Inside my project journal

Published by Lori Pickert on November 3, 2008 at 02:04 PM

Recently I wrote about keeping track of what’s happening in your children’s project work by keeping a project journal.

You can do this many ways; I’ve even experimented with doing it on the computer, but then I needed a way to take notes away from home and so I needed a physical notebook anyway.

As long as you are keeping track of things that happen — so you can read back, reflect, keep track of unanswered questions and not-yet-used suggestions — any kind of record should do.

Here is how I do it.

During the day (or week), I keep track of things I want to remember on Post-It notes. I try to remember to date them, so I know approximately when things happened and in what order.

At some point, I transfer my notes into my journal. (If it’s a particularly relaxing day, I transcribe them straight into my journal.)

For me, when I transcribe my notes is when I reflect on what’s happening with the project, what has already transpired and directions it may be taking, etc.

Jack is writing a blog about his project, so I print out his entries and glue them in with any notes I have.

I take photographs of him working (at home and abroad) and put those in my journal as well.

Anything that is unfinished — plans, questions, confusions, ideas — I draw a square around, so I can find them easily flipping back later. When a project begins to lose momentum, I can flip back and remind Jack of something he wanted to do but hadn’t gotten around to yet. In this way, I keep track of all the project’s possibilities. Usually, simply being reminded of his idea is enough to get him going again.

My project journal has a main purpose — keeping track of things I would otherwise forget.

I do that not just by keeping notes, but by reviewing them. If you write and write but never reflect on what you’ve written, your journal is simply dead text. It’s the process of reflection and discussion that turns the journal into a living resource.

I can help Jack remember his best ideas (they sometimes fly fast and furious), and I can help myself keep track of everything he accomplished over weeks and months of investigation.

I also use it as a tool for my own ongoing project, which is researching how he learns and how I can better support his self-direction. I read back and reflect on what I could have done better, what I might do next time, and how my behavior affected his.

As a bonus, the act of documenting your child’s learning sends a very powerful message that you think his work is important. Taking notes, taking photographs, reviewing your journal — you are creating a family (or classroom) culture that respects and rewards doing important work. Children recognize where you put your time and attention; they know that what they are doing is important enough to warrant it.

The simple act of keeping a journal is a powerful way to focus on what is significant — and maybe naming what is important to us is the first step in creating more of it.


Comment by Sarah Jackson on November 3, 2008 at 04:40 PM

What a great post - I tend toward writing things down and not going back for follow through. I need to explore new ways to remind myself to go back.

It's a great record of the project. I love it,

Comment by Laura Swanson on November 3, 2008 at 05:14 PM

That journal is so inspiring!! I was stuck in the car on a family trip for 4 hours yesterday without my calendar or journal (they accidently were left behind) I did not waste time though - I used every McDonald's napkin in the car to write on & planned & calendared as we went. My kids just laughed at mom's "resourcefulness."

Comment by Quinne on November 3, 2008 at 08:07 PM

Hi Lori :) Another SUPER post! Thank you for sharing what you are thinking, what you do, and the process that works for you. So encouraging and helpful!

When I post on my homeschool blog later this afternoon, I am going to link to this :) Love to you, Q

Comment by greenchickadee on November 3, 2008 at 08:13 PM

Thanks so much for sharing this! All your posts are always excellent (you know I'm a big fan!) I really appreciate this because it's giving me a tangible idea of something that is still a bit intangible for me. Fabulous! Love the enginerd paper too! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 3, 2008 at 08:17 PM

thank you, sarah! yes, reflection is key. it's one thing to keep a record of what *has* happened; it's another to use your journal as a tool to support what *will* happen.

laura, thank you! lol re: not having your journal .. i feel bereft without mine. i do the exact same thing and write on absolutely anything i can find. :^)

thank you, quinne! it does help to see exactly what another person is doing, i think -- easier to see it rather than try to visualize. thank you for linking back to my post!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 3, 2008 at 08:44 PM

thank you, greenchickadee! ;^) and i am addicted to grid paper .. *addicted*. :^)

Comment by Tara on November 3, 2008 at 11:04 PM

I'm drooling over your organizational goodies. I wish the rest of my house was as analytical as I am; it would make it much more fun for me! Instead we've had to compromise on living somewhere between chaos and neat-freakishness. Delicate balance it is.

Comment by Cristina on November 3, 2008 at 11:22 PM

That is a wonderful idea! I love how you put it all together.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 4, 2008 at 12:27 AM

hi tara -- i am really disorganized, that’s why i need the notebook! :^P

thanks, cristina! :^)

Comment by Theresa on November 4, 2008 at 02:54 AM

Nice! Very inspiring.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 4, 2008 at 03:59 AM

thank you, theresa! :^)

Comment by Dawn on November 4, 2008 at 05:29 AM

"If you write and write but never reflect on what you’ve written, your journal is simply dead text."
This was it for me... so many times I fail to go back and reflect on my thoughts and ideas.

I take lots of pictures and my kids love it when I take pictures of their art. It does put extra importance on it.
Thanks for the great post and ideas!

Comment by Michelle on November 4, 2008 at 02:02 PM

I love how you have organized your journal. I can see how it is a very useful tool for you. I can also see how it becomes your project... working along side your kids. I know my kids keep at tasks longer if I'm sitting nearby working on my own project.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 4, 2008 at 02:17 PM

thank you, dawn. yes, photographing their work, displaying their work, talking with them, supporting them .. it creates a family (or classroom) culture that values (and therefore encourages) work .. without urging or cajoling or threatening.

michelle, i am usually working when they are working, although not always! ;^) but i am also documenting their work, and they do notice it (although by now it's a given) and i know that they see it as a sign that they are doing something important.

Comment by Kristi on November 4, 2008 at 03:47 PM

Great ideas!!! I may just have to "borrow" a few for our household. Thank you for a great post!

Comment by Leisa on November 5, 2008 at 12:33 AM

I miss my journals from preschool! I got them out the other day and just reflected on projects. Now... I guess I'm working on my own- house building journal.

Comment by Kerry on November 5, 2008 at 01:39 AM

I love reading your blog, it is really like a breath of fresh air for me. I've been waiting to find a way to integrate what I've learned to do in the early childhood world with homeschooling older kids. I am working on backing off of the structure to allow for some deeper learning. It somehow feels more risky to do this with older kids - with the little ones no one really cared about whether or not I was meeting objectives. Now I have the state of NY asking me for specifics every quarter.
In any case, I am attempting to move my journal in the direction you have shown. Thanks so much for sharing!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2008 at 01:49 AM

kristi, thank you! :^)

leisa, i know -- you know cloe just turned *seven*?!?!

kerry, thank you so much. i really appreciate that. lol re: no one caring whether the little ones met objectives -- hey, illinois has *early* learning standards, so there's no escaping benchmarks here.

we had multi-age classes through fourth grade at my school, so i am used to doing this type of work with older kids. just remember that it doesn't have to be your entire curriculum (although it certainly could be) -- and anything they accomplish during project work can be crossed off the "to do" list. you can keep a portfolio that demonstrates which benchmarks and objectives they met. you can do it! :^)

i'd be interested in hearing more about what NY requires -- think about posting in the forum! and e-mail me (or comment here, of course ;^) any time!

Comment by skye on November 5, 2008 at 05:15 AM

Hi Lori, thanks for dropping by my blog.
I love this post on the project journal. I've tried a few things over the last couple of years -I don't think I stick with one method long enough to actually feel its working. This year I've been keeping a daily notebook with everything in it- ideas, things the children say, weekly menu, reminders,drawings etc-all in place. I love the use of photo in keeping a track of your boys interests and work-I'll be using that idea. Thanks again I absolutely love your blog there is so much there-- I've been telling my HSing friends about it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2008 at 06:06 AM

skye, thank you! i appreciate that so much. :^)

Comment by Jennifer on November 5, 2008 at 05:58 PM

Thanks for giving us a peek of your journal, Lori. How inspiring now and how wonderful it will be later. Great, great stuff here!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2008 at 10:07 PM

thank you, jennifer! :^)

Comment by Cordelia on November 6, 2008 at 06:33 PM

Lori, for me the value of writing and reflecting is that it forces me to stifle myself in the moment. I know that my thinking will be clearer later, that my need to know the right thing to do or say right away is at odds with thoughtful methods. It helps me model thoughtfulness, too. Why did you write that down? I want to think about it some more. this will remind me. Thanks for setting a good example.

Comment by Nicki on November 6, 2008 at 09:51 PM

Thanks so much for this, it is a big help to me!

I've been excited about starting a project journal since you first post on them but was wary of it turning into a scribbly mess of "E did this, I did that, blah, blah, blah" . This gives me more to consider :o)

Comment by Susana on November 7, 2008 at 03:34 PM

Fascinating, amazing, joyful, inspiring. Thank you for sharing your process(es) with us.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 7, 2008 at 05:02 PM

cordelia, you are so right -- stopping to make notes takes some of the pressure off to immediately insert yourself into the situation. you know that you can gently pick it back up later when you won't be breaking your child's concentration or altering their direction.

thank you, nicki -- mine starts out as a scribbly mess, for sure. ;^) it's the act of cleaning it up that becomes my reflection and planning.

thank you, susana. :^)

Comment by Kerrie on November 9, 2008 at 12:15 PM

Hi Lori...I'm one of of the friends Skye's been talking to about your blog!!
Thanks so much for the project journal idea, I'm certainly going to do this as at the end of each day I'm amazed at the learning that has happened and even though I blog, to have something to review and reflect on will help reassure me we are on the right path! Thanks too for taking the time to visit my blog. Bless you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2008 at 02:34 PM

kerrie, thank you! :^)

Comment by Abbie on November 15, 2008 at 04:03 AM

Great to see your process! thanks for sharing.

Comment by jeannine on November 30, 2008 at 03:22 PM

Lori, Wow! I'm so impressed and inspired. This is such a meaningful way to explore the world. I love it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 30, 2008 at 03:56 PM

thank you, abbie and jeannine! :^)

Comment by Lisa on January 8, 2009 at 01:18 AM

I just found your blog via Harmony Art Mom. I am learning so much! Journaling is a great idea for keeping up with this. My daughter has some self-directed learning going on that I should be documenting somehow. I love this!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 8, 2009 at 04:58 AM

thank you, lisa!

Comment by Joni on January 17, 2009 at 03:19 AM

Hi Lori,

I've really been enjoying your blog since I found it recently. I've been journaling more this year as a way to record, reflect, and even plan. It makes more sense to my brain to go with what my kids are already interested in and take them further than to go with a certain timeline, or curriculum. This is very much more my personality. And I've been encouraged from reading through your posts to go with it! Today, at a Children's Museum we visited, I used my notebook to record dialogue and specifics of what I observed rather than just the activities that each one pursued. I'm hopeful that more ideas and inspiration will come from this way of documenting. The pics idea is one I'd love to pursue as well. I keep a journal with my oldest who is 7. It started as a way to get my reluctant boy writing without pressure, and has turned into a neat memory-keeping and relationship building tool. I used notes and photos in that one. Just a note to let you know that your writings inspire me. I am a former ps teacher who was just investing the Reggio style when I got pregnant and never returned to the classroom. Your ideas about how to bring this philosophy into our homeschool is just what I needed. Looking forward to the new club that starts soon!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 17, 2009 at 01:45 PM

joni, that is wonderful; thank you for commenting and letting me know! it sounds like you are doing a beautiful job with your documentation. i would love to get a peek at your project journal some time. ;^) let me know how your work goes!

Comment by Jessica on March 26, 2009 at 02:59 PM

I think documenting my kids' learning would be so inspiring to them-- they'd want me to fill in more pages in my journal about them and so they'd work just to see me focusing journal space on THEM. I'm trying to figure out how best to go about my documentation. Should I put all 4 kids (ages 8, 7, 4, and 2, I won't make a project journal for the new baby yet) in one journal, or create a separate journal for each? I've got to figure out how to fit it consistently into my life with 5 little ones, but can see how it can also help me focus and remember with my being so busy and scattered.
Anyway, I'm going to make this a goal and refer back to this post often to keep me consistent. Any advice or other resources you can think of would be great!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 26, 2009 at 03:42 PM

jessica, yes, that is exactly it — it creates a family culture that honors work, that motivates them without coercion.

re: how you should do your documentation, i’m not sure. i think if they were doing different projects, i would separate them — but you could use four different sections of a single journal so as not to be juggling a stack of them. ;^)

if they were working together on a single project, i would definitely use a single journal. i guess i’m saying i would have a different journal for each project rather than each child.

re: other advice or resources, i would just feel free to experiment with some different materials for documenting. i rely a lot on post-its. when we worked with a whole classroom of children (which you pretty much have! ;^) we liked to use really large sketchbooks — the large page allows you to get a whole day’s worth of events written down together.

let me know how it goes!

Comment by nancy on September 7, 2009 at 01:33 AM

Hi Lori,
The project journal is something that I am interested in trying. Last year, I just kept track of what we did and recorded each week as they happened or after the fact. I think I might try out your suggestions from this post.
Re-reading some of your other posts on project based learning is helping me flesh out some thoughts. I was researching online about unit studies and I just don't see myself or the kids working that way. Doing some prescribed plan and checking it off the list for the day. I think that my kids and I would really miss out on some cool learning if we worked that way!!
Thanks for keeping your blog up and available:)

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 7, 2009 at 02:27 PM

hi nancy :^)

re: project journal, YES, the key to using it as a real tool is to keep looking back in it and also projecting forward. if you just write down what happened, then it’s a record but not a tool… using your journal this way is a learned skill, but as you get the hang of it, you start recognizing all the possibilities.

let me know how it’s going!

Comment by Julia on October 28, 2009 at 12:34 AM

I realize this an old post, but I've just discovered your site. I'm so inspired by many of your posts. Thank you for sharing specifics such as these project journals.

My 4 yr. old daughter has such a curiosity on how things are. She wanted to know how glass was made, so my husband Youtubed the info. for her. Then for about a week it was about Octopus and how they can hide. Today she was insistent on knowing how water was made.

This seems like the perfect idea. ^_^.

Comment by Saminda on March 19, 2010 at 09:55 AM

WOW!! I love this idea so, so much. And I've really enjoyed looking through your blog tonight. You have inspired me a great deal, thank you!
Saminda xo

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 23, 2010 at 02:27 PM

thank you, saminda! :^)

Comment by Stacey on July 15, 2010 at 03:17 PM

Starting this is my present for myself for A's 4th birthday. We're actually making a big deal of creating learning journals today for both of us. One where I keep what he wants me to and one for me. We're going down to the big library and making a "date" of it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 15, 2010 at 05:17 PM

wonderful. :^)

i hope you find it to be a wonderful experience and a powerful tool.

please keep me up to date on how it's working!

Comment by Stephinie on February 7, 2011 at 02:15 PM

I have been looking for a way to gently document our unschooling days.... this is perfection. I'm so glad to have found your space :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2011 at 02:42 PM

stephinie, i'm so glad. let me know how it goes!

Comment by Dawn Suzette on August 6, 2011 at 01:42 AM

I just read this one again. Reminding me that I have to PRINT some of these pictures I take to add to project journals.
Also getting out my sticky notes again...
Things to run soooooo much better when I am writing in all down and reflecting on what they are learning. I am going to have to really keep up with it more now that Dylan is getting into some bigger project concepts... ones I really need to talk to you about if you have the time. I have been meaning to e-mail you for about a month now.
Thanks again for the motivation.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 6, 2011 at 01:20 PM

hey you can just print them in b&w on regular paper, too. :)

"Things to run soooooo much better when I am writing in all down and reflecting on what they are learning." absolutely. it's so easy to lose the thread of what's happening if you stop documenting. SO easy.

email me anytime! and thank YOU. xo

Comment by Charmaine on August 22, 2011 at 01:08 AM

Hi Lori - First, since this is my first comment on your wonderful amazing blog, I just wanted to say a big thank you for providing such a wonderful resource to us all! I have been reading your blog like crazy since discovering it and I love it! But, I admit, I am feeing very nervous about starting. Nervous, but excited too! :)

I'm trying to get my head around the parent journal idea - if *my* project is helping my child learn to learn, supporting them in their interests, is my journal about the child or about a particular project they are working on? If it's the latter, what about stuff that happens, questions he asks, things he wants to do that is OUTSIDE that project? Obviously I can't record it all, but for figuring out his interests and what might be the next project, wouldn't I want to record some of it? And how do I know when to stop??! I see myself spending way too much time on this and not enough time actually *being* with my child! Help! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 22, 2011 at 12:22 PM

hi charmaine :)

this is how i do it. i keep a journal for each project. projects almost always last long enough to fill a journal. in the beginning, though, you may try some mini-projects or you may be documenting their play and conversations to look for possible project topics -- in that case, you can use the same journal for awhile.

you're right -- you can't record *everything*. so focus on the project -- all the things you mention: questions, plans, ideas, what he does each day, photos, copies of sketches, etc.

over time, you'll begin to notice when he says something outside project work that you identify as a possible future interest or something that might be tangentially related to what he's doing now, etc. etc. -- and you can put that in there. what you *don't* want to do is try to record every single interest he has; keep the focus on one main interest (his project) -- that's how you dig deep, which is the whole idea.

this is a learned skill, and you will definitely become better over time at identifying the things he says and the things that happen that have the richest possibilities. in the beginning, you may write down too much or miss something -- that's okay! you are feeling your way there. you'll learn as you go, and your journaling will become more natural and more useful. but the learning process is important.

the most important thing, as always, is to get started. :)

let me know how it goes!


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