Our Nature Journals

There is a lot of information now available about Nature Study and I do not wish to be repetitive. I am simply going to state what has worked for us while following CM’s ideas.

Each child has her own journal and is given a new one every year whether it is filled or not.
We all love new things. Receiving a new journal motivates the child to do their best once again when interest may be waning.

Each year we change the medium and format to provide newness in our routine.
Some years we may focus on watercolor, another year maybe color pencils. One year my daughter copied the format of a naturalist’s journal that she enjoyed by dividing sections according the months of the year. One term, one of my children chose to observe and sketch tide pool creatures while reading Pagoo by Holling. She worked her heart out and the result was beautiful. Once, we divided our journals by various animal and plant sections. Another time, we pressed flowers and leaves and laminated them in the journals. Some years, it was just a hodgepodge. I even allow photo journaling but not exclusively because I believe that all children should learn the rudiments of drawing in order to have a truly liberating education. We also tried lined paper, thin paper, thick paint paper, plain paper, lined paper with pasted in drawings from plain paper, bound books, three ring binders. The list goes on.

While they are very young I usually choose the medium and format decisions in order to teach them how to journal. As they mature I hand the decision-making process over to them. The idea here is to introduce many options throughout the years and explore. Routine is good to a point, but even routine needs change.

Journals must be neat and accurate. No fanciful pictures allowed.
Charlotte Mason stressed this and I certainly agree that a drawing of ‘George, the purple dragon’, is for other subject areas, not science. Children must learn to be accurate and sharpen their powers of observation in order to enjoy nature to the fullest extent.

We utilize poetry and quotes in our journals.
I urge my children to write their own or copy other people’s quotes and poetry about the natural world. I keep a quote file about nature that I googled and printed and keep it on hand for them to use if they wish. They also utilize poetry from the poets they have studied.
About the age of ten, the child begins keeping lists of bird, flower, tree, insect etc… she has seen in the back of the journal. Latin names may also be added. *younger children do not write Latin names in journals.

There is just something so satisfying in going outside and being able to name the birds, trees, flowers, plants and insects one finds. Maybe it goes back to our father, Adam naming the animals. I grew up so ignorant of what was around me and now I am catching up. My enthusiasm has reached my children and they, too, have a great desire to satisfy the curiosity by naming nature. Obviously, field guides are indispensable! I consider them one of our most important investments.

We concentrate on having nature walks and writing in the journals in the spring and fall terms, while focusing on handicrafts during the winter term.
However, nature study continues all year. Taking a winter break helps my children to look forward to it again. Some of them continue to add entries during winter term, but I do not make them. Instead, we read books about nature that we have saved for the cold months and we also go through Considering God’s Creation at a very relaxed pace. *over several years.

We schedule one nature walk and journal writing period a week and we all do it together.
If my children want to write more often, then of course they may, but they must write in it once a week. Sometimes you may have a resistant child for awhile but if you keep at it and Mom or Dad models keeping a nature journal, and the child’s life is not too full of other ‘things’, then he or she should begin to show more interest. In my family, my youngest children loved these times, then when they were a little older, they lost some interest but mom made them continue, then around 12yrs of age the excitement of identifying and classifying perked their interest once more. I found I did not even have to remind them. Now, my teenage daughter often takes walks alone outside with her nature journal. I am so pleased to see this. I now know she will have this joyful past time to fall back on in later years of her life.

I used to think that Nature Walks had to be an all-day affair but have since learned that it really can be done in a short amount of time.
We allow 30 minutes for the walk and 30 minutes for journaling. Usually we journal inside, after the walk, but not always. Then I schedule one more 30 minute block of time in the week when the older children may work on their journals again. They can paint something they sketched earlier or add a new entry if they wish. Now some days, when the weather is just too glorious and we need a break, I declare a Nature Day. My kids squeal with delight and we spend 30 minutes packing up a lunch and each child fills a backpack with schoolbooks. No writing is allowed that day except for what they put in the nature journal. We have a long nature walk, then journal together. I even bring their individual paint sets and plastic cups or color pencils. They get to find their own water source from the nearby creek, runoff or well, which adds even more fun to the mix. After a picnic and play time, the kids read their school books and I have lessons with the little ones. My two oldest have favorite trees that they perch in while reading. We have many fond memories of Nature Days.

The following slideshow shows the nature journals of my four children from 8 yrs to 18 yrs of age. The beginning entries are pretty simple, but if you are patient and watch the slide show to the end you will see the progress that was made over a ten year period of nature journaling.  (My oldest daughter now sells her artwork.)

Full page view

“The child who does not know the portly form and spotted breast of the thrush, the graceful flight of the swallow, the yellow bill of the blackbird, the gush of song which the skylark pours from above is nearly as much to be pitied as those London children who 'had never seen a bee.' -Charlotte Mason vol1

one step at a time...