Starting a Nature Journal

–OR– What to do with these kids while they are not in school?

All over the country, kids will be at home in the coming weeks. No new Christmas presents to keep them busy. Too cold for swimming. Sporting events have been canceled. What to do when they have had enough screeNJ_mother_sonn time? Start a new hobby/activity that will engage their minds, help them connect with nature and nature’s Creator, uses supplies you already have on hand and – timely bonus – does not need to involve gathering in large groups. One more great thing: parents and caregivers can do this with children and receive the same benefits.

Nature Journaling


Nature journaling is a simple, open-ended activity. We deliberately take time to notice the details and rhythms that happen around us every day in the physical world. Then we write, diagram, quantify or sketch what we notice. The goal is not to make a pretty picture (although sometimes that happens!); the goal is to learn what we don’t know. There are no set objectives. Each learner’s path is determined by the leading of their own curiosity. It is very much a choose-your-own-adventure. You might also include quotes or verses, rubbings or taping in actual objects like leaves.

By putting on paper what we observe, we can begin to understand the limit of our knowledge. For example: trying to draw a leaf but realizing you don’t know the pattern of the veins for this particular leaf. So you look again at the primary source and fill in the gaps of your knowledge.

Quick How-to

Nature journaling is best done outside, immersed in nature. Even from a porch or stoop. But it can also be done from a window seat. Or after a short walk outside while gathering items to study at the kitchen table.

nj_myhandsMaterials needed are minimal. A pencil and a notebook or loose paper are all that is necessary. If desired, you can add pens, colored pencils or a portable watercolor kit. Just make it all fit into a portable bag or container so you can tote it all to where ever your feet lead you.

Sharing your journaling

Journaling together or showing one another what you have done is a great way to connect with your family and encourage each other. Comments that you make to children (and adults) can change how they view their journaling. Do say:

  • That is a great observation!
  • I  never noticed ______ before. Your drawing/writing explains that well.
  • Tell me more about this.
  • What do you learn about _______ while journaling?
  • What questions do have about ______ now?
  • That reminds me of…
  • I like that you added a blue background because…
  • The measurements help me understand the scale.

sketchbook turtle

It isn’t wrong to tell someone their page is pretty, but that comment should be combined with more constructive statements from the “do say” list. Focusing on the finished product with a judgement of how good it is (or is not) takes the emphasis off of the process, and the process is really the important part of this activity. Also, remember that drawing and writing are skills that improve over time. Declaring that someone is a “good” artist or writer makes it seems that we belong in one category: good or bad. That’s just false. Our skill levels vary but we can all improve with practice. And nature journaling will give you that practice.

Learning more about Nature Journaling

I have several posts about nature journaling on this blog.  There are two helpful resources below. But don’t spend all day reading! The only wrong way to do nature journaling is to not start. Please come back and share your experiences in the comments or on my Facebook page.

This is very much a “get out there and do it” post. I would love to do a follow-up post with more information for those who are struggling with how to get started. What questions do you have?


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