art · guest blogger

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.

14 thoughts on “Art Journaling – A Summer Holiday Writing Idea

  1. I’ve had so much fun guessing the identity of guest teachers before I reach the end of the post. Tracey, I was pretty sure this post was yours when you mentioned the farm! It’s fun to know my fellow bloggers so well that I can recognize them in their writing. I can’t wait to come back and explore this post in greater depth, especially since I’m art phobic and have lots of room for growth in this area. Can’t wait to see what will happen when I allow myself to “just be” with some basic art materials!


  2. Tracey,
    This is fantastic! What I love about this is the contemplative part of this work. Many students have a hard time getting to that reflective space that this process seems to be the focus of. Promoting deep listening in a different context could bring out so much (especially with those students who struggle to read and write). I can see using this type of journaling across the curriculum. Thank you for this inspirational post.


    1. Thanks Julieanne. I have found it is a very relaxing time and the students really enjoy the time to think without so many demands, they are so busy both in and out of school with extra activities etc. It has been so good for those who are not confident in reading and writing as they themselves are sometime the ones having others oohing and ahhhhring about their work. They feel part of the group, no pretending.


      1. Thanks Jackie. The cartridge paper is similar to what you would find in a visual diary. It needs to be a bit thicker to carry the paint and not bleed through as tends to happen with regular printer paper. Yes, this was a time my reluctant writers looked forward to and a springboard for me to keep encouraging them along and build their confidence.


  3. I LOVE this idea too, as I am teaching in a summer program with 2nd/3rd graders! I’m guessing the “cartridge paper” is regular printer paper? I bet the combination of color and music helped some students feel less pressured or afraid than they might usually feel when looking at the blank page–which can terrify even the most seasoned writer! Thanks for sharing this great idea.


    1. Margaret, I am sure your class would love it and create some very creative work. If you come up with any new ideas for those clever ones of yours please share:)


  4. My students would love this activity combining art, music, and writing. I’ve done a similar activity with watercolor. I recently purchased a handmade journal with art paper as the pages. I can’t wait to give this technique a try. Thanks!


    1. Thanks Michelle. The cartridge paper is thicker than printer paper and it is something similar to the paper you would find in a visual diary. You could just use thick art paper or even an old cardboard box turned inside out and lined with plain printer paper to start with. You could then trim and mount onto black card for a lovely display in your room or paste into another book for a title page or keep in writers notebook. I did begin with separate pieces of paper at first and then as I do order visual diaries for my class for this reason each school year they then had their own to work on. Have fun with it 🙂


  5. Tracey, The idea of art journaling has been one that’s been floating around in my head for a long time. It’s on my list to try this summer. I LOVE the simple tools you & your students used to create such beautiful and creative pages!! What is cartridge paper? And did the students get their own visual journals once this began? What kind of pages/paper would you suggest for that? Such creative ideas here!!! Thank you for sharing! I’m going to save and try some this summer!


    1. Thanks Jennifer. I know my 4th graders loved it and with all the summer happenings you will have to talk about I’m sure you will have some great work to share. I haven’t blogged about this topic previously and my blog is mostly for SOL, however, I think I will do a follow up on this and a few other ideas I have soon. I blog at I would love you to visit. 🙂 Thanks for your comment 🙂


  6. Love, love, love this idea! This is definitely something I can see my 4th graders really getting into. I would also love to learn more about your mini-lessons and see more pictures. Do you have a blog where you have shared more about this topic?


  7. Tracey, I love how you incorporated art and music into this visual display that connects with writing/ language. Calls to mind Howard Gardeners Multiple Intelligences and here you’ve tapped into visual/ spatial, body/ kinesthetic, verbal/linguistic, musical/rhythmic, and intrapersonal all through art journaling! I love it. I would love to read more about the other mini lessons and see pictures of that work. I’m wondering if taking photos of their projects and then having them glue it into their writers notebooks could connect those two mediums. I strongly believe we remember what we’ve created and so this experience surely meant a great deal to your students, allowing others who don’t always shine in writing to show their strengths. Your writing was enjoyable to read and left me wanting to know more about your classroom adventures.


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