This year, Carter came home at the first of the year with a journal. As a writer, I was very excited that he would be encouraged to write more through the year. It seems like after the intense focus on reading in third grade, they’re expanding a little in fourth grade to include writing as well. It’s such an important skill, no matter what career you end up pursuing.

I have to admit though, my excitement waned dramatically when I read the note with the journal. This wasn’t just a notebook meant for Carter to write his thoughts and feelings in once a week. It was for a parent too! That’s why it’s called a dialogue journal. The assignment is that once a week, one of us writes something, possibly ending with a question. Then it’s time for the other person to write, answering that question and expounding on it.

At first, I dreaded it. I write for a living. The last thing I want to do is have another writing assignment! It felt a little over-ambitious for teachers to ask parents, so busy with work, shuttling kids to activities, cleaning house, and making supper, to add one more thing to the to-do list.

But pretty quickly, my feelings on the journal changed.

For one thing, this parent journal, with its weekly deadline, has been a great way for me to actually keep up with a journal of my own. After all, I’ve made many New Year’s resolutions to start a journal. I’ve bought beautiful journals from Barnes & Noble or stationery stores to encourage me to write. And I’ll always excitedly start with a few entries. But then things get busy. I end up reading or watching TV. Laundry needs to be folded. And the journal ends up in the drawer of my nightstand full of empty pages. Sure, writing along with Carter means what I write about is different than if it were my personal journal. I might not be writing observations on the kids or my deepest feeling in this one, since Carter reads it, but it’s still a weekly writing practice. The practice is what’s important.

Another interesting thing about the journal is the dialogue aspect. When I first handed it to Carter and said, “I guess it’s time for you to write,” he was stuck. Absolute writer’s block. So I offered to go first, and ended with a question. That gave him something to write about, and it didn’t seem so hard. Immediately I saw why the teacher assigned this type of project. Writing is important for a fourth grader, but unless you happen to be a person who just loves keeping a diary, it’s hard to think of what to write when you’re staring at a blank page.

The dialogue aspect has been fun too, as Carter and I ask questions back and forth to each other. Simple things, like what is your favorite holiday, or what are you looking forward to about the Ash Wednesday service? Turns out, he likes the pancakes. Go figure!

Through the journal, and this is probably the teacher’s goal, I have been able to see his writing improve over the year. And the other benefit, maybe even greater than the weekly writing practice Carter and I are getting, is the actual journal we are creating together. I know that 10, 20, or even 40 years from now, Carter will be able to go back to and read this journal, and be filled with special memories of his childhood. You don’t get that from a science fair project!