When we observe the intricate workings of the natural world, we grow in appreciation and awe of this beautiful earth we call home. Even the smallest insect is absolutely amazing.
A deeper connection to the world around us often brings a desire to treat the planet, and the many creatures that live upon it, well. That’s a good thing.
Nature journaling helps us pay attention to our surroundings. It also forces us to slow down and breathe a little; something most of us need to do more often.
The natural curiosity of children makes them excellent candidates for nature journaling. It’s a fun family activity and an excellent way for kids to develop an awareness and appreciation of the earth. It’s also helpful in teaching science, art, writing, and research skills.
What is nature journaling?
In essence, nature journaling is simply recording observations of nature.
A nature journal might include sketches of animals and insects, pressed flowers, notes copied from a book, nature-inspired poetry, photographs, and so on. There are no rules.
How to Start Nature Journaling with Your Kids
If this is a new practice for your family, I highly recommend starting out with a very relaxed altitude.
Your first session might look something like this:
(My ten year old’s rendering of a tulip)
Go for a walk or look around your own backyard for something interesting (or read a book about a specific thing you expect to see, then go for your walk and look for it).
Enjoy your time outside. Direct your child’s attention to parts of nature they may not notice: the jagged edges of leaves, or the way the creek bubbles up around a rock, for example.
Once you’ve had a nice, good tromp about the place, sit and watch for a while.
Choose something to observe and start investigating; get a close-up view, touch, and smell what you are observing. Use as many of your senses as possible.
Depending on the weather, and what you have chosen to record, you may decide to bring out your notebooks and start sketching or writing immediately. If this is not possible, you might collect a few samples, take some pictures, and do the journaling at home.
If you decide to do most of the journaling at home, it is a good idea to jot down a few notes to jog your memory later. If you’re not sure what to write, answer some basic questions, such as: What does it look like? Where does it live? Does it have any unique characteristics?
If time permits, research what you have seen. Google and YouTube are awesome resources, as is your local library.
Provide suggestions and guidance as needed, but don’t overwhelm children with intricate assignments or laborious tasks.
Keep it fun.
One of the best ways to ensure your children will be interested in keeping a nature journal, is for them to see mom or dad keeping one, too. Be enthusiastic about birds, bugs and flowers, and they are likely to catch on.
(My seven year old’s rendering of a tulip)
What to Include in a Nature Journal
Really, anything goes.
Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking:
- Leaf and tree rubbings
- Water color paintings (we also love to use water color crayons)
- Pressed flowers
- Nature stamp art – collect rocks, acorns, and other hard objects, dip in paint and use as stamps.
- Lists of birds, flowers and insects you have observed.
- Record the seasons of a tree – photograph or draw a tree once each season to observe how it changes.
- Record animal tracks seen in your yard or on a nature walk – try to identify them.
- Seeds to plant – When planting your yard, tape a seed to the page and draw or glue a picture of the plant next to it once it has grown.
More Suggestions and Inspiration for Nature Journaling
There are many who have a lot more experience with nature journaling than I do. The following are some ideas for you to peruse. I hope they inspire you as much as they do me:
- Handbook of Nature Study – A website devoted to nature study for children. Hosts Outdoor Hour challenges which provide simple lessons focused on a specific area of nature.
- Handbook of Nature study – the book.
- Tips for Simple Nature Journal Entries – Excellent examples of what your children could do in their journals.
- The Great Backyard Bird Count – Participate in this fun activity and record some of the birds you see.
- How to Start a Family Adventure Journal – A fun way to record memories and journal at the same time.
- Shining Dawn Books – Nature study units with suggestions for nature walks and journaling.
- Keeping a Nature Journal – A how-to book full of ideas ad inspiration for keeping a nature journal.
- Last Child in the Woods – Not specifically about keeping journals, but a thorough treatise on the benefits of nature for children.
- Burgess Bird Book for Children – doesn't include many pictures, but the stories are wonderful! I enjoyed reading this book to my kids.
- Miscellanous pre-made/guided nature journals – great for when you need some guidance or lose structure
Keep some of the following on hand:
- Notebooks – many different types work well: sketch books, water color pads, homemade books. Loose paper attached to clip board can be used and later added to a binder (this is a good option for children with perfectionist tendencies).
- Crayons – we love these stockmar crayons
- Watercolor pencils
- Colored pencils (we LOVE using these triangular pencils)
- Chalk pastels
- Watercolor paint
- Tempura paint
- Field guides
- A bag stocked with binoculars, a magnifying glass, notebooks, pencils and field guides, makes it easy to journal on the go.
Some things to keep in mind:
Nature journaling is a practice that takes time to develop. It is also one that can easily be dropped for other more “urgent” activities. If nature journaling is something you feel has value, make time for it in your weekly or monthly routine/schedule. Write it on your calendar.
Nature journaling can’t be rushed. Be sure to leave sufficient time for relaxed observation and enjoyment.
Some children are intimidated by the idea of drawing a plant or animal and often don’t know where to start. In this case a how-to book might be helpful. We use How to Draw Flowers by Barbara Soloff Levy (it’s very easy to follow).