Nature Journaling with Kids

 Written by contributor Stacy Karen of A Delightful Home.

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
  • Sketches
  • Water color paintings (we also love to use water color crayons)
  • Poetry
  • Quotes
  • Statistics
  • 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.
  • Photographs
  • 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:

Supplies

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).
  • Pencils
  • Crayons
  • Watercolor crayons or pencils (we LOVE using these)
  • Pastels
  • Water color paint
  • Tempura paint
  • Eraser
  • Sharpener
  • Field guides
  • Camera

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 calender.

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).

Do you or your children have a nature journal? What benefits do you see to keeping one?

Top image credit

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Comments

  1. I absolutely love this post! This will be so much fun to do with my children.

  2. We do nature journaling and it is one of our favorite things. You’ve given me some new inspiration and ideas today (love the seed journaling!) and I’m going to check out that How to Draw Flowers book, too. Thank you! :-)

  3. My two older kids still have their nature journals from younger years but I have not done as much with my youngest. I’ve just started reading again about it/planning to do more in spring so was thrilled to read your post. Another thin but lovely book (with drawings from author and her children) is, “Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals” by Karen Sidmore Rackliffe.

  4. I did nature journaling with my kids when they were little. A really good thing to do in their journal is to make rubbings. We used large crayons and charcoal.

  5. I had several artsy kids and they loved nature journaling. It gives them opportunity to really focus and “see” what is around them outside.

  6. I love this! My toddler is probably still too small for this, but we’re big fans of pointing out things in nature, e.g. colors, textures, sizes. We’ve done collecting and have made a leaf poster as well as photographed flowers and printed them out, but we don’t have an actual book or journal yet.

    • It sounds like you will love nature journaling when the time comes. It’s great that you are already making your little one aware of the natural world.

  7. avatar
    michele cooney says:

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  8. What a clever idea. I am traveling the first of April to visit my grandchildren. I am staying for a couple of weeks and will be spending a lot of time outdoors with them. Creating a nature journal during my stay would be a great way to memorialize the visit. Thank you for the creative suggestion.

  9. Love the tip about the importance of making time for nature journaling in your routine. We write in ours after every one of our “adventures in nature” so as not to forget both the big & little things we discovered. I’m going to check out the water color crayons you mentioned – I think my boys would love adding some color to our pages. Thanks for sharing a link to my post amongst other such wonderful resources.

  10. avatar
    Jen@anothergranolamom says:

    Such nice ideas! Spring is a great time for implementing nature journals as well. We enjoy taking photos of fungi, flowers, and other things we see on our hikes and making our own “guidebooks”. We have also tried plein air painting expeditions to help us really become observers. And we like to read books by and about naturalists. A recent favorite is Gerald Durrell. You can read a review of his book My Family and Other Animals on my blog. We also like Farley Mowat for inspiration.

  11. Stacy,
    I found this post to be absolutely delightful! I love the photos of drawings, the specific detail of journaling you highlight as well as the suggestions you recommend for getting started. You present nature journaling as a beautiful, insightful, and highly beneficial practice, one to be thoroughly enjoyed.

    I have chosen your post, Nature Journaling with Kids, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 3/13/12 for all things journaling on Twitter; I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal: http://refreshwithdawnherring.blogspot.com/.

    You’re welcome to join us for #JournalChat Live on Thursdays at 5 EST/2 PST for all things journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: A Success Synopsis.

    Thanks again for providing such a lovely rendition of nature journaling in it’s delightful dimensions.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter

  12. My daughter loves the outdoors; this is a great idea for when she’s a little older. Thanks!

  13. Love this! Thanks for sharing =-)
    Beth

  14. I love this! We’re going to try this out tomorrow! Thank you for sharing this!

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