According to every personality test I’ve ever taken, I am an introvert. I require a slow, thoughtful start to my day, alone time to recharge my emotions, and a greater-than-average amount of intentional introspection.

Before I was a mom, I indulged this trait by beginning almost every morning journaling over my first cup of coffee. In two to three pages, I could pace myself, bleed out my big emotions, and formulate a plan for the day. Quietude is generally not a luxury of motherhood, however; and certainly not uninterrupted minutes reserved for recording full trains of thought.

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As my daughters have grown older, I have tried to reintroduce this practice to my routine. One morning, I happened to steal nearly 30 minutes to myself because the girls were sweetly playing together in the other room. After awhile, my oldest, Iris, came out to where I was reflecting, and she asked what I was doing.

“I’m journaling,” I answered.

“What’s that?”

“It’s where I keep my special thoughts and ideas. And I can save them just for me.”

“I want to do that.”

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So that very afternoon, we hit the dollar store around the block and purchased two $.99 composition books. We took them home and very clearly labeled them “Iris” and “Edith” so that each of my girls had their own designated space, just like mommy. They added personal touches to the insides and covers with stickers and colorful scribbles.

The next morning, I attempted a new routine: journaling with my daughters. I poured myself a cup of coffee and settled into the couch in the living room. The girls came into the room with their journals. I gave them a specific topic and a tin of crayons. Perfectly content, and shockingly focused, they each set to work on their journaling. I almost missed the opportunity to write myself, being so enraptured with the scene.

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They loved it so much that we went through several different topics just that morning: What was the best thing you saw on vacation? How would you design a princess dress? What did you do with your friend yesterday? And the best part was, they wanted to do it again the next morning.

I won’t like to you and pretend like we now start each day in silent, artful meditation. That’s just not a reasonable expectation of toddlers and young children. But a day or two each week, when there’s nowhere to be and we need to infuse the morning with structure, I pull out the sketch books and the girls set to the business of creating and capturing.

These sketch books are becoming a record. I’m a terrible mother, guilty of recycling most of the torn out coloring book pages gifted to me each day. But the sketch books preserve beautiful art work into one, neat place. I’ve started labeling each page with the day’s topic and date. My goal is that, every year, the girls will create a new sketch book, not just of art, but as documentation of how they saw the world at that moment in time. The skill and the perspective will grow as they do. They are already special to all of us; and I’m overjoyed at the prospect of such a keepsake collection.

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And even better, I’m sharing a special part of myself, and my pre-mama routine, with my girls. Like so much of motherhood, I’ve figured out how to transform something I thought I’d lost into something newer, maybe even better. Something maybe they’ll do as mothers. And teach their own kids to do.

Journaling with a toddler is easier than you think. Here are some topics we’ve used before:

  1. What did you see out the window this morning?
  2. What are some memories from vacation?
  3. What is your favorite holiday?
  4. Who is your favorite character?
  5. (After Disneyworld) Who did you most enjoy meeting?
  6. (After Disneyworld) What was your favorite ride?
  7. What does our family look like?
  8. (After drawing an arbitrary shape) Can you turn this shape into something?
  9. (After an hour of imaginary play) Design the pirate ship that you were on!
  10. Create a landscape.
  11. Draw a picture of a parade!
  12. What is an activity you would like to do this week?
  13. Can you create a monster who looks nice and colorful?
  14. Where would you like to go this weekend?
  15. (On Pi Day) Draw your favorite pie to eat!

Happy writing!