Looking for a science education resolution for the new year? Try nature journaling!

You don’t have to be an artist or a biologist to keep your own nature journal. All you need is paper, pen or pencil, and a willingness to find and observe nature. Nature journals can include sketches, notes and observations, pressed flowers and leaves, lists, questions, rubbings, poetry, thoughts — whatever you feel inspired to put down on paper.

Why keep a nature journal?

There are many reasons to journal and many ways to use a nature journal; it can be deeply personal, practical, and educational. Most forms of nature journaling help develop observation skills and an appreciation of nature, but creative uses of nature journals can inspire students, support literacy, and bridge art and science.

In Sketching in Nature, April Hobart writes: “Nature journaling is a useful skill for science students, independent of whether they also consider themselves artists. … As the observer sketches, the act of sketching forces the observer to become more intimately aware of the subject matter, paying close attention to details that may not have been noticed otherwise.” Simple drawing exercises like blind contour drawing help focus observation.

Nature journaling is a great way to support open-ended, inquiry-based learning. Observing nature closely leads to questions: Why are these leaves smooth and those leaves hairy? Why are these flowers shaped funny? Why does the Moon wax and wane? It also offers a different approach to literacy: “The integration of nature studies within language arts instruction offers multiple possibilities for guiding students toward close readings of literature, natural phenomena, and the world around them,” write Sally McMillan and Jennifer Wilhelm in “Students’ stories: Adolescents constructing multiple literacies through nature journaling.”

How to get started

First of all, locate your nearest nature. Even if you live in the middle of a big city, you can find nature nearby. You could observe the Moon, set up a bird feeder or a container garden, or find a nearby park.

Nature journals can be as simple as computer paper held together with staples or as fancy as a binder with pockets for pressed flowers. My favorite way to make a journal is to use a hole punch and binder rings to hold together a selection of inexpensive drawing and watercolor paper. For drawing and writing, a regular pencil will work just fine, or you can use your favorite drawing utensil (drawing pencils, charcoal, watercolor, etc.). You can even make your own mini watercolor set.

Nature Journals in the Classroom

There are many good resources for inspiration and instructions on how to journal. Check out the Smithsonian’s guide (PDF), Sierra Club, or Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Leslie and Roth. Ideas for journaling activities are easy to find on blogs and Pinterest. The California Native Plant Society has made their nature journaling curriculum available for free and Project Learning Tree also has some nature journaling activities that include everything from science and math to language arts and history.

There are also plenty of sources of inspiration for both adults and kids. Charles Darwin, Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Rachel Carson all kept nature journals. Check out books about nature or books of nature writing. Dig up some inspirational John Muir or Florence Bailey quotes.

If you feel like sharing, check out projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count, a local bioblitz, or, for those who would like a good excuse to take your smartphone with you, iNaturalist.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I love this idea! Thanks for sharing this. I teach HS Biology and Vet Science and have a few students who I am sure would be excited about journaling. It has always been a goal for me, but I am not very consistent about it. Good reminder!

  2. I certainly agree with the concepts of journals as a beneficial resource within all aspects of outdoor and place based education . however do not forget that everything takes place in a where . Make sure that students are creating a connection between the what they are describing and the where . Its location . location can be either relative or absolute and we have the tools to support this . both in the field with GPS etc and back in the classroom where we can use spatial technologies such as Google Earth or ArcGIS on Line . We are now creating spatial Journals

  3. A few more resources for incorporating science notebooks: sciencenotebooks.org and Robert Klentschy’s “Using science notebooks in the elementary classroom” (thanks Mark for the recommendations!)

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