Adam Savage of the TV show Mythbusters once joked that the only difference between messing around and “science” is writing things down. In other words, scientists do not simply conduct experiments. They write down what they learn or witness. One of the cornerstones of the scientific method is recording researchers’ observations and discoveries. Traditionally, these scientific records have been kept in notebooks or journals for future study and publication. Homeschoolers can be part of this time-honored tradition by journaling about science and the natural world in their everyday lives.

At its core, a natural science journal is simply a way to keep track of observations about nature. Keeping a science journal does not have to be difficult; and it can be a springboard for different nature studies. The easiest science journals for homeschoolers to keep are journals about plant life, wildlife, and the weather.

Journaling about Plant Life

Keeping a science journal about plant life offers students the opportunity to identify and observe local flowers, bushes, trees, and other plants. For example, students can record basic observations about plants in their backyard, neighborhood, or local parks on a daily or weekly basis. Making simple observations such as the types of plants in the area and their sizes or colors throughout the season can teach students a lot about the life cycle of local plants. It may also pique students’ interests in botany and encourage them to learn more about plants that are native to their area.

Journaling about Wildlife

Students also may enjoy keeping nature journals about wildlife in their area. Homeschoolers can learn a lot from simple observations about birds, squirrels, and other common animals. For example, how do animals’ habits change throughout the year? Do animals behave differently in warm weather versus cool weather? Answering a few simple questions like these can help students better understand and appreciate wildlife literally in their own backyard.

Journaling about Meteorology

Weather journals are another very popular, easy science journal that homeschoolers can keep. Just like professional meteorologists, homeschoolers can write down regular observations about temperatures, wind, and rainfall in their neighborhood. Many websites and hobby stores offer backyard weather stations that help students make simple observations about the weather.

Homeschoolers journaling about meteorology can update their journals one or two times a week or multiple times a day, depending on how much information they want to collect. Students also may enjoy seeing how their observations compare with the weather journals of professional meteorologists. These professional journals are available from different sources online.

How to Keep a Science Journal

At a minimum, students keeping a science journal should record what they saw or observed and when they observed it. For example, Thomas Jefferson kept a daily weather journal at his Monticello home. He recorded the temperature every day at dawn and again at three or four in the afternoon. He also made daily notes about cloud coverage, rain, fog, and other details.

Unlike Jefferson, today’s homeschoolers do not have to write in their science journal with a feather quill dipped in an inkwell. Computers, tablets, and smartphones make it easier than ever to record observations. Some homeschoolers may still prefer keeping a nature journal in a traditional notebook while others may want to use spreadsheets or smartphone apps to record their observations. Students who enjoy photography or drawing also may want to photograph or make sketches of the items that they write about in their journals.

Keeping a Nature Journal Can Help Professional Scientists

Students maintaining a nature journal may be able to participate in “citizen science” projects. For example, homeschoolers keeping a journal about local birds may want to participate in Cornell University’s annual Great Backyard Bird Count or use the eBird smartphone app to share bird sightings and observations with Cornell’s researchers. Look for citizen science opportunities locally or online to learn more about these types of
projects.

Tailor the Project to Each Student

One of the great things about homeschooling is that coursework can be tailored to the student, and science journals are no different. Younger students may write in their journals just a few times a week, while older students may be able to update their journals multiple times per day. Journaling about nature also integrates well with other science courses and may provide good practice in penmanship, writing, and composition. Students who enjoy science also may have a lot of fun in the process. All of this makes keeping a science journal a very versatile project for any homeschool family.

Copyright 2021, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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David Cox is a freelance writer and homeschool dad. He resides in Kansas with his wife and children.