When contemplating making a nature journal, the choices can seem endless. Big or small? Buy a tablet or make your own? Lined or unlined paper? There were several factors we considered when making ours.
- Cost – Let’s face it, I’m all about the cheap. If I wanted to spend $20, I’m sure I could have found countless beautifully bound journals complete with illustrations and instructions geared toward children. However, half the fun is in the making. Originally, I thought we’d make our own out of typing paper and cardstock, but then I ran across these wonderful drawing pads on clearance for $1. Who could pass that up? A few embellishments, and we had our journals ready to go.
- Use – What sets a nature journal apart from an ordinary run-of-the-mill journal is the melding of sensory observations. It’s not just about writing about nature. It’s also about sketching/painting what you see and recreating the textures of the natural world. Lined paper seemed too restrictive so the drawing pads were a perfect alternative.
- Durability – To up the durability quotient of our somewhat flimsy drawing pads, we used twine. Although the pages were bound like a tear-off pad, I knew that the binding wouldn’t hold up to rugged outdoor use. Tying them with twine just gave us an insurance plan against wind-scattered pages.
- Portability – The size of the journal shouldn’t be so unwieldy that it becomes impractical, particularly for little hands to tote around. And in our case, since we were already adding twine, I figured we might as well add a simple loop so the kids could slip them over their wrists for easy carrying.
Once you’ve got your journal figured out, you need to consider other supplies. Here are some things to consider adding to your journal.
- A small tote or backpack to keep everything together and easy to carry
- Pencils with erasers
- Colored pencils
- Pencil sharpener & ziplock bag (for the shavings!)
- Watercolor paints & brushes
- Magnifying glass &/or binoculars
- Camera for capturing wildlife photos
- Envelope to store flowers/leaves for later pressing
Aiding Your Child’s Journaling
First, find opportunities to record nature. Hikes and nature walks are obvious choices. But don’t limit yourself to just the obvious. Going on a picnic? The zoo? Take the journal along. Even a morning in the backyard will uncover a wealth of opportunities to record the natural world.
For each entry in the journal, remind your child to first record the date. When your child finds something (an animal, plant, or setting) that he or she wants to record, ask your child questions that prompt full descriptions. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Can you touch it? What does it feel like? Don’t forget to have the child record environmental information also. Where are we? What does the animal or plant’s habitat look like? What is the weather like?
Be sure to allow adequate time for the child to gather information and record observations through drawings and/or descriptions.
Want to really jumpstart your child’s ideas? Be more than a cheerleader; create a nature journal of your own so that you can compare ideas and observations.
Don’t Stop There
Once you get back home, don’t forget to follow up. A huge component of a nature journal is learning. Take a few minutes to research what you’ve found. If you have field guides, you can do this on the spot. But if not, you can find virtually anything courtesy of google these days! Add notes, facts, and interesting tidbits as you uncover them. You’ll not only be teaching your child about that specific plant or animal but also fostering valuable research skills.
Helpful Resources to Get You Started
- Family Fun - A quick guide to getting started.
- Homeschooling About.com – Great tips and ideas.
- The Illustrated Nature Journal: A Handbook – Good overview of the nature journal, offering plenty of food for thought.
- Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E. Roth - We checked this one out of the library, and it’s packed with great information!
- Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock - We’re still waiting for this one, but it comes highly recommended.