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“It is infinitely well worth the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation.”
—Charlotte Mason

Psalm 148 declares that all of creation is called to worship and praise the Lord! God created the earth and heavens so we can be a witness to His wonders. We should therefore observe and study the glorious marvels that He designed.

One way your children can study creation is by nature journaling. This gives them an opportunity to slow down, observe, ponder, and reflect, encouraging their sense of wonder and awe at God’s creation. By nature journaling with your children, not only will you capture wonderful memories together, but your children will establish lifelong habits of organizing their thoughts and expressions through art and words. Plus, after a year of nature journaling, you will have a treasured keepsake, documenting the world through your children’s eyes at that age.

The biggest hurdle is often just getting started. It can feel overwhelming knowing how to begin, how to keep up, and how to organize it. It’s common to try to include too much and seek perfection, especially when drawing skills are lacking. Nature journaling shouldn’t be stressful, but rather a learning opportunity for you and your children. Be an example and draw in your journal, too, as it will inspire your children.

You can use any form of notebook to create a nature journal: lined paper, graph paper, or plain paper; soft cover, hard cover, or ring-bound. Bring along items like binoculars, a bucket or bag, a magnifying glass, a net, pencils, and art supplies (watercolors or colored pencils). Three ways to observe and study nature are to go outside, bring the outside in, and take advantage of books.

1. Go Outside

Going outside is the best way to discover nature, as many things can only be found while on a nature walk, like spiderwebs, animal tracks, and clouds. Take a stroll in the woods, a park, the beach, or even in your own backyard. Let your children dig in the dirt, peek under rocks, poke in puddles, and climb trees. They will find all sorts of treasures while exploring.

Point things out, and observe together, but allow your children to decide what to draw, depending on their interests. For example, pick a tree in your backyard and identify what kind it is. Draw several pages worth of information about this one tree. Include sketches of its leaves, a branch, the whole tree, the bark, and any fruit or seeds. Note how it changes with the seasons.

2. Bring the Outdoors In

You don’t always have to be outside to work on your journal; instead, you can bring collections indoors like shells, acorns, sticks, leaves, etc. Dry some fall leaves and press wildflowers between books. Buy milkweed and place it on your porch. Before long, the caterpillars will arrive, which will eventually turn into monarch butterflies. Keep jars and aquariums to observe little critters like frogs, lizards, and grasshoppers. Be sure to water, feed, and set them free when you are done. In addition to outdoor discoveries, you can even find nature in your own home like fruit, beans, and vegetables. Sit down at your table and cut open an apple. Sketch and label your findings.

3. Use Science Books

One of the best ways to get lots of journal entries is to snoop through and copy from the pages of nature and science books. Keep a stack of field guidebooks, nature artist books, and scientific magazines close by. If you find a neat label of a butterfly in an old book, copy it into your own journal. Anatomy sketches, classifications, and diagrams can easily be copied from books. Journal with family and friends and show your children examples of other people’s journal entries for inspiration. Remember, it’s ok to copy ideas from each other.

In addition to sketches, you can also add maps, photos, leaf rubbings, lapbooking flaps, and even small flat nature items, such as pressed flowers and dried leaves. Add observations, labels, quotes, poetry, Bible verses, and any other thoughts you might have. Don’t feel the need to identify and label everything, as it can get very tedious.

Remember that the goal is to make nature journaling an enjoyable experience for your children, not a chore. Don’t worry about being organized or seeking perfection with your child’s drawings. Allow for mistakes—erase, cross out, recolor—because the truth is, the messier the better. Years from now, you will look through their nature journals and be ever so thankful that you took the time to make these beautiful heirloom treasures!

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.

Check out our favorite nature books, field guides, and nature journaling helps here!

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Niki Parsley, along with her husband, Tommy, homeschooled their three children for twenty years. She directed a large co-op for twelve years and has taught a variety of homeschool workshops, including creative writing, lapbooking, nature journaling, and living history. Niki and her family started a small indie publishing company called Heirloom Publishing Company, which specializes in homeschool curriculum and heirloom quality children’s picture books. Their philosophy is to preserve childhood and encourage imagination through wholesome literature and old-fashioned curriculum.