Journaling can be a very meaningful and practical routine. Some people journal regularly and it is easy for them to fill pages upon pages with their thoughts and reflections. For others, it is extremely difficult or doesn’t seem to hold much value.
I believe that part of the hesitation for people to journal comes from a misinformed idea of what journaling entails. Journaling, as I see it, is to document experiences and then reflect on them. Experiences can be recorded with illustrations, photos, tangible objects and words of course.
Ramadan is a wonderful time to journal, even if someone only does it for the 30 days. It can be especially valuable for children since it can help promote emotional health, literacy skills and knowledge of self. It can also serve other purposes, such as second language acquisition if your child chooses to journal in a second language, or interpersonal skills if they share their experiences with others. Children can start to keep a Ramadan Journal from the time they are 3 years old. You can also keep a Family Ramadan Journal (more on that below).
How to start:
1. Find/buy/reuse/make a book. It can be as simple as using an exercise workbook, buying a special journal from a bookstore or taking a pile of loose paper and stapling it together. Children can decorate their journals if they wish. Some ideas are to use wrapping paper, stickers or paint squeezed out of tubes to make designs reminiscent of henna. Again, do what works for your situation. I would recommend that the book has at least 30 pages. Also consider the value of blank (unlined) pages.
*Note: The journal does not need to take form of a traditional book. A scrapbook, sketch pad or even a private online blog account for the more tech-savvy out there serves the same purpose!
Some things I repurposed to make Ramadan Journals: loose sheets of paper, an exercise notebook, a duotang and an old store-bought journal.
After repurposing the above materials. Items used: doily, marker, stickers, beads, foam, paint, cookie cutter, scrapbook paper, aluminum foil, construction paper, gel pen.
2. Depending on the development and abilities of your child, you may choose to include headings or prompts on each page. It could be as simple as putting down the date (ex. Thursday, June 18, 2015: Day 1) or you could form specific questions (ex. What was the most challenging part of my day?) Alternatively, you may wish to include a list of GUIDING questions on the inside cover. Children can refer to this list if they feel stuck. Otherwise, if they already know what they want to journal about, take a backseat.
3. Talk to your child about expectations: why do you want them to engage in this practice? Does this sound like something they even want to do? Is there a minimum or maximum amount of space that needs to be filled (ideally not!) Is this something the child wants the parents to be involved in? Maybe an older sibling?
Tips for Success
– Journaling does NOT have to happen in words. Especially for younger children, give them a box of crayons and step back. Allow them to document experiences and then ask them what is happening in their picture. If your child agrees, you can write a brief sentence right on the page, capturing what they have said (this will be beneficial in the years to come for them to see how their concepts/understandings/experience of Ramadan has changed and evolved).
– As children grow, the content of what they journal about will change. For example, a four year old might journal EVERYDAY about what he ate at iftaar. A seven year old may express she enjoys going to the masjid because she gets to play with her friends. A 16 year old (assuming she is willing to share with you) may express doubts about the wisdom behind having to keep an 18 hour fast while she is studying for exams. There is no right or wrong way to journal. This is merely a tool for us to record our experience so that we can more meaningfully reflect on Ramadan and our relationship with Allah inshaAllah.
– As a parent, understand that the journal is a SAFE place. In theory, it is meant only for the child’s consumption and the child should feel free to write and reflect, question, make connections and plan without the fear of being punished, ostracized or having to defend himself. Respecting privacy is a part of our way of life. Unless there are safety concerns, we should demonstrate trust.
– Like most consistent habits, journaling will work best if your child identifies a consistent time of day when they will journal (ex. Every night before bed, every morning after fajr, each day sitting at the kitchen table while parents prep iftaar etc.)
In terms of a Family Ramadan Journal, you may choose to create one space together as a family. It might be a blackboard/corkboard where members can come display thoughts and reflections as relevant or you may choose to do a scrapbook style book whereby everyone collects their thoughts separately and comes together to collaborate. Another option is for everyone to take photos of their experiences through the month and put them together for a family slide show that can be enjoyed together on Eid.
Examples of Guiding Questions
- What was the best part of today?
- What was something I found challenging today?
- What is an ongoing struggle for me? Why is it so hard?
- What is something I did well today? Why did I do it?
- What is something I would like to improve on before next Ramadan? What will I do to improve?
- Today, I ready the following ayaat _______ and here’s what I thought.
- Today, I learning the following du’a(s) _________. I chose to learn them because _________________
- Today, I gave charity by __________________.
- Today, I benefited my hereafter by ___________________.
- Today, I benefited the ummah/the world by _____________.
*Note: You can definitely use the journal for deep reflection, but you can also use it as a place to track progress with regards to specific practices. This may make it more relevant to the busy ones among us.
Wishing you all a beautiful and beneficial Ramadan.