Frugal Homeschooling | Daily Journals

When this post idea initially occurred to me, I thought, “Oh, summer is a bad time to post this because no one is homeschooling right now.”

But then I realized that right now is the perfect time to post about homeschooling ideas because most homeschoolers are in the plan-for-next-year phase.

This is a really simple, inexpensive idea, but it’s one of my favorite things to do with grade-schoolers. And I think there are some educational benefits from journaling that go beyond writing practice.

All you need is a spiral-bound notebook and a pen or pencil.

And a kid, of course.

I start doing these as soon as my kids are in kindergarten. At this point, their handwriting skills are fairly non-existent, and even when they do have some handwriting practice under their belts, writing a whole journal entry is way too much work. So, I have them dictate journal entries to me all through kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

Children will be more wordy if they don’t have to struggle through the pain of writing the words themselves, and heaven knows they get enough practice with handwriting while they’re completing other subjects.

Every day as part of our schoolwork, I sit down with the journaler and have them dictate an entry to me. At first, this is a little bit hard, so they need some prompting from me. I ask questions (if they’re describing a toy, I might ask them what it feels like or why they like it so much), and when they offer up sentence fragments, I say, “Can you make that a whole sentence?”

All four of my kids have gotten the hang of this after a while, though, and the entries start to flow more effortlessly.

Why do we practice journaling?

  • It gives them early practice with writing paragraphs on a particular topic.
  • It lets them compose paragraphs without being weighed down by the work of handwriting.
  • You can tie in other subjects, like science (more on that later).
  • Journals are really fun to look back on. They’re the one school item I always keep from year to year.

Here are a few different types of journal entry ideas.

1. Tell about events/daily happenings

This is probably the easiest type to start with because most children have had at least a little bit of practice telling about things that happen.

Here’s an example from Joshua’s journal, back when Zoe was a baby.

Just for fun, here’s a photo from one of our evening walks way back then!

More recently, Zoe chose to write about an encounter with an avocado.

That entry cracks me up.

2. Describe someone or something

This is good for giving children practice using adjectives. We describe friends, siblings, toys, rooms, or whatever else comes to mind! Usually I tell the kids to imagine they’re trying to help a blind person “see” what they’re seeing.

Here’s Joshua’s entry about Zoe when she was a baby (about the age pictured above, actually):

“This is what Zoe looks like. Zoe has a lot of straight black hair. Her hair is short. Her skin is sort of red. Her eyes are kind of blue-ish grey. She’s a very grunty baby. Zoe mostly sleeps and drinks milk. Zoe is all right except for when she cries. She’s cute, but I don’t hold her when she’s crying.”

Sometimes we describe what someone is wearing (either the journaler or a sibling). Often, my kids need some help in making their descriptions more…descriptive. So, if they tell me to just write down that Zoe is wearing a red shirt, I ask questions like, “Is it short-sleeve or long-sleeve? Are there any decorations on it? Is it soft? Smooth? Bumpy?”

3. Do a weather report

For these entries, we report on the temperature, the wind (the winds are calm, or the wind is blowing hard, for example), the type of cloud in the sky (cumulus, nimbo-stratus), and what sort of precipitation we’re having.

These entries give children practice observing weather, help them to become familiar with terms like precipitation, and give them practice identifying cloud types.

4. Write a “5 Senses” entry

For these, we go through the five senses and tell about each one, thinking about what we’re currently seeing, hearing, touching, and so on.

We’re not usually eating in the midst of journaling, so we generally tell about whatever we ate last.

Here’s one that Zoe wrote herself:

We’d had Beef Au Jus sandwiches that day, and I love that she spelled it “Beef Au Juice”. Kindergarten spelling is just the best.

5. Write a Favorites (or Not-Favorites) entry

My kids like to write about the foods they love or hate, the toys they like best, or their favorite books or games. The possibilities here are nearly endless.

6. Write something imaginative

Joshua used to write stories about Lego Bionicle adventures and Lisey wrote stories about Peeps. :) Sonia and Zoe come up with some pretty creative stories too.

We also sometimes start with a prompt like, “If I had a million dollars, I would….”, or, “If I were the President, I would….”


Of course, there are a lot of other types of journal entries you could do, but these are the six mainstays of our journals, and hopefully reading about them has started the wheels turning in your head.

If you need a simple composition tool for your early grade-schooler, you should definitely give this a try!


Lisey and I ran into some problems when we were trying to make cute animal cupcakes. So, we gave up and made some ugly ones instead. Go check ’em out!

Today’s 365 post: Water from the sky

Joshua’s 365 post: Cute Alert! Cute Alert! Cute Alert!


  1. Linda says

    We don’t homeschool, but every August I get each of my boys a journaling notebook that they write (or draw) in every day until school starts in September. I write the date and a question at the top of the page every morning and they answer in complete sentences (or with a drawing that I help them caption for the non-writers). We keep it light with questions about their favorite summer memory, what they’d do with a million dollars, what animal they would like to have for a pet or what person they’d like to meet. I feel that it’s good practice for the school year ahead, and it gives us something fun to look at down the road!

  2. says

    My 10 year old is still really struggling with writing, I wish I had thought of something like this when she was younger, but I have found something similar that is working. I bought those journals that have half the page open for a drawing and then the lower half has lines for story telling. I have her draw her picture first and then write me a few sentences telling me about what is going on in her picture. It seems to be working as I am no longer getting tears over daily writing. Sometimes I even see her put it on top of her school books so as to do it first, just because she has thought of a great picture.

  3. says

    That avocado entry was funny!! i think this is a nice idea and this kind of journaling is so nice to read after few years :)

  4. Ellen says

    We had to keep a journal back in high school, I think 12 grade. I use to write in one all the time. For whatever reason I stopped writing in one. They say its a good way to get what is on your mind, bothering you, ect, off your chest.
    This is a good idea. I might have to start on with my 6 yr old. Whom is interested in writting, and spelling words.

  5. Momofthree says

    I don’t homeschool but I do look for things to do at home to support what my oldest is learning at school. I love this idea. Right now my six year old and I have a sharing journal that we started together. We take turns writing in it and then leave it for the other to find. I really like the idea of having them dictate so they can focus on the composition and not get bogged down by the spelling/handwriting. I think I will start this with her younger brothers.

    • Kara says

      I don’t homeschool but I love this idea. My oldest is almost 5 and I will definitely begin journaling with her!! Thank you!

  6. says

    yea! this is just what I needed to read today! I am in my 2nd year of homeschooling. THis will be my first year with my 1st grader. My other son is in 5th. I was struggling trying to decide if I really need an expensive writing curriculum for this young of age. I really felt that many of the basics skills I could teach through free journaling:) And now you just confirmed it. thanks so much!!

  7. says

    Aren’t those precious to reread years later! I recently found a stack of our old journals, when I was cleaning out the guest room (our old school room) for my father-in-law’s stay with us. My son’s was the funniest, mostly details of what was in his lunch, very fine details.

    Like Victoria, we made story books as well, when they lacked writing skills. I’d take several sheets of blank paper and staple together to make a book. Then I’d have them draw a story over these 8 pages. Afterwards, as they’d tell me what was happening in their story, I’d record the text for them. We still have a couple of these books. I’ve put them in large scrapbooks/photo albums for each child.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I can’t believe that now we’re talking universities.

  8. EngineerMom says

    Really great idea. I remember doing journal entries in kindergarten – we’d bring an item to school for the journal entry. We’d dictate one sentence for the teacher to write down, then draw a picture to go with it. Then we’d copy the sentence on the line below where the teacher had written.

  9. Kaitlin says

    I have never home-schooled, but I taught high schoolers with learning disabilities and ADHD. I started a conversational journal with them and had great success. I wrote the first entry and explained that I might sometimes give them a prompt or ask questions, and that I wanted them to respond to those. When I read their journals, I wrote back, and asked follow-up questions to what they wrote or gave them bits of encouragement. Generally we only journaled 2 times a week, but it was a great way to get to know my students a little bit better, and find out what was on their minds. Sometimes the students would write about their frustrations with school and identify areas that bothered them or with which they were struggling. This was great because it allowed me to address concerns that my students had. Overall it was a wonderful success!

  10. says

    Thank you Kristen, so much for this. I don’t homeschool, it’s not common practice is the UK. However, I am looking at ways to supplement my Kids education at home where I can.
    We’ll be starting a journal here on Saturday and will do it through the 6-week holidays. Please keep these posts coming? They are fantastic – a real help for those of us who know very little (if anything) about homeschooling.

    • says

      Picked up a couple of (inexpensive) notepads. The Kids started journalling last night. 7-year-old Daughter loved it, and wrote an essay! 4-year-old son dictated some very random things about elephants and slugs. Thank you Kristen – it was a hit!

  11. says

    This is most excellent. Great reminder before school begins! I can testify that this pattern is meaningful–even to a 5 year old boy! He regularly keeps his journals, and even goes back to read them. Thank God for all the sweet memories! One day, I’ll have mine to share with him.

  12. Sarah says

    As usual, awesome and timely post. I can always count on the Frugal Girl for good ideas!

    I started something like this with my kiddos as a summer project to keep school concepts fresh. A few nights a week, we all sit down and write in our journals. I bought special gel pens for journal use only which greatly encourages the kids to write in their journals. Typically, we just write about our day, or do a fill in the blank for our 5 year old. Often, I add a few math problems to the end to end of the days submission because they beg me to do so (really, they do). I also like to write a little response to each of their submissions which they seem to love.

    Just last night, my daughter and I were stumped on what she can write about (We ended up writing a fairy tale story together). I love your recommendations of the 5 senses. We’ll be using that one tonight while trying out your homemade yogurt recipe. Wish me luck!

  13. priskill says

    I just love this — no wonder Josh’s blog is so well-written! This is exactly what they taught us in Ed School — there’s even a name for it which, of course, escapes me — and it is highly recommended to encourage writing, reading, and all round literacy (not, as you mentioned, handwriting!). So I love that you extend your transcription services to 2nd grade.

    And just loved the peek at their journals — the avocado was my favorite because “then my day got better.” :) Such a pleasure to read this!

  14. Alicia Smith says

    I am a former kindergarten and current first grade teacher and I love that you are having your kids journal. I have always had my students journal, it is such a great way to improve their writing in an authentic way. Since I am one teacher to 20+ students, all my students write for themselves. One way I have found to increase their word count is to let them draw pictures to help them remember what they want to write. Most of kindergarten/first grade students become quite prolific writers by the end of the year. I find that they don’t have trouble getting down all their words after a few months of practicing journaling.

    Great blog, keep up the good work!

  15. says

    Hello, I love your blog and wondered if you would like to participate in my August Blog Hop about saving money and eating for less. It will start early on 8/1 and last all week long. I’m asking people to link up (up to 3 posts) about how they live frugally or post a frugal recipe. I’d love if you could join. Hope to see you there. Sarah

  16. Anne Gregor says

    Great ideas!

    In Homeschooling, you can choose activities that your kids should do, programs they should join and get to design the rooms they will study in! :)

    They can surely develop their skills and be more exposed with a large group of people – and that is perfect for improving their confidence.


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