Project journal — parent’s

Published by Lori Pickert on October 14, 2008 at 02:15 PM

I use my project journal to keep track of

  • what the boys are doing each day
  • books they’ve read
  • movies they’ve seen
  • sites they’ve visited online
  • their conversations
  • letters and e-mails they’ve sent
  • photos of them working
  • photos they’ve taken
  • their sketches, models, and constructions
  • their questions
  • their plans
  • their requests — for materials, field work, etc.
  • and so on...

I use a digital camera and print out my photos on regular copy paper to glue in my journal. I also display these on bulletin boards dedicated to their ongoing projects, and I print copies of anything they want to put in their own journals.

I highlight their questions in my journal, so I can remind them later of things they wanted to investigate.

I also highlight things I want to remember to do — get them materials they asked for, make copies of some sketches for their project board, etc.

(I am not this well organized in, well, any other aspect of my life. But I know from experience that if I don’t write things down as they happen, I will quickly lose track of their plans and questions and wonderings. They speed along so steadfastly that if I’m not coming along behind with a basket to collect all of their future plans — the things they have thought of, but haven’t done yet — many of them will be lost forever.)

My journal is an important tool for me. My part in our learning relationship is to support them in their investigation, and that requires a lot of me — I have to pay attention to what’s happening every day. I have to be quiet and see what they are saying, doing, and planning, without my interference. I have to respond faithfully when they ask for things — whether it’s wire, tape, help looking up something online, or a trip to the natural history museum. I need to keep track of all those lines of inquiry they mark as a path they want to follow later, when they have more time, so they can focus on what they are doing right now.

Your journal can also be a powerful assessment tool, if that is something you need or want to do. And it is a powerful reminder of what your children can accomplish simply following their own trail of questions.

A project journal should not be simply a diary of what happened, however — focusing on the past. To be a useful tool, you must constantly review and reflect. Your role isn’t a passive one, trailing along behind your children, dutifully taking notes. Their project journals will be primarily about their topic — say, bees — but your project journal is primarily about your topic — your children and how they learn. Therefore, it isn’t a dead record of the past, but a living documentation that stretches from the past into the future.

Also see: Inside my project journal


Comment by Sarah Jackson on October 14, 2008 at 07:44 PM

I'm starting to do the same thing - keeping track of projects, ideas, thoughts for later. I also use my blog as a record of what we have done, but I need a journal to write down all of the stuff that is still percolating. It seems to help as they careen from one idea to the next.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 14, 2008 at 07:53 PM

if they’re related — even tangentially — with what they’re doing now, i would put those things in the same journal, but mark them in some way (highlight, draw a square around it, tape flag, mark it with a star, etc.) so you can flip back and find them easily.

or .. do you mean things that are percolating with you? :^)

Comment by Sam on October 14, 2008 at 09:42 PM

This series of posts is very interesting, and it has my brain buzzing.
The parent journal is a very useful idea. I have a blog, which I update irregularly, and I have a notebook, where I list odd bits and pieces, but I see now that I have no consistency and the focus is all wrong.
Instead of thinking about possible interesting "activities" for the boys, I should be writing down their questions and requests. They always ask them at bedtime, or while I'm cooking the dinner, or when I don't have the necessary supplies. It feels like I'm never ready for them, and they never have time for my "ideas". Frustrating, lol.
Already, I can see that writing it all down would give me something to hang on to as they fly past.
You've already given me so much to think about, but don't stop now. :-)

Comment by Nancy on October 14, 2008 at 10:06 PM

two questions, Lori:
1) in your mind, does such a journal "count" as "documentation" in the Reggio sense of the word? I'm thinking of documentation as a public display, and yet a journal seems to fit most other aspects. fill me in.
2) beware, this one's random. what would you, smarty homeschooling mom, suggest as gifts for a 4-yr-old birthday? my boy is turning 4 & folks are asking what he'd like. I'd love your ideas, even though you don't know my particular boy.

thanks! xo Nancy in NC

Comment by estea on October 14, 2008 at 10:20 PM

wow, that is de-tailed. you are really paying attention!

love the photo idea.

i keep notes about what they do that very day in one notebook that sits on my bedside table. i use legible handwriting and my best fine tip pilot. i write down things the toddler says ( just now? "mom, when i stomp my foot real hard on the floor it feels like sugar in my leg!") light bulb moments they have, worries i have, exciting progress in The Maths, hopes! dreams! failures on my part! we don't fully unschool so i write down math goals and assigned reading pages for the next day, too.

all the supply/movie/book lists, trip ideas and Other Big Plans we come up with throughout the day are scrawled in one of about 5 different .10 college rule notebooks lying randomly about the house, so placed because my son never fails to approach me with a science supply wish list as i floss my teeth. the notebooks say MOM'S BOOK: DO NOT REMOVE on them so they don't become public domain doodle pads. once a week i look at each of these and cull ideas into a more concise list to work from.

i recommend those tiny neon post-its for Notes of Great Importance.

"...coming along behind with a basket to collect all of their future plans.."

love it.

Comment by Candy Cook on October 14, 2008 at 10:46 PM

LOL The universe is speaking to me. Just this morning, I bought a blank notebook (marked down) at the store for continuing to improve the journal I'm keeping of our "unschoolish" stuff.

Thanks for the tips.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 15, 2008 at 12:47 AM

sam - great! i’m glad this is inspiring you to try something different. let me know how it works! (and i’ll try to keep up the flow ;^)

nancy - there are two kinds of documentation: documentation (or documenting), the action, and documentation, the product. a project journal is a tool for the first kind — a place to write down what you observe, questions, what’s happening day to day, plans, etc. etc.

anything that you put up to tell a story of some part of the project — say, photos taken and observational sketches made during field work — is documentation, the product. that type of documentation might be for parents, for other educators, or for the students themselves.

as far as birthday presents ;^) my favorite toys for four-year-olds are art supplies (e.g., watercolor paints + papers, really high-quality markers (like prismacolor) and a great sketchbook, oil pastels and a pad of heavy paper) and construction toys (e.g., Duplos, Lincoln logs, wooden train or car sets, marble runs, KAPLA blocks, etc.). in terms of open-ended play, musical instruments, dress-up clothes, and puppets are great, too. and happy birthday to your little guy! :^)

estea - in the classroom we used post-its because they were fast and you could scrawl a quick note to yourself and flesh it out in your notebook later; since i only have two kids to deal with now, it’s a lot easier to just put it in one place. :^P

candy - i mean, caaaandyyyyyy ((powerful voice of the universe ;^)) - you are welcome, and let me know how it goes. :^)

Comment by Mary Smith on October 15, 2008 at 03:24 AM

Your last few posts are such lovely pictures of the spirit of Reggio! Thanks for your words!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 15, 2008 at 01:23 PM

thank you, mary :^)

Comment by Laura Swanson on October 15, 2008 at 02:18 PM


I love the new look of the blog. I haven't checked in in awhile. You have inspired me to read 100 Languages again, I haven't done so in awhile. Your ideas truly inspire this non-homeschooling Mom of two & PreK Teacher.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 15, 2008 at 02:23 PM

laura, thank you! as you know, everything i do now homeschooling i did before with children age 3 through 10 at the private school — so it’s really all the same to me. supporting children in independent investigation, no matter what setting you’re in. ;^)

Comment by Molly on October 15, 2008 at 02:47 PM

That is the sound of palm smacking against temple.

Yes, of course! Why didn't I think of this before? Once again, you've shown me just what I needed to read today. Thanks, friend.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 15, 2008 at 03:02 PM

glad to help, molly! ;^)

Comment by Nancy on October 16, 2008 at 03:12 PM

Hey Lori--
A rather late-in-the-game suggestion came to me last night, as I was thinking of starting my own project journal . . . could you please post a few sample pages from your journal? Either on the blog or on Flickr? I understand the spirit of this is to individualize and not try to exactly copy your techniques. And yet, examples always are really good brain food before I start on something new. Whatcha think? --Nancy in NC

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 16, 2008 at 03:23 PM

i’m already on it, nancy. :^) i’m photographing some of my old journal pages and some of the boys’ pages as well, as i’m going to post soon about kids’ project journals.

thanks for the great suggestion — you’re right there with me!

Comment by Heather on October 17, 2008 at 02:03 PM

Thank you so much for this. I try to record what we do but usually in the pas. I scribble down questions and trains fo thought on random bits of paper usually while driving in the car. This is a much better track to follow. I also would love to see examples of "your" process as I develop my own.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 17, 2008 at 04:02 PM

thank you, heather, and i plan on posting some photos of my old journals next week. :^)

lol re: scribbling while driving .. hey, *that* doesn’t sound safe! ;^) better get a project journal — and scribble while sitting still!

Comment by kiersten on April 12, 2009 at 11:21 PM

Thank you -
I love your inspirational blog and your ideas.
Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 13, 2009 at 12:15 AM

thank you, kiersten! :^)

Comment by Kristina on June 21, 2013 at 05:13 AM

An old post but so relevant for me, right now! I found your site just before bed last night, and during my dreams my mind kept pulling me to research it more. Well, my brain couldn't wait any longer and woke me up at 4:30am to get reading! Coffee in hand and birds chirping away I am pouring myself into your blog excited for all the possibilities - I love it! Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 21, 2013 at 05:31 AM


thank you, kristina! what a great message to wake up to this morning! :)

don’t forget we have a forum, too, when you’re ready:

let me know if you need anything!

Comment by charmaine on September 5, 2013 at 06:21 AM

When you say you use your journal to keep track of books they've read, movies they've watched, etc, do you mean just the ones related to whatever project they are working on at the time, or everything?

Thanks Lori! :)

Comment by Debbie on January 7, 2014 at 10:12 AM

How would one do this for four children (while keeping tabs on a toddler)?

Thanks so much for your help!

Debbie ; )

Comment by Breonna Goodwin on May 25, 2014 at 10:25 PM

Do you keep a separate journal for each of your boys or is it all in the same journal? Will we be starting with all the basics in the journaling seminar like this? I tend to overthink things and tried journaling ove summer but I was using many different notebooks for different ideas...

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 26, 2014 at 12:21 PM

hi breonna, here’s a good link with some discussion about that:

the whole first week of the master class is about journaling. you’ll be all set! :)

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