Summer Journal and how to Make It Easy for Kids

5 Simple Things to remember when starting a summer journal with kids.

One night, as we were settling into bedtime routine, my son was going through the book choices to read. His fingers were running though the backs of the well-worn-out bindings…

”No. No…no? No.” Nothing seemed to satisfy his bedtime mood, until…Until he saw his Summer Journal on the shelf.

His eyes lit up, and his whole body seemed to exude giddy joy and excitement. I never saw him climb into his bed so quickly! He got comfy with his pillows, tucked his Star Wars blanket on all sides in for extra comfort, and finally opened the first page of his summer journal.

summer journal

My son reading his summer journal at bedtime…

To watch his reactions from reading his own summer stories was absolutely priceless. “Oh I remember that!”, “This was so fun, I want to do it again next summer!”, “Umm, I can’t believe I drew that, haha! It’s so bad!”, he’d keep saying, turning page after page in a hurried excitement.

I quietly watched him as I picked up his laundry and fixed a fallen picture frame on his dresser. At that moment, nothing was as sweet as this scene in front me: a child reliving his memories, captured in his own words and drawings.

I knew in that moment, that I will try to encourage this practice of a summer journal every single summer, no matter the whining and grunting, the result will be so worth it and appreciated years down the road.

Up to date, we have kept 4 summer journals. Our family’s summer memories all tucked into those fun messy books dated 2015-2018. It is truly one of the most precious possessions my kids own. Something they put their sweat  and imagination into, something that’s truly theirs, something that’s a part of them and us, as a family.

summer journal

Do you want to help your kids keep a Summer Journal this summer?

I’ll help you break it down.

First of all, in order to help your kids keep a summer journal, you must have: patience, flexibility, and have a few creative solutions up your sleeve.

Let me explain:
  • If you kids are young, you will find that you need to help them by guiding their story-telling. For example, when my daughter was 5, she couldn’t quite write her stories, so she would dictate them to me, and then she would draw a picture about it. We compromised.
  • If your kid is not much into writing, encourage him/her to use a different style to express themselves. For example, my son would more likely to create a story in a series of comic strips than write a descriptive paragraph. My daughter, on the other hand, would probably require extra pages glued in because she absolutely loves to write, include tiniest details, and story tell.
  • Figure out what your child’s strengths and weaknesses are, and base their journaling styles on that. Try not to force cookie cutter writing, because it will inadvertently end up in having very frustrated kids and a stressed out parent. Ask your kids how they like to express themselves the best and follow their lead.
  • If you lack creative qualities, do not dismiss it right away by saying “I’m not creative enough to do this thing”. There’s Pinterest for inspiration, there’s YouTube for instruction, and there are your own kids’ ideas on how to do stuff. Listen to them, and you’ll be surprised with their genius solutions and logical explanations. Pick and choose or combine these and come up with your own game plan.

5 Simple Summer Journal Tips:

1.Attitude and expectations 

It is absolutely crucial to your success that you know your EXPECTATIONS and LIMITATIONS. And in this case, also the ones of your kids. Ask yourself these questions:

what do you want your family journal experience to feel like in the process?

Possible answers:

  • nice bonding time as we talk about our outings and collect memories;
  • something we look forward to doing together;
  • a good alternative to “quiet time” ( a calming activity of writing and drawing or  a nice break for mom to catch up on housework while the kids are busy writing/drawing, etc.)
what do you see as the end result?

Possible answers:

  • a beautiful book with neat pictures and neat writing
  • a book done entirely by my kid…messy, but creative
  • a  family journal that we worked on together: some neat pages and some messy
  • a collection of whatever kids wanted to glue/ write/draw about, I don’t want to interfere
  • etc.
what skills do you/your kids have to keep a summer journal?

Possible answers:

  • I’m great at calligraphy, I can show how to draw pretty titles
  • I’m also great at organizing, I can help my kids to have their journal supplies in order and in one place
  • my daughter is an awesome creative writer
  • she is good at drawing animals
  • my son has a very quirky sense of humor, he’s good at making his stories funny and entertaining
  • etc.
what skills do you see yourself/your kids learning as a result?

Possible answers:

  • I hope to learn patience and letting go of control
  • kids learn the discipline of sticking to a goal
  • daughter will slow down and pay attention to spelling in her stories
  • son will learn to add details to his writing and use descriptive adjectives more
  • my kids will improve their overall writing skills
  • etc.
what is the least amount of effort that would make you content?

Possible answers:

  • at least 10 entries but completed and done well
  • writing at least once-twice a week
  • recorded 5 main events, like 4th of July, Beach Week-end, Lake House, Road Trip, Carnival
  • etc.

It’s also important to know that if you set the bar of your own expectations too high, not only will the kids feel defeated and disappointed at the end, but also you will lose sight of why you were doing this in the first place.

It has to be a fun family activity first. Knowing what would be enough for your summer journal to be OK as your end result in your eyes and your kids’ eyes as well is super important.

Bottom Line: Examine your strengths and focus on those, work on learning new skills, ask your kids for input, and set your (and your kids’) expectations just right.

2.Summer Journal supplies

summer journal

Basic Supplies:
  • Notebook
  • Pen (my kids love these erasable pens)
  • Pencils
  • Markers
  • Crayons
  • Paint
  • Scotch tape (for attaching artifacts) or additional drawings
  • glue, glue stick, or tape runner

Journaling can take many forms, but the classic one is a simple notebook. All you need to start a journal is a notebook and a pen. That’s very basic, but it is absolutely enough to document your summer days.

What I found with my own kids is that they prefer to draw a picture of their day first, and then they base their  storytelling on that.

If your kids are anything like mine, invest into a new box of markers and crayons.

I also recommend a sketching book for your journal. Sketchbooks have sturdier pages and markers do not bleed through. I get my sketchbooks at Michaels. They run for about $7-8, have close to 100 sturdy pages, and the quality is top-notch.

For younger kids, you can draw lines with a pencil for their writing parts.

If you prefer, you can journal on a regular printer paper as well. After that you can insert your paper into a sheet protector and make a summer journal binder!

3.Summer Journal Styles

You choose the style that suits you best. Don’t try to copy someone else just because it looks cool or you admire them. You can still appreciate someone else’s genius without straining yourself to replicate their work. Find your groove and help your kids find their own style. You will enjoy summer journaling that much more if you are doing something you enjoy.

summer journal

my son’s comic strip style journaling

Journal styles:
  • Classic journals with simple story-telling
  • Storytelling and drawings
  • Just drawings/paintings with captions
  • Photographs and stories
  • Comic strips
  • Collection of memorabilia with captions
  • Bullet journal
  • Smash journal
  • Guided journal

If your children are young, guided journaling might be a great way to help them to express themselves with the writing prompts.

4.Allocated time for your Summer Journal

How Long Will It Take

It doesn’t take much time to write an entry for your journal. Generally, 15-20 minutes is all it takes to jot down some thoughts about your day, and maybe another 10 to draw a picture, glue the ticket stub, or find that cookie fortune in your pocket, etc.

So, in the best case scenario, it should take about 30 minutes per story.

In the typical case at my house, it takes about 1 hour. And it includes set up, fighting over crayons, figuring out the picture, making notes for the story, finding our treasures to glue (like pressed leaves and flowers, tickets, a wrapper, etc.), and clean up.

When to Journal

I find that if my kids have a specific time allocated for their journals, it makes the process a lot easier and more predictable. Routines for the win!

If you leave it to a typical summer response “I’ll get to it when I get to it” it’s safe to say that you probably won’t.

Set a time (and maybe a timer) in your day that it makes sense to “chill and reflect”.

Typically, early mornings, quiet afternoons, and early evenings are great to unwind and relax with some writing.

summer journal

Don’t wait too late in the evenings though! The energy levels on summer nights are close to none, haha.

If electronics use works great as an incentive, use that to motivate writing. Journaling first, gaming after!


The reward will be the journal itself, of course.

But if you and kids have set a specific goal and actually reached it, then I believe it is fair (and necessary) to acknowledge their effort and to reward completion of their summer journal with as fun treat.

Your goals could be:
  • Introducing and working on creative writing
  • help your kids with setting a goal, breaking it down, and reaching it
  • improving art skills
  • working on spelling
  • and so many others

What the reward will be is entirely up to you and your family.

some reward ideas:
  • your kids’ choice for going out to dinner (even if it means a frozen yogurt joint)
  • a day at the pool
  • Wii day/gaming day
  • bedtime of choice
  • a day at the amusement park
  • beach day
  • etc.

Celebrate your accomplishment and acknowledge your kids’ efforts, no matter how small and messy.

summer journal

One of the best ways to keep your memories alive is to actually keep track of them! One may do it through taking pictures or videos (raising my hand). Someone else may do it through collecting ticket stubs, flowers, or souvenirs. And yet, others, keep an art journal where they draw/paint their experiences and feelings.  Whatever the means, it is a gift to your heart that keeps on giving by taking you back into the times of fun and adventure.

Try Summer Journals this year and see for yourself! If you have any questions or would like to share your own way of collecting memories, please, leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

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