I never thought I would be writing about nature study and nature journaling. It’s one of the things I didn’t look forward to in our homeschool week. I would keep delaying it and we would end up not going out for nature study for weeks on end.
But then one day, I realized (from talking to friends and listening to podcasts — yes this really was an issue for me!) that I needed to enjoy it so that my children would also find joy in it. They have picked up my negative attitude and were treating it like a chore. “I hate nature study” has been heard around here one time too many!
Why bother with nature study anyway?
Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun––the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for? Besides, life is so interesting to him, that he has no time for the faults of temper which generally have their source in ennui; there is no reason why he should be peevish or sulky or obstinate when he is always kept well amused.
Charlotte Mason in Home Education, Volume 1
Well, who doesn’t want unequaled mental training for their children? So, I decided to work on myself, to embrace and enjoy it, in order to give that gift to my kids. I started journaling by myself, going a few steps at a time out the backyard. It helped me to focus and not think of what my children are supposed to be doing.
Little by little, I started to look forward to these quick observations and writing entries in my journal. I was captivated by the different stages of a blooming rose, the wayward flowery weeds that I didn’t realize at first were weeds, even the wings of chickens. And before I knew it, the kids were also eager for nature study time!
From being stressed about looking at plants, insects, and animals, the kids and I now naturally observe something almost everyday. We’ve become newbie bird watchers in the process too!
Baby steps to nature study and journaling
Here are some simple tips on how to start your nature study and journaling. Some of these I’ve picked up from Our Living Learning nature study classes that we’ve attended and some I’ve heard from the Delectable Education podcast about nature study. Most, however, are realizations from my journey as a reluctant naturalist, when what I’ve heard or read about before have finally, finally clicked.
But first, what do you need?
It’s really simple — you really just need an unlined notebook and a pencil. That’s it.
What kind of notebook you use depends on whether or not you will draw a lot and whether or not you will use watercolor. You don’t have to color your drawings; sketches are beautiful too.
Just remember, when choosing a journal, consider that you will probably use it for a long time. Enjoyment is key… and you can change notebooks if you feel like upgrading! (Spoken like a true notebook addict!) If you’re artistic, then go for it and use all your powers in creating a beautiful journal!
If you find yourself wondering about the names of plants and birds, you may also use field guides. We love our bird field guides, plant encyclopedia, and nature journals, which are available at The Learning Basket Book Shop.
So now, let’s begin!
Please take to heart that nature study is about observation and taking note of what you have observed. You don’t have to know the name of plants, insects, etc. at first, let alone scientific names!
1. Find something interesting and observe and take note. Flowers are a great start because they’re lovely, colorful, and have so many interesting details. Kids won’t be intimidated by something so pretty too!
2. Start with some of the following details: date, time, where, weather, and maybe even the temperature when writing an entry. This helps in making connections once you see or experience something after the first time. Sometimes, I would go back to an old entry and write something new I’ve discovered.
3. Think along the lines of “I noticed… I wonder… It reminds me of” if you’re having trouble describing things. Gina of Our Living Learning shared it on the first day of our classes. Remember to just write or draw what you see. I taught my 7-year-old that his nature journal is for what he actually sees, and his sketch pads are for his imagination.
4. I love this tip that I heard from a Delectable Education podcast to include three things in your journal entry: words, numbers, pictures. This simply means, write descriptions such as color, shape, interesting details, include measurements such as number and size, and draw what you see. You don’t have to have all three all the time, but it’s a good guide to remember.
5. Try going out once a week. Your curiosity will lead you to do more eventually, but when you’re just starting, consider it a win if you get to go out for nature study at least once a week.
Nature study ideas
When I decided to just go for it, I gathered easy and non-intimidating nature ideas. Please remember that nature study is not just for those with gardens. Nature is anything and everywhere, even in cracks on the road, or herbs in pots. Don’t limit yourself to plants and animals too; weather and the sky are also part of nature.
Here are some ideas with which you and your kids can start your nature study and journaling:
- Unexpected places of nature
- Find the color red, yellow, etc
- A plant’s (flower, vegetable, etc) development
- Vegetables in the neighborhood
- Chickens, dogs, cats or whatever animals you have access to
- Phases of the moon
- Insects around and on flowers, insects on the ground, etc
- All the parts of a tree or plant, one at a time
Remember, you don’t have to have a garden in order to do your nature study. Look for places near your home where you and your children can visit. Oh, and when traveling, bringing your nature journal is a lovely idea!
It doesn’t have to be perfect
It’s so funny but I started with a twig that I found during one of our first nature walks. I chose it because it’s so easy to draw!
As I went along, I found myself enjoying my simple drawings. Sometimes I would color with colored pencils, and sometimes I would try my hand at watercolor even though the only thing I know about it is I need to wet my brush, mix some colors, and dip from that mixture!
As you can see, my drawings are far from being beautiful. But I derive such pleasure in even the most amateurish (childish even) ones I’ve made. I find myself always flipping through my nature journal, anticipating what I would find next.
What I love about nature study (yes, I can already say that!) is that it has opened my eyes to the beauty of even the simplest weeds around. It’s like I’ve got a new set of eyes with which to see the wonders of creation.
Let me leave you with this quote by Charlotte Mason:
We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.
Charlotte Mason in Home Education, Volume 1
I invite you to step out and really look at the wonders around you! You will be filled with wonder and delight!