Every September, I send my kids off to school feeling a bit proud of myself for filling their summer with hikes, days at the beach, camping, canoeing and other trips. I settle myself on the couch, the house quiet as I sip my tea, and wonder which of their adventures they'll talk about when the teacher inevitably asks what each student did during the summer.
Then, a few weeks later when one of them has left something at school that they desperately need, I walk into the classroom and see a list the class made of their summer fun. Lots of kids went swimming, or to Grandma's house and what did my little one's say? "Played Super Mario" or "Watched TV." I stand there a little stunned, and mortified that the teachers think my kids are deprived and I'm a horrible parent. We'd been swimming almost every day, had gone hiking, to the zoo, they'd rode their bikes, gone to carnivals, fairs, camped and had even taken art courses, and all they could remember was playing video games?
To try and prevent this, I would start the summer by giving the kids each a notebook, with the intention of having them keep a summer journal, then on the first day of school they could take it in and say "see all the awesome things we did this summer!" But alas, after our first camping trip, the notebooks are forgotten, or lost, or water logged from having been left in the rain.
Not to be deterred, I gave this some serious thought. I want my kids to keep a record of their activities, not just so I don't look like a neglectful parent but because when they are my age, they'll be able to look at them and remember. Maybe a simple notebook was too simple. While my kids are both good at writing, they aren't always keen to do so when they could be playing at the beach or riding their bikes. What I needed was something customizable, so I could make little work sheets that would only take them a minute to fill out. I considered binders, but their size would be awkward to take on hikes (since I'm the one that usually ends up carrying everything from lunches and cameras to extra sweaters and packs) I wanted something smaller, but with the durability of a binder.
That led me to the idea of a day planner. I thought it would be perfect to have them tote leather bound journals with them...then I saw how much they cost. Yikes.
In the end, I settled on small format binders. They are relatively inexpensive ($6.95 at Staples) and you can buy the basic accessories for them for a few dollars.
To start, you'll need:
1 small format binder per child
1 pkg of 5 1/2 X 8 inch insertable dividers per child (5 pkg size)
1 pkg of 5 1/2 X 8 1/2 inch sheep protectors (15/pack)
1 pkg of small format lined paper
A single whole punch
My dividers were labeled
How you divide your child's journal will depend on the types of trips you take but it's very easy to make up your own forms for them. Open up a word processing document and set the page to landscape format. Use the column option to create 2 columns.
I created 3 worksheet type pages
1) Trip Log - to be used for overnight trips
2) Hike log - to allow them to write their thoughts on individual hiking trails
3) wildlife sightings
For the Maps section, you can print or photocopy maps of your destinations if you want, or if you arrive at the trail head an there are maps available you can use your whole punch to simply pop a few holes in them so the kids can have a copy. If you print full page size maps, you can accordion fold them to make them fit. Fold them in half, then fold the top half in half again.
Put the lined paper in the notes section and the sheet protector in the misc. section.
I also printed out calendars, full size, and folded them accordion style. Although the worksheet pages I had created had a space for them to put in a date for each trip, putting a simple entry like "Hiked Booth's Rock Trail" would give them a better visual of how their summer had been filled.
In the Misc. section, I simple used sheet protectors but you can stick a few pages of lined paper here as well. This is for those attraction pamphlets that you can't hole punch, for if they make friends at a campsite and want to share email addresses. Algonquin Park sells patches for each of their interpretive trails, bumper stickers for some of the campgrounds etc. These kinds of things can be kept in the sheet protectors as well. We sew the patches onto their adventure bags, but I'm notoriously bad for losing them *blush* so this will keep them safe, and in a logical place until I get around to it.
The last step is to let them create a cover page if your binder has the clear cover that allows you to slip a sheet of paper in on the front. You could also sew binder covers, but I know my kids would end up getting them filthy within minutes of our first trip...I might work up a washable cover for them though.
Remember to pack pencils and pens, and to take a single hole punch so you can add any available pamphlets or maps that are available. If anyone has any ideas for other worksheet pages, different divider categories or how to expand on this idea, I'd love to hear from you.