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When I was 8 years old, my mother decided to homeschool my older brother and me. At the time we were traveling with an evangelistic crusade ministry across the Midwest United States. Every week we were in a new state. Mom took advantage of the natural surroundings and encouraged us to find the state tree in each state we visited. We found the red pine in Minnesota, the ponderosa pine in Montana, and the American elm in North Dakota. Of all the homeschool activities, nature journals have the strongest hold on my memory. Even today, I love the feel of a fresh new journal, its fragrant pages beckoning me to fill it with new discoveries.

There is no wrong way to create nature journals. But there are some best practices that will sharpen observation skills, strengthen handwriting form, and inspire a child’s love for God’s creation. Let me suggest three of those best practices.

1. A field notebook to sharpen observation skills

I would suggest two notebooks. The first is a field notebook for quick notes, field sketches, and on-the-fly observations. This notebook should be small enough to travel in a large coat pocket or a small backpack. A sharp pencil is the only writing implement needed for field notebooks. This keeps everything compact and easy to grab and go. Jot the following observations in your notebook:

  • Date and time of find (such as 6-2-21 at 4:32 p.m.)
  • Weather conditions (for example, overcast and muggy)
  • Specific location (such as, under the oak tree in our backyard)
  • A quick sketch with attention to special markings, colors, or surrounding bits of nature

2. A nature journal to strengthen handwriting form

The companion to the field notebook is a larger nature journal with a strong binding and quality pages. Set up a nature journaling station at home with colored pencils, small scraps of colored paper, and glue sticks. Embellishments such as ribbon, washi-tape, and fake flowers may inspire the crafty side of your journal lover.

Encourage the following steps for this larger journal:

  • Transfer everything from your field notebook using your best handwriting.
  • Use complete sentences. For example, “I found this weird mushroom on June 2, 2021. It was Wednesday at 4:32 p.m. The weather was overcast and muggy.”
  • Look up your mushroom in a field guide or use an app such as Seek by iNaturalist. Use the field guide as well as any samples you’ve collected to sketch different perspectives of the find. For example, if you are observing a mushroom, sketch the underside of the mushroom as well as its full shape.
  • Finally, write out what happened using complete sentences. For example, “I was walking around my backyard and noticed a strange shape peeking out from under some leaves. I used a forked stick to move the leaves aside. Underneath the leaves were some mushrooms. They were beige with a little black on them. I picked a few and put them in my basket. Then it started to rain. I didn’t mind though, as it was a gentle rain. When I got in the house, I looked up my mushrooms in a book and found out they were called morels. However, I also learned about false morels, which are poisonous. I don’t think I will eat these just in case they are poisonous.”

3. Rich ideas to inspire a love of God’s creation

Being outside armed with a pencil and a notebook may not be enough to ignite a love of God’s creation. Children often need rich ideas planted in their hearts and minds. Be sure to provide rich texts about nature and pore over identification books before you begin. Discuss how amazing God’s world is, and point out fascinating facts about mushrooms, birds, trees, or butterflies. And always carry your own field guide. Your enthusiasm and love for the hunt will fan the flames of interest in your child. When you are searching, take to heart these words from Charlotte Mason’s Home Education:

As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb (Charlotte Mason, Home Education, 54).

May your “every day’s walk” truly give you and your student delight and the joyful discovery of God’s world!

Copyright 2022, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Joleen is a pastor's wife who taught public school for ten years before deciding to open her own music studio and homeschool her boys.