Our appreciation and awe of this beautiful earth grows when we observe the intricate workings of the natural world. Even the smallest insect is absolutely amazing.
Nature journaling helps us pay attention to our surroundings. It also forces us to slow down, 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 to develop a child’s awareness and appreciation of the earth. (It’s also helpful for teaching science, art, writing, and research skills.)
What is nature journaling?
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, or photographs. There are no rules.
How to start nature journaling with your kids
If this is a new practice for your family, start 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 hope to see, then go for a walk and look for it.
Relax, and simply 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.
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’re observing. Use as many senses as possible.
Depending on the weather and what you’ve chosen to record, you can bring your notebooks and start sketching or writing immediately. Or, you might collect a few samples, take some pictures, and do the journaling at home.
If you plan to journal at home, jot down a few notes to jog your memory later. Answer some basic questions, like: What does it look like? Where does it live? Does it have any unique characteristics?
If you have time and the inclination, research further what you have seen. Look up stuff on YouTube or head to your local library.
Provide suggestions and guidance as needed, but don’t overwhelm kids with intricate assignments or laborious tasks. Keep it fun.
One of the best ways to ensure your children will be interested in nature journaling is to see you do it, too. Be enthusiastic about birds, bugs and flowers, and they’ll 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
- Watercolor paintings (we also love watercolor crayons)
- Pressed flowers
- Nature stamp art: collect rocks, acorns, and other hard objects, then dip them 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
Many people out there have a lot more experience with nature journaling than I do:
- Handbook of Nature Study – A website devoted to nature study for children.
- 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 – A thorough treatise on the benefits of nature for children.
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).
- Watercolor crayons or pencils
- Water color 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.
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. 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 is helpful—we use How to Draw Flowers by Barbara Soloff Levy.
Written by contributor Stacy Karen of A Delightful Home.