How to Get Started Nature Journaling with Your Children
The first thing to do to get your children excited to go out and begin their nature study adventure is to prepare your backpack! This can be quite exciting for children, as they often love their tools. Here are some items we include in our packs. Not all of them are necessary, but they definitely add to the fun!
magnified bug boxes (for catch, examine, and release)
There are many approaches to nature journaling and we have changed our approach almost every year as different approaches better suited my children at different times.
The most important thing is to commit to getting out and into nature often. That can mean different things to different people. For some families it might mean getting out onto trails, whereas for others a neighborhood walk will suffice. I would advise that if you often do your nature study during neighborhood walks, try to get your family out onto trails every once in a while as the experience is quite different. Having said that, a lot can be learned about your local wildlife on neighborhood walks.
One way to nature journal is to bring your fully stocked back pack and allow your children to go where their curiosity leads them. When you see that they are focusing in on something and asking questions, sit down with your own nature journal and suggest that you record what you are seeing in your journals together. Allow your child to take his time with his sketch, and make sure to explain that this is not about creating a pretty picture, but more about looking closely at what your are sketching and recording it. When you model nature journaling yourself, it becomes a legitimate and worthy activity in your child’s eyes. Put excitement, love, attention, and focus into your journalling and you will be modeling that for your child. You can show your child how to identify the object of interest, either from a field guide or from a nature app., and how to label it in your journals, along with the date, weather, location, and any observations, thoughts, or questions for further exploration.
We spent the last few years using this approach, but more recently my children have been so present in their explorations in nature, and so in the moment, that they haven’t wanted to stop and journal. I completely understand where they are coming from, and I enjoy the conversational learning in the moment, so we have recently begun taking a different approach. We take our backpack stocked with our tools, but leave our pencils and journals at home. Then, either when we get home or the next day, we recall the magnificent things we saw and select a few to sketch. We usually spend some time reading about the plant or creature and then sketch from a photo. We then write in some of the things we remembered observing while interacting with our subject in nature. In this way, it becomes more like a journal. I actually find that for us, my children have spent more time on their journal pages using this method because they aren’t rushing to get back to exploring. One thing to remember, if you do choose to use this method, is to bring your child’s attention to the tiny details of the subject while you are in nature. That is something that might be hard to do from a photo, and you don’t want to miss out on that very unique experience of nature study.
I do feel it is tremendously important to find the approach that works for your children so that they never get to a point where they see nature journaling as a chore or an assignment. Another way to avoid that is to make sure you have a nature journal as well. Modeling nature journaling enthusiastically yourself is a prime way to ensure your children will engage with excitement. The intention of nature journaling and nature study is not only to augment our children’s education, but also to create stewards of nature and ambassadors of wildlife, and therefore, enthusiasm and excitement are vital to the experience.