Art Journaling – A Summer Holiday Writing Idea

Do you have stragglers, latecomers, and students already in holiday mode?  Are you trying to keep your class working to maintain some sort of order and structure but know they are already thinking about riding their bikes through the sprinkler on those long hot days?  Are you worried about how much learning loss in writing will greet you after the summer break? Has your idea bank of ideas gone dry? Art journaling may just be the answer to entice your students to write over the holidays and cater for those students who are reluctant to write and those who are very creative.

Last year I was experimenting with a few different ways to keep a writer’s notebook. I decided to dabble in keeping an art journal and enjoyed it so much I introduced the idea to my 4th graders. I had discovered I enjoyed using color in my books and exploring different mediums including crayon, acrylic paint, oil pastels and chalk pastels.  I also loved to stick things in and write about, over the top and around those things, it became a place to collect memorabilia including a deadly brown snakeskin, which was found at the farm. I felt my brain have space to think and feel as I created without a plan, no expectations of a masterpiece, just some free drawing time and a wonderful feeling of relaxation and flow.  My class also discovered as I did, that this freedom to ‘just be’ with some basic art materials lead to ideas being born and feelings tapped into. Emotions, dreams, goals and experiences became deposited onto a page, which helped with writing during our writer’s workshop time.

To introduce the concept I brought in the art journal I had been experimenting with. I showed the students a few of the pages and then we talked about what materials were used in the book and what we would need if we were to create books along these lines. We also discussed what we could put into the art journal and what its purpose would be. Why is it different from our writer’s notebook?

Setting Up The Page

Firstly I asked them all to bring in an old ITunes, gift card or similar to spread paint to make a base page. This was the hook, my class just loved to get their hands dirty. At this stage we used a single piece of cartridge paper and later we purchased visual diaries once we knew we were going to continue with the idea. We chose two colors of acrylic paint and dolloped it on then blended the two together to cover the page (You will see in the photos below I also tried the same idea using brushes and water colors). They were amazed at how much fun this 60-second step was.  The feel of the card tightly scraping the paint was enough to write about!

Applying Paint 1 Applying Paint 2

Time to Write and Create

The next day our base page was dry (or in minutes if we held it up to the aircondtioner) and it was time to begin to add some text and other elements. I gave them a word to put somewhere on the page and I told them it had to be the biggest word on the page.  That was the only rule along with the code of silence, there was to be no talking.  This was a time for personal reflection, a time for them to think their own thoughts and let the colors do the talking.

At first some students had trouble starting, they were wondering what to write, but as they listened to the music playing quietly in the background and they stared out of the large glass windows for inspiration, they began to doodle.  Not everyone embraced the art side of this new idea but what I did notice is that my reluctant writers loved it.  They doodled and thought about many different angles to add to the given word or concept.


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How It Stayed Part Of Our Program

Each week or perhaps twice a week I would present a new mini lesson on a way to create a base page and then provide a prompt.  We sometimes created a few base pages at once to speed up the process of needing each one to dry before we could use it, a hair dryer could be really very handy at this stage.  Mostly, we used recycled materials, even an old newspaper page or discarded book as a background and colored paper with writing stuck onto it is fine.  Paint was not used on all pages and we also incorporated other mediums including oil pastels and decorative papers as base pages. Some of the students really enjoyed cutting out magazine pictures to enhance their concept and began bringing in materials to work with each morning. The latecomers began to come on time, as they didn’t want to miss out on the art journaling session.

We experimented with keeping a weekly journal page too.  It soon became a very popular time each day and we were fulfilling some of our art and writing curriculum requirements with this session. I scheduled the first 15 minutes of each day for this activity and they didn’t take them home, as I wanted to keep it a task to look forward to at school.

Writing is artistic and sometimes we need a little help to get those creative juices flowing. For some children, the idea of a pen and paper is enough to create discomfort and stifle creativity. An art journal can be a way to remember, explore and experiment, another place to express feelings and record life. Why not introduce the idea to your students? Offer them a fun tool to keep up their writing over the holidays and inspire them to create fuel for their writing fire next school year.

Tracey Bogaards is a Year 4 Teacher and Literacy Coach in a Primary School on the coast of Queensland Australia.  She is passionate about documenting the life she is living with her family by recording it through both the written word and photo stories, and teaches those in her classroom to do the same. She holds a M.Ed. in Teaching for Diversity and Learning Difficulties and is passionate about building self-esteem in children through encouragement. She loves the Aussie beach and bush and can’t decide which one she likes best.