaving cream all over their play table and they would go to town drawing and story telling. It was messy, but they loved it and still remember lazy afternoons spent drawing in shaving cream.

      1. I did the shaving cream thing too with my kids and tell parents to spread it over the shower wall. Then it just rinses away. So much fun!

  12. Stacey, I have to agree with everyone … keep doing what you are doing! Reading, writing, drawing together. What’s most important that we don’t push too hard or that love is quickly gone. I love the interactive drawing (and then eventually interactive writing) idea! I’m in a little different boat, as my two girls (both 5, heading to kindergarten in the fall) are in different developmental stages. And it’s hard not to compare them! But we celebrate what each are doing well individually and I think about my “teaching points” for the next time. 🙂 It’s hard being a parent knowing as much as we do! Enjoy the reading, writing, drawing time together with Isabelle … with minimal stress and worry.

  13. I agree, too. The beauty of raising children is realizing that they are their own people…they will be who they were meant to be. I simply kept an easel with fingerpaints set up in our kitchen, reams of paper and a huge tub of crayons always out..My girls could paint when they wanted, “write books” when they wanted, “read” when they wanted, or play dress up when they wanted. We had a very chaotic, messy, kid-centered house and I lived in fear of “drop-in” guests. But it all worked out…they grew up relatively normal (!) and both are writers!

  14. Stacey, a mother’s task is to worry about her children so on that note everyone agrees that it is fine to worry but don’t over-worry. I think Isabelle would be able to tell if you felt stressed about her writing strategies for telling her story. Ann Marie Corgill is an early literacy educator and author that I have heard speak several times. Perhaps, she can give sound advice.

  15. As both a mom and a kindergarten teacher, do not worry. I would encourage you to do a lot of oral storytelling. I find the little ones who struggle in K, are those who do not have a sense of story. Once children are able to orally tell you a story or tell you about something they did, enjoy, etc., then the writing follows. The pictures and words begin to emerge and by the end of kindergarten, they are writing sentence after sentence. Good luck. Your child’s teacher will be so lucky to have a supportive parent like yourself 🙂

  16. Hi Stacey! My son Alex will be 5 in October but I made the decision to have him do another year of preschool before kindergarten so he also has one more year of learning before the “Big K.” I taught kindergarten for ten years and I know that there are high expectations for what K kids can do, but they come in at all different levels. I found the kindergarten kids often needed explicit instruction in how to draw a person and how to pay attention to details like hair color and eye color. Preschoolers might not be ready for that. My son, Alex, gets OT for fine motor issues so writing is not his favorite task for handwriting purposes,but he loves to scribble and create a story about what he is “writing.” He tends to want to do his “Alex work” when he sees me doing what I call my “mommy work” (teaching related stuff!). You probably already have this, but how about setting up a little desk for your daughter with colorful post-its and all different writing tools? When you are working, she can “work” too. I was also thinking that maybe you could do some book creating with photographs, stickers, etc. if the actual act of writing isn’t her favorite. Maybe you could collaboratively compose the story about a shared family experience, using pictures that she could help glue down. I agree with all the smart advice above- as she works on strengthening her grasp and OT skills for the physical act of writing, you can keep helping her develop her sense of story by frequently telling stories about the shared experiences you have, reading to her, and giving her lots of writing supplies and space to use writing in pretend play (creating menus, doctor’s prescriptions, and other types of writing that could come from imaginative play.) Do you have Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover’s Already Ready: Nurturing Writers in Preschool and Kindergarten? The writing in the book looks similar to Isabelle’s (and Alex’s) and according to Katie and Matt, those writers are READY. So maybe no need to worry after all! 🙂

    1. THANK YOU, Kathleen, for this incredible response. You’ve given me so many ideas. I like the idea of creating the book with the photos and stickers. We can do that for the recent trip we took to DC. (I can’t remember the last time I printed photos.) I’ve never thought of having her create menus and Rxes. Very cute.

      Sounds like your Alex and my Isabelle have a lot in common. Not sure if you know this, but Isabelle receives OT 2-3x/week, which is a lot of the reason she’s delayed. She has a craft table that she works at. Seeing as she loves Staples, I’m thinking that perhaps we’ll go there and get some fun office supplies for her desk to encourage more writing. I know she had her eye on the Poppin supplies ( the last time we were there. They were too pricey for me to buy for her, but perhaps a few of them might encourage her to feel more like a writer.

      I haven’t read Already Ready. I think Betsy Hubbard and I were talking about reading it, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Knowing that work like Isabelle’s is in there book makes me feel reassured. That will be on my summer TBR. Thanks for the reminder.

  17. Stacey, I honestly don’t think you have any reason to be worried whatsoever. I’ve read all your posts here, and Isabelle has many, many literacy skills that are going far surpass her kindergarten peers. Her knowledge of books and authors and stories… that’s a very firm foundation for more reading and writing if you ask me. I think when Isabelle is ready – developmentally and emotionally – she’s going to soar. I really do believe that.

  18. Wow, you have so much good advice in these comments that you could write a few blog posts. All four of my girls read and wrote at different ages and with different inspiration. Keep loving writing with her–keep drawing, keep telling stories, keep celebrating hers.

    A favorite line that I have to give Christine Holley the credit for is “What do you want to say?” That young writers can read their own writing is less important than their understanding that writing is a way to communicate.

  19. I taught preschool and kindergarten for 12 years. You have received a lot of good advice here. I think the Already Ready book is an excellent read and you would enjoy it. I also recommend the book Talking, Drawing, and Writing by Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe. What I dearly loved about that book was the idea that some children don’t know how to “see” to draw. They need help in breaking down what they want to draw. They need help seeing shapes. When I taught my students to do this, I was amazed at how their confidence and desire to write grew. I made books with my own sons when they were PreK age using stickers and photos about trips to the zoo or vacations. We would make them using a predictable text so they could read them later. These books were a hit for my boys. I think your daughter will soar in Kindergarten. It is our job to worry, but try not to. She is perfectly made and already ready!

  20. I didn’t read everyone’s comments, so maybe I’m repeating. If so, I apologize. I have been teaching for many years and have seen students at so many levels. It’s okay to worry as long as it doesn’t cause you or your family too much stress. It’s not unusual to be concerned. Some kids love having a crayon or pencil in their hand, and for others, they don’t enjoy it yet or maybe won’t ever have that be their absolute favorite. Like others, I agree that reading together, storytelling aloud and talking about the cool things authors do in their writing can all help build a foundation. There are also a few ways to write or draw that are very engaging for most children. Shaving cream on different surfaces, pudding on wax paper, and fingerpaints are all quite fun along with sidewalk chalk and even wet thick paintbrushes on summer sidewalks. Storytelling with a dictation app can also be fun or creating stories together. My children and I made some books with photos of things we did with our own text. I wouldn’t push it past her comfort though. She has lots of time to explore the things she enjoys and she has so much support that she is going to be just fine.

  21. Stacey, I will have to take pictures from my preschool journals for you. Part of my speech therapy was for my mom and I to write in a journal together. I would tell her things, she would write them down and draw pictures to go with them. In some cases, I drew pictures as well. I haven’t read the other comments (sorry!) but my suggestion for a summer journal is to have Isabelle dictate a story to you about her day or something you did together (great speech practice!!) while you write it down and draw a little comic that illustrates her story or words. She may want to contribute some days, she may not but by doing this, you show her that A) her words have value and meaning, B) her story is worth sharing, C) what print and images can look like, and so on. I just got Stella’s journal from her last year of pre-school and the progression from September to now is amazing. My last piece of advice would be not to push it too hard or put a lot of pressure on her in this area. She already has great exposure to literacy, and her skills will emerge in time!

  22. Stacey,
    You have a lot of great feedback right here. I love looking at the writing of young children. How wonderful that Isabelle’s teachers took the time to record the stories that go along with each piece. As a first grader teacher, I am continually reassuring parents to give things time. Children do things at different times and learn in different ways. The writers I work with each day are often a little older than Isabelle. It’s amazing how much is learned each year when children are four and five and six. It’s one of the things I love most about first grade. I’m always amazed to see the difference in a learner from the beginning to the end of the year. Even better, I can usually concretely show parents the change in the child’s writing, reading, math, and thinking.

    Continuing to give Isabelle many opportunities to draw and write will help her continue to grow her stories. If she doesn’t already have these, large spaces to draw might be fun for her. I’m thinking of large chalkboards, dry erase boards, and spaces for writing play. There are also different tools that might be of interest to her. Someone mentioned chalk outside (was that Betsy??…wink wink) which would be another great way for her to have opportunities to draw and write.

    I love that you keep such an eye on Isabelle’s development. It’s obvious you want what is best for her. She’s very lucky.


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Cathy. Actually, Betsy and I had a long conversation on the phone last night and she gave me some more ideas/insight.

      BTW: Speaking of the transcription, I don’t think it’s exactly what Isabelle said. I know she doesn’t consistently speak in gramatically correct sentences. (The one I captured with the faces from 2/25/15 is an accurate dictation of what she said.) I’m talking to her teacher for next year tomorrow to discuss making sure that what’s captured is actually what she says (since that will help me better track her oral language growth).

  23. There are so many actionable and powerful words of advice here Stacey, all I could add is to give you a hug and say that Isabelle will rock this world. She is going to be more that ok. I can see and feel her power through your chronicle of her actions, thoughts and words.

    Speaking from the point of view of a mom with her baby girl entering her last year of high school, I’d encourage you to treasure and collect all the moments (good, bad and questionable). And keep writing!


  24. I love this, especially all the tips in the comments! Kindergarten is a very different experience here: it lasts for 2 years, so Claire will start in September. However, I am less worried about writing skills than you because I have a pretty good idea of where her peers will be. I have seen problems for the kids who are too far AHEAD of their peers, so I am just going to let it all happen for her as she is ready. She loves to draw, so she gets lots of fine motor practice doing that. She loves to try and write her name, but isn’t really great at it yet. I hadn’t thought of the shaving cream drawing! We’ll do that this summer (both kids), keep playing with play dough to strengthen hand muscles, and keep reading every day! Our favourite books are the ones I have printed on Shutterfly with pictures of us doing things and text written by me. Claire wants to help me write the next one. 🙂

    Now Spencer…that’s going to be another story! But he’s only 2 3/4 so I’m not going to panic (yet!)

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