From time to time I post a snippet of our kids’ nature journals on instagram… and inevitably folk ask us to write a post on nature note booking with kids. Honestly… it is the easiest thing in the world and is a lovely way to create a sweet and lasting memento of their drawing through the ages and stages of their lives. I know that some folk think that nature journaling is essential to homeschooling, really it is not an exclusive club, all children (and their associated grownups) would benefit from having a nature journal with them on family outings.
I think the biggest reason that folks don’t carry a nature notebook with them on their outings is that they think they need a lot of special equipment and they don’t think they can draw at all… both valid fears and hopefully this post will put your mind at rest. Firstly a pencil and a notebook is enough and secondly you don’t have to be an experienced artist to create in your own journal.
Se7en+1 Tips for Nature NoteBooking
- Keep it Simple: Every time we go on an outing, whether it is an urban amble or a hike, they take their backpack which has a sweater, a water bottle and their notebook and pencil. If it is an all day event then their will be a sandwich and a citrus fruit, because citrus fruit comes naturally prepackaged. It is the notebook that we are on about in this post… In the past I would buy really good quality watercolour notebooks, nice ring bound covers and a crisp clean smell. Those are nice in theory, but not ideal for small children to be lugging around, where every single extra gram does count. So we switched to the simplest blank A5 notebooks I could find, moleskins or their closest approximation and they have lasted us just as well. And the pencil… needs to be somewhat darker than your average HB, everyone here has a 4B pencil especially for their nature notebooks.
- Gear to Inspire: Sometimes when we head out, I know we are intending to look at something particularly nature orientated. It may be mushroom walk, or a fynbos walk… it might be a walk to see if our favourite plant is flowering, or to take a look at the mountainside after a fire. When I know we have a little time to linger then I will add a couple of things to our bag of nature note booking tricks… nothing complicated and nothing that can’t be easily replaced. So: envelopes for collecting a sand sample, or a leaf to look at later, a magnifying glass is an incredible tool when you are out in the wilds and a tape measure. A tape measure is a really simple little tool that will add hours of fun to your observations, firstly they are light, secondly there are millions of things to measure – from footprints to shadows, and everything else in-between. Trust me kids can measure everything.
- Turn it into an Art Excursion: Most outings we just have a pencil and our notebooks… and when they return home they create further, later on in the week. But from time to time I will turn an ordinary looking walk into an arty excursion, just by adding some coloured pencils and watercolour crayons to the mix… a paintbrush and we are good to go. Don’t worry about water, there is water in their water bottles already.
- The Things That We Draw: So we have addressed the materials, but what about the other question… what to draw? Like most groups of people, some of my kids love to draw and could draw all day… and others not so much. But there is always something for folk to pop into their nature journals… a list of animals or flowers spotted, a list of sounds they have heard, a poem or even things that come to mind when they draw a rough map of the outing. This is one thing that we can all do together, there are vast differences between students abilities to either draw or observe what they are drawing. For some it is all about drawing what they see, and for others it is all about creating a story… either way it is all good. It is nothing elaborate, and it is not for show… nobody else is going to look through your journal unless you want them to. Something to add to your pages is the date and location, to remind you of the event when you are looking back. They don’t have to be filled with just drawings either… you can add ticket stubs to events you went to, print photographs and add the odd pressed flower or gathered leaf.
- Places to Go: When you say nature notebook folks tend to think they need to take a holiday on a lake or a road trip to the desert, or wade through rock pools at low tide… all fun things for sure, but you can also just sit on your front step and draw what you see, consider the herb planter on the windowsill. Also, a nature journal doesn’t have to be in the wild outback… you can take it with you to the natural history museum or the aquarium… we just make sure our journals are always in our bags so that they are good to go whenever we are. If you have your notebooks and inspiration hits then you can let the great outdoors inspire you and let your creativity roam. For us it has been so worth it to always have our journals with us.
- Local Books: I mentioned that we often take our nature notebooks home and add more details later on. It is one thing to sit and observe something in the great outdoors and draw it… it is quite another to turn it into some sort of nature study. We often use our nature notebooks to inspire us later on in the week… to dig a little deeper. Make sure that you have some hand books available for inspiration and to add a few facts to the mix. I grew up on Usborne nature spotter books and I loved them, but we don’t live in the English countryside. You do need to have to have local books to support your nature journals. These books from Struik Nature have been published slow and steadily throughout our homeschooling journey and are perfect for the job that we need them for. A detailed picture, showing the colours and markings, a few very simple facts in English, and two or three other local languages. For some of the books there are associated apps, that just adds to the fun. We explored the Mammals app here.
- Layers of Books: Beginner books are fine, but sometimes our young naturalists want to dig a little deeper… pocket field guides and an all purpose wildlife book are fantastic for the person who wants to know even more… I wouldn’t recommend lugging books around, though some people do… we usually just jot a note down in our nature journals, reminding ourselves about something that we wanted to look up. The Wildlife book in the picture actually has an app, that I keep on my phone, so if we are ever in desperate need to identify something right there and then, we can. Mostly we take a photograph and make a note in our journals and look things up at home later.
- Time is Your Friend: This is my golden rule for nature journaling, there is no rush… take your time. Most kids can concentrate for about fifteen minutes before being distracted away… Fifteen minutes. Don’t envision hours of drawing in the fields under a shady tree and set up a little art station and then be disappointed when they glances at the set up and dashes off to look for tadpoles in the stream… that is what it is all about. Looking and learning and having fun while they do it. I have one or two artists that can sit for hours, but mostly mine draw a little play a lot, draw some more and so on. The only person who can linger for hours, while the children play, is myself. I am happy with that. Because I know drawing requires a lot of energy and attention, I always encourage my kids to take their time… I try and make it feel like we have all day, even if we haven’t. You can’t rush art and by saying, “take your time,” you are freeing them to linger a little longer. It need only extend your outing by about ten or fifteen minutes, but somehow by saying take your time it is giving the artists permission to look a little more carefully and pay attention to the details.
And the Se7en + 1th Tip:
Hopefully, you can see that nature journaling is as easy or as complicated as you make it out to be. We prefer to keep it really simple, that way I am much more likely to get it done, and get it done often. I love the sweet notebooks my kids have drawn over the years and you can look back to their early scribbles, and wander through all their illustrations and remembering when and where they were when they worked on a page… fun times.