Ananta Awasthi has plenty to say, but there’s only one place in the world where she puts it down exactly like it is: in her diary. Her mother’s “sometimes” be allowed to read the 11-year-old’s journal. From poems, scribbles, sketches, details about her day at school, to what she wants for her next birthday, Ananta’s diaries, her constant companions over the last three years, contain everything big and small about her life. The result of entries made at least twice a week.
Khadija Khan, on the other hand, is very particular that absolutely no one reads her diary. “Sorry, I can’t tell you where I hide it. My parents are listening, and they will know,” says the 11-year-old in a determined voice. Just 20 days old at diary writing, Khadija is reticent about her new “friend”. Lots of homework prevents her from writing every day, but she does manage two-page entries thrice a week. “Mostly, I write about my day, what happened with me and my friends. I also like to download pictures of people and animals I like from the Internet and paste them in my diary.”
Do you remember the name of your best friend in class 7, the most exciting Diwali gift you’ve received or, for that matter, how nervous you were about that stage performance all those years ago? In all likelihood, if you are not a diary writer like Ananta and Khadija, the answer to those questions is a long, vacant look. For most of us, moments like these linger like a hazy dream because we have no record of what it felt like to experience something wonderful or poignant in our childhood.
Nupur Awasthi, an educationist who recently conducted a ‘How to Start Your Diary’ session for 8- to 12-year-olds at the British Council, in Delhi, says, “As children grow older, they find it hard to talk to parents about everything. Writing a diary enables them to express what they feel and also let loose their imagination. However, encourage your child, especially young ones, to share their diary with you every once in a while and laugh over their exploits, instead of lecturing them.”
A diary can be your child’s best friend
Diary writing has many pluses: It helps develop writing skills, trains the eye to see more than what is visible and inculcates a sense of discipline at a young age. But never present journal writing to children as a means of record keeping or as an education tool. “This thought will keep them away from starting a diary,” says Awasthi. Show them it can be fun and you will have a regular writer on your hands.
Begin with a book
“Introduce the concept of a diary or a journal through a book. Many authors like Ruskin Bond and Roald Dahl have written books in a diary format. Read these out to your children to get them interested in the concept. From such books, they will understand that a diary is ‘their voice’,” says Awasthi.
Khadija’s father, A.S. Khan, additional director general of police, Delhi, says her interest in writing a diary was born out of the British Council workshop she attended. “She came home and asked us for a blank diary, and then started writing from that day on. Now she manages to write almost every day.”
If you write a diary yourself, be sure to read out portions where your child is mentioned, especially if you have interesting stories on what happened when you got them home from the hospital, their first word and how you felt when you heard it, etc. “This is a beautiful way to bond with your child and get them excited about keeping a diary,” says Awasthi.
The starting line
While Khadija recorded her first entry in a diary that was available at home (though she did decorate hers with fuchsia handmade paper), Ananta’s interest was sparked when she received one as a gift. “I started writing a diary after my eighth birthday when I got a journal as a birthday gift from a friend. It was so beautiful and had a lock and key,” says Ananta, who wrote all about her eighth birthday party in her first entry. “It helps if the diary is attractive, but one with a lock and key is not a good option. Do not over-emphasize the secrecy aspect,” says Awasthi.
Set a routine
Khadija loves to write at night, says her father, while Ananta writes after her homework is done. A set routine helps establish writing as a habit, according to Awasthi. When it becomes a custom, words will flow more easily and you will find that your child begins to feel committed to his or her journal. “Encourage your child to carry the journal wherever they can. That way, they’ll never miss an important moment,” adds Awasthi.
Don’t make rules
“Never restrict a child or tell him or her what to write, what to avoid, or how to write. The idea behind diary-writing is to express yourself—a few grammatical errors do no harm,” says Awasthi. The important thing is to tell them to make their diary as descriptive as possible. Good descriptive writing depends heavily on observing everyday life and recollecting vivid moments. Once a child starts observing, his/her writing skills are bound to improve.
Nupur Awasthi will hold a workshop on ‘How to start your diary’ at the Oxford Bookstore, Delhi on 26 May. Call 011 2376 6083 for details.