How to Create a Nature Journal

How to Create a Nature Journal

“Mom look. I picked these for you.” What mother could resist a generous nosegay of dandelions from her loving 4-year-old? The dandelions are not new, but the children are, as they are seeing things for the first time.

Young children will eagerly discover wildflowers, toads, butterflies, beetles, paw prints in the mud, earthworms, robins, thistles, squirrels, mushrooms, berries—and run into thorn bushes—all outdoors. I remember how our back door would bang shut in spring as my children bounded into the kitchen—bright red scratches and bug bites on their arms and legs, clothes covered with grass stains—to show me their “finds.” Therefore, when I contemplated further Miss Charlotte Mason’s recommendation for Nature Study in 1989, I was ready to try it more formally with my students.

We started taking nature walks. One day a week they drew their finds into a Nature Journal.

Drawing From Nature 

Any blank book will do. If your children are early elementary age they can sketch on loose paper held on a clipboard—to be kept later in a binder.

Encourage children to “draw what they see.” When children give attention to drawing they will often notice details about their finds that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Every student of Miss Mason’s kept a Nature Journal—records of their personal experiences. They were assiduously inscribed with fine prose and illustrated with delicate watercolors. This is ideal. We started with colored pencils. Watercolors came later.

In 1990, the following year, while browsing a bookstore, I stumbled upon a beautiful example of the kind of Nature Journal that Miss Mason had described in her writings. It was Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. I carried it home with much happiness. Although I was well aware that our drawings would be crude in comparison to Edith Holden’s (who was an art student), her pages were inspiring.

Recording Observations

Keep a field guide handy to identify a find. According to Miss Mason’s recommendations, all drawings should include captions: the Latin name of the specimen (from the field guide) and its familiar name.

Students can record a description of their find on the opposite page. The date of the find and where they found it is basic. Children might also provide an anecdote, especially if the find is a wiggly salamander or fidgety chipmunk—something entertaining. It is difficult to draw a bird that hops from branch to branch, an ant, a butterfly, or any creature that moves perpetually. They will not pose for a sketch even if you ask them. In these modern times taking a photograph may help. We referred to our field guide for shape and markings—for those bits of nature we couldn’t bring inside and set before us on the kitchen table.

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Source: Crosswalk | Karen Andreola, A Charlotte Mason Companion

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