The Second Stage of Nature Journaling

After children spend some years learning to observe nature closely and identify it in an enjoyable environment they are ready to move on to the next stage of journaling. By this time, they should be proficient at handwriting.  For most children, this will be during the ages of 10 to 14 years. I call this 2nd stage Taxonomy and Description.

Introduce Basic Taxonomy
“Latin names, and names of families are a great help in classification and Latin names for flowers are invaluable, especially in cases where a single flower has a different name in practically every county.” CM’s Parents Review

Charlotte Mason instructed children at this age to write down the scientific Latin name along side the English name of plants and animals they observed on their walks.  Now, adding the Latin name is absolutely meaningless to a child unless you give him a reason for doing it. This is a good time to introduce the basics of Taxonomy. All the scientific information about a living thing is called its “taxonomy.”

In Our Home…
My son is now in the fifth grade. He has finally mastered basic cursive and can write short narrations. He loves the natural world and this is evident from the endless stream of animals he finds and feeds to the nature table overflowing with his treasures. He has filled several nature journals with paintings of his discoveries and simple labels. I realized a few weeks ago that he is ready to move on to a more complex stage of nature journaling. So, I wrote the following on a dry erase board and gave him a copy to glue into the back of his journal in a section we reserved for plant and animal lists.

2 Kingdoms- Plant, Animal
2 Phylums- Vertebrates, Invertebrates
5 Classes- Mammals, Birds, Fish, Reptiles, Amphibians, Arthropods
Many Orders
Many, many Families
Many, many, many Genus
Many, many, many, many Species

I explained that scientists identify plants and animals by naming the Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species they each belong to. He was already familiar with these words from reading some science books, but he didn’t know much about them. Next, I wrote down an example using the Trumpeter Swan:

Kingdom- animal (scientific name: Regnum animale)
Phylum- animals with a backbone (scientific name: Chordata)
Class-Bird (scientific name: Aves)
Order-Water fowl (scientific name: Anseriformes)
Family- Anatidae
Genus- Cygnus (notice it is capitalized and in italics)
Species- buccinators (notice it is not capitalized and in italics)

I explained that field guides contain taxonomy information for living things and then I showed this information in an actual field guide to my son.  I told him that he would begin adding the genus and species to his journal. However, sometimes he wouldn’t be able to find the genus and species and would just have to put down the name of the family because field guides don’t contain every living thing but a great many of them. I went on to explain the reason the taxonomy is in Latin. It is the language scientists chose to use many years ago so that no matter what language a scientist spoke, they would all have a common language they could understand for identification. After explaining all of this, he practiced identifying the taxonomy of a few specimens that we had brought inside from our nature walk that morning with his field guide. Lesson over.

Keep Specimen Lists
“A flower and bird list should always be kept, and also any other lists which interest the individual-fungi, birds' nests, insects, animals, fossils, etc. These lists work best kept in columns, with the name, number, and date of finding all on one line, and the next underneath and so on.” CM’s Parents Review

Charlotte Mason encouraged the ten year old child to begin making lists in the back of the nature journal of specimens identified. I think this is a good idea because children cannot possibly draw every flower and creature they notice but they can at least keep an ongoing list of their discoveries made throughout the week. This encourages them to write in their nature journals even when Mom is not around.  They can quickly jot down something without getting out the art materials. It has also enabled us to go back to a list from previous years and remind us of the name of something we discovered again but can’t remember its name. 

In our Home…
During our next nature lesson, I told my son that he should continue to paint a specimen at least once a week but he can begin adding many of his discoveries to the back of his journal without painting them. I directed my son to the last several pages of his journal and we labeled it Specimen Lists. With a ruler, I helped him draw some columns and label the top of his pages. I looked at actual examples from Miss Mason’s schools to get a good idea as to how to do this.

 Finally, I walked him through the process of recording a few specimens he had found that week but didn’t have time to draw. I explained that he could do this whenever he liked and as often as he wished.

Record Observations and Descriptions
“Notes, perhaps, present even a larger field for study than paintings, but they must always be the result of personal observation and knowledge.”

In Our Home...
On the following week, after we had a brief nature walk together and were recording the taxonomy in English and Latin of a garden spider we had found, I encouraged my son to describe in writing what the spider was doing when he found it. I didn't tell him what to write, I am only a guide. Up until this time, from the ages of six to nine years, he had labeled his finds, and only added descriptions of animal behavior and habitats occasionally because writing was difficult for his young years. Sometimes he would describe out loud to me and I would record it for him. Now that he is able to write on his own, my latest goal is to help him develop the habit of written description in his journaling. It is important that the child’s personality be allowed to dictate the arrangement of a nature notebook rather than the teacher’s. 

“Special time is allowed for Nature Books on the time table of all form in the P.U.S.; but this is only a foundation, as one might say, for a child can, and is encouraged to paint or write notes in her book at any time. This set time is a good opportunity for the teacher to keep her eye on the books as a whole, to prevent the continuance of any series mistakes, to provide Latin or English names that the children have been unable to find for themselves, and to give practical hints about paintings, notes, or general arrangement. But here again emphasis must be laid upon the importance of hints and suggestions only being given with the greatest care and discretion so that the child may keep her book in her own way as far as possible.”

Older children in this second stage may want to include some poetry or well known quotes in the margins or quotes. This should be encouraged and is actually part of the transition to the last stage of nature journaling. We’ll talk about that next…

My son is now enjoying this second stage of nature journaling immensely. The Latin of taxonomy makes perfect sense to him and he likes the challenge. Keeping lists has motivated him to work more independently and to record more often in his journal. It is also building a knowledge bank of the natural world for him. Writing more descriptive entries of his plants and animal specimens is also enjoyable because developmentally, he is ready for the task. It is also teaching him to pay more attention to natural habitats and animal behaviors.

one step at a time...