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 Charmaine on August 23, 2011 at 12:56 AM

Thanks Lori! I will give it a go - writing in a journal is a little scary for me but I'm excited about the idea! Now I just have to actually *start* and then keep it going past a week - two hard things for me! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 26, 2011 at 01:00 PM

if writing is scary, try collecting images and just making brief notes. you don't have to write paragraphs. :)

starting is the first step. then building a new habit. you can do it!

Comment by Charmaine on August 26, 2011 at 03:32 PM

Lori, what's funny is I used to be a freelance writer, but the thought of a journal is scary! I think it is mostly the fear of starting something new that I don't finish - something I am often guilty of! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 26, 2011 at 08:12 PM

that is something that has been discussed here again and again — the problem (and fear) of not finishing.

it's really a process more than anything — a way of paying attention. it can be challenging to make it a habit, but it's a very powerful tool for digging into how your children think and learn.

don't be scared. :)

Comment by Cassie on October 28, 2011 at 01:53 PM

Lori, First I want to thank you for all the rich information on your blog. We are in our second year of homeschooling and the idea of project based learning both terrifies and excites. The possibilities with this type of learning are endless!! I have been keeping a journal to record my girls' current interests and projects but I need to be better about looking back and reflecting on my writings. You are right, the more I journal, the more comfortable I become in letting their interests guide our learning (I am learning tons too!) the more I realize the beauty of the technique. Last year, letting go of the reigns would have been impossible. I used a popular classical approach but I felt we were drowning in curriculum and hardly making any meaning of what we were learning. I love that in project based learning, we can incorporate skills into content within the context of my children's interests. I still proceed with trepidation, but the more we take this approach, the more comfortable I feel in letting go. Thank you for letting us into your process. This post has been an immense help in how to proceed. Great job!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 1, 2011 at 09:18 PM

cassie, thank you for your wonderful comment — it made my day! :)

Comment by Charmaine on November 17, 2011 at 10:59 PM

OK so I'm being obsessive and instead of just *starting* (three months later!) I'm worrying still about how to do this. So in your example pages, you recorded something Jack recorded in his project journal ("got out his project notebook: what are cats ears made of?"). That just seems a double whammy to me. Why do you record something that he's already recorded/documented/captured? Surely you don't record everything he puts in his journal, so why this? Am I nitpicking?!!?!

I *really* need your book, Lori! When oh when?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 17, 2011 at 11:24 PM

soon :^)

why do i record it? because this is *my* journal. he is working away, exploring, discovering, researching, making. i am highlighting the things that i especially want to remember - things i may want to remind him of later, if he forgets. if he posts questions on the wall, we can both see them and talk about them. if he writes something in his journal, i might note it in mine as well so i can remind him later, when things slow down, if he forgot about it. i don't poke around in his journal, so i make sure to record whatever i think i need to remember in mine.

his journal is a collection of writing, notes, sketches, bits of ephemera taped in, photographs, drawings .. i can encourage him to look back through it, but *i* don't go through it (unless he invites me to). so my journal needs to contain what i want to think about and remember.

Comment by Charmaine on November 17, 2011 at 11:35 PM

Oh Lori you are just so darn sensible! :) That all makes sense. Thank you!

I guess I have no excuse to put this off any longer... ;)

Soon for the book? Oh you tease!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 18, 2011 at 12:53 AM

i try to be darn sensible. :)

you just need to dive in and experiment with it!

i'm not trying to tease — book is back from the proofreader and we are waiting on the new website to launch, book cover to be done. it's all pulling together soon, i promise. :)

Comment by Charmaine on November 18, 2011 at 12:57 AM

Yay! Glad to hear it, and very excited for you! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 18, 2011 at 02:13 AM

thank you! :^)

Comment by Ellie on May 13, 2013 at 07:40 AM

Hi Lori. I haven't visited for a while. The last time was before we started homeschooling - when it was an inkling of an idea. And now it's here and real and happening. And scary and wonderful.

I've recently picked up my copy PBH, to re-read. All the things I need to take note of, and remember. Oh golly. What words of wisdom you have to share with me. I'm listening.

I really like this post. I've been wondering how to keep track of it all. Everything that goes on. I like to note and journal and photograph, but I'm not naturally organised or disciplined at it. I want/need to make my own project-based journal. For us as a family, for my children and their own learning. And also to satisfy the state here in Australia so that they will allow us to continue on with homeschooling.
I've been keeping a very basic diary entry. But I knew I was missing all the wondering happenings of our day and our learning.

Today we bought new journals for everyone - me included. Tomorrow I start my new project journal and so do my little ones. Excitement.

Thanks for your inspiration and motivation. xxx

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 13, 2013 at 12:19 PM

ellie, it’s so good to hear from you. :) congratulations on homeschooling! definitely let me know how the journaling is going. you should join the forum!

and thank you so much for your kind words about the book — they are much appreciated!

Comment by JoAnn on September 24, 2014 at 02:18 AM

Just found your site, I've never heard of project based learning but love the idea! Mine is 8 1/2 and I've already seen a shift in her interest to learn about everything to being interested in nothing b/c we've been working on all that curriculum that **needs** to be learned! I'm trying to wrap my head around all of this at 2am no less! Will definitely come back to the journaling and how to get started when my brain is asleep! Hope to revive my interested little girl by carving out the TIME for her to work on something of interest to her! What do you do when it's an interest that's out of your budget? She LOVES horses and can't wait for the day she can own one. We'd love to give her riding lessons but can't afford it, we are city people and don't have any farms/horses anywhere near by. Thanks for all of your wonderful advise. I'll be coming back here often!

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 24, 2014 at 08:07 AM

“What do you do when it's an interest that's out of your budget?”

you might want to check out this post:

there is a LOT you can do helping a child pursue a really *big* idea!

welcome to PBH and let me know if you need any help! :)

Comment by Lenka on August 10, 2015 at 04:35 PM

Hi Lori, thank you for your post. Very inspirational. I'm only starting really, my 4yo is due to go to school in Sept. Wants to "have a look" there, but keeps saying want to stay home, go to small groups and learn at home. So I hope this is how it will be. So trying to work out how we gonna do it. Unschooling appeals to me as I believe it's the best way, but would love to have a bit of child-led focus, keep track and plan a bit ... so PBH sounds a great idea. Thanks for your post! I love to have things noted, documented, but sometimes struggle to be consistent, write in retrospect etc.. so I would really need an easy enough system so I am able to stick to it regularly. Was thinking ... would a page-to-a-day diary be good to keep track of the work as well as when what happened? Perhaps dividing each page to note things like books/questions etc... with a space for photos? I'm worried that keeping a journal instead of a diary, I would loose track of dates and when what happened. I know I need to find what works for me, but what do you think about a journal and diary in one, having the experience ;). Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 12, 2015 at 07:46 PM

just give it a shot and see if it works for you! :) you can always try something a bit different if it doesn’t.

i think it’s a bit hard to combine long-form writing with project journaling simply because if you write a lot, you fill up the journal quickly — and it makes it more difficult to find your notes that you want to take action on. but if you don’t write TOO much, you might be able to do it. :)


Post new comment