What’s in My Naturalist Bag?

In my mind, nature journaling is the perfect hobby. It incorporates so many of my passions – a love for the outdoors, the challenge of a long walk in the wild, the joy of creating something beautiful, and an inclination to learn more about the world around me. As such, whenever I venture outdoors, my naturalist bag is never far from my side.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

I love to nature journal and have been teaching students of all ages how to begin nature journaling for many, many years. One of the questions my students always ask is, “What’s all in your naturalist bag?” “What all do you carry with you?”

My Naturalist’s Bag

Before we dive into the contents, a naturalist’s bag is simply a tote, backpack, or anything portable. Essentially it is a field kit with painting and drawing materials that you can take outside for a leisurely afternoon walk or a quiet morning on the beach.

Please don’t look at what I carry now and think that you must make yours the same!  Your naturalist’s bag is a personal reflection of your preferences. You have different needs, wants, skills, and intents than I do.  We are each on a different paths and our journals – and even our bags – reflect that journey. For example, I still erase quite a bit but my daughter does not. She prefers to see how her lines work together to tell a certain type of story. 

“Nature journaling can be a quick fifteen minute sketch or an hour of painting and color immersion.”  

Getting Started

Tools are wonderful things, but it’s not necessary to start with more than a few things: pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, and paper. These may be any type of your choosing; the important thing is to start drawing! I find that an inexpensive .7 mm mechanical pencil is a great tool. They never need sharpening, they provide a fairly wide range of darks (depending on your paper), and they are easy to refill or replace.

In an earlier post, I share 5 tips for Getting Started Keeping a Nature Journal.

Whatever your materials, get acquainted with them. See what they can do, what types of lines they make — what darkest or lightest marks? If you’re brushing up on drawing skills and have an assortment of tools, use those that are most comfortable, at least to start. As you gain experience and get more comfortable, you can expand your kit.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

The Essentials I Carry:

Here’s an example of my naturalist’s kit. I tried to make it as portable as possible.

Travelogue Drawing Book – I love the small size of the square 5.5 x 5.5. The paper has a good tooth which makes it an excellent choice for drawing and sketching work. It works well with many mediums: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, and markers. The paper also accepts light watercolor washes without buckling. In the inside back cover is a clear pocket envelope perfect for tucking away feathers, leaves or other flat specimens.

Prismacolor col-erase blue pencil – My new favorite item is the col-erase non-photo blue pencil. It is the perfect tool to sketch out the basic shapes and create a framework for the finished work. When the piece is finished, the blue fades into the background and is less noticeable than a standard pencil.

Black Micron Pigmas – The smaller sizes are my preferred pen for stippling and fine detail. I use the larger nibs to journaling narrative.

Prima Marketing Watercolor Pan Set – I currently have the Vintage Pastel set. I love the colors, especially the sage and dark rose. I am considering additional palettes but my daughter is encouraging me to make my own customized set.

Waterbrushes – I have recently begun to use brushes which have a hollow barrel in the handle that can be filled with water. These are great tools for field sketching and more compact.

If you are interested in the online courses I teach, follow these links for more information. I teach Junior Naturalists Classes for youth & Nature Journaling in the Classroom, a course for adult educators.

Other Favorites I Carry:

Easthill Large Capacity Pencil Case – I love the larger size of this pencil bag. It fits an assortment of mechanical pencils, artist drawing pencils, a selection of colored pencils, an eraser, and pencil sharpener. I like the white erasers as they don’t leave a colored residue behind.

Prismacolor Pencils – I love Prismacolor pencils! They lay down color and blend together so smoothly – it’s like coloring with butter. For many years this was my absolute favorite medium. It was thereby economical for me to purchase the large set. I don’t carry them all with me in my naturalist’s bag however. If you haven’t used them before, consider buying them individually at an art store or a small set of 12-24.

Extras: I also keep a small ruler, a white birthday candle for watercolor resist, a portion of a cotton sock which I have cut to serve as an arm cuff, a small magnifying glass, zip-lock bags or empty Rx containers for small samples. NOTE: the Rx containers are not totally leak-proof, so keep them empty in your kit. As a precaution I keep anything wet or damp in a zip-lock bag.

It’s worthy to note that I also carry a first aid kit, sunscreen, and drinking water.

Anti-Racist Resources for Home & Classroom

Across the nation, communities are feeling the weight of the recent tragic events with heavy hearts. The pain of these events is felt not only here in the United States but around the world.

As an educator and parent, it is important that I am attuned to the feelings and experiences of my children and my students. I have compiled this list of anti-racist resources so I educate myself and be a better advocate for diversity.

Image of a sunset to symbolize the the work of anti-racism to bring racism to a close. Text overlay reads "Anti-Racist Educational Resources"

As a family, we do not condone racism of any kind. We value diversity and equity. We are committed to improving our community.

During times like this, it is important to look inward and recognize that we can do better and how we can improve. As a family, we pledge to find ways we can continue to learn and help make a difference in our community.

“I see your color and I honor you. I value your input. I will be educated about your lived experiences. I will work against racism that harms you. You are beautiful. Tell me how to do better.”

~ CAROLOS A. RODRIGUEZ

We acknowledge that we have a long way to go in addressing the issues of diversity and equity, but we are committed to doing this work. 

Anti-Racist Resources

1. Know Your History

Educate yourself on anti-blackness, systemic oppression, privilege, and the role you and your communities play in upholding systems of white supremacy.

Non-Fiction Books

  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Color of Money by Mehrsa Baradarn
  • Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

31 Children’s Books to Support Conversations

Fiction Books

  • The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
  • The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  • Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi
  • Stumped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

The national Black Lives Matter At School coalition’s brilliant Curriculum Committee put together lesson plans on each of the 13 principles of Black Lives Matter for every grade level. 

Where do you fall on the Racism Scale

Anti-racism Resources compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker & Alyssa Klein

Anti-Oppressive/Anti-Racist Home School Options

More resources from Embrace Race

21st century, oh what a shame, what a shame
That race, race still matters
A race 2 what, & where we going?

~ PRINCE & 3RDEYEGIRL – “Dreamer”

2. Listen

Listen to resources from Black women, Black community, Black leaders, Black activists, Black authors, Black podcasters. Do NOT put the labor on Black people to educate you.

In response to current events, Warner Bros. is offering free streaming of its film “Just Mercy throughout the month of June.

Watch these films:

  • Hidden Figures
  • When They See Us
  • Dear White People
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • American Son
  • LA 92
  • Just Mercy
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • The Hate U Give
  • Selma
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
  • Malcolm X

Follow these activists on Instagram:

Array 101 ~ A four-part film that tells the harrowing story of the wrongful arrest and incarceration of teenagers Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise in New York.

3. Stay Updated

Follow the hashtags to stay updated on continuing action.

  • #BlackLivesMatter
  • #AhmaudArbery
  • #GeorgeFloyd
  • #JusticeforBreonnaTaylor
  • #iRunwithMaud

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

~ ANGELA Y. DAVIS

Call your family, friends, and community leaders in dialogue around anti-blackness and violence agains the Black community.

Unsure how to talk with little kids about racism, check out the post, Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race

Also consider the ideas here, Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Talk About Race

Donate to a cause:

I know the difficulties and pain of these events do not stop today nor tomorrow. Neither should the work that we are committing to do to ensure the values of diversity and equity.

If you have ideas or resources, leave a comment below.

Customizing Her Graduation Ceremony

Spring is my favorite time of the year. I love May, in particular; everything is green and growing. We’ve left behind the cold bare branch of winter and summer’s promise is everywhere. More symbolically,  it’s graduation season and students blossom into graduates and continue to grow into their new lives.

The 2020 graduation season was one which I was particularly looking forward. The cancellation of commencement weighs particularly heavy on my heart. My daughter would have had two commencement ceremonies – one with her high school graduating class and another with her college peers who, like her, completed a two year degree.

She has worked her butt off these past few years. Spring term most especially because she is taking 17 college credits in addition to finishing up requirements for her diploma. Based on her course load – organic chemistry, physics with calculus, matrix methods and linear algebra, and differential equations – we’ve always known it would be tough. We certainly did not anticipate doing all these courses online.

We are feeling all the feelings, both somber and hopeful in response to the state of the world in 2020. For some, it has proven to be truly the worst of times. Yet, as we see an expanding sense of community, we take heart that there is some goodness as well. 

Honoring Our Graduates

The way in which we choose to honor our graduates varies from family to family. There are many ways to celebrate graduates – whether they are graduating from a brick and mortar school or homeschool. In a post I hosted at The Curriculum Choice, Celebrating Our Homeschool Graduates, homeschool moms shared their ideas for recognition and graduation.

My daughter’s graduation this year was not how we had envisioned it. We have rescheduled to a later part of the summer and made several adjustments to our plan. Rather than a luncheon, for example, we are planning an open house with staggered visitation from guests.

The decorations I created and the gifts we have prepared for her can continue as planned. Ever the optimist, I am excited that we will be able to create our own private commencement ceremony. We are even able to have her childhood role model, Jane Goodall, give an address.

The Commencement Speech

Public figures and celebrities are using social media to share their messages of hope and inspiration. In some ways, this has provided families with an opportunity to customize the graduation experience.

Consider planning a private graduation ceremony for your immediate family or as restrictions relax, invite extended family to join you. Choose recordings from speakers your child admires. Here are a few examples:

Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace, shares her support and excitement for your future. Enjoy her virtual commencement speech to honor your achievements and share it with friends and family. Together, we will build a better world for people, other animals and the environment we share.

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama also spoke to the graduating class of 2020 as part of NBC’s Graduate Together special. He tells graduating seniors to “set the world on a different path” while being “alive to one another’s struggles” as they navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.


Congratulations to the Class of 2020! Let’s celebrate all of your incredible achievements.

My First Virtual Classroom: 5 Tips to Design Your Own

As my own children have gotten older, I have gradually taken on more work “outside the home”. I have substitute taught, tutored, and taught a variety of classes online. As I have begun to teach more virtual classes, I have missed having a classroom space for learning centers, resources, and motivational posters.

For the past few years, I have contracted with VIPKID to teach English to children in China. Most recently, I have been teaching a variety of online science classes through Outschool. While I have been able to build relationships with my students and their families and find joy in teaching, a “classroom” space was the one missing component.

To provide a cohesive place to gather all the resources I share with my students and to aid in communicating with their parents, I recently developed a virtual classroom. It’s been so much fun!

Features of My Virtual Classroom

The virtual classroom provides me with a way to immerse my students in the content and maximize the learning time I have with them each lesson. With a handy video tutorial by Thomas Blackmore I was able to set up my virtual classroom in under an hour.

For my virtual classroom, I’ve decided to only activate a few items this week to challenge my students to find the hidden activities. For my “Junior Naturalists” class, one of the features leads to the document where the students and I share our nature journals. Another leads students to a digitized version of Leonardo da Vinci’s journal.

Next week, I plan to add more active links and perhaps a couple of additional objects to my classroom and an ongoing “What Can it Be?” type of activity with either a microscope or telescope. I also plan to add audio messages in the near future.

I have so many ideas on what else I would like to try within my room! For now, I will share my top five tips for designing your own virtual classroom.

Five Tips to Design Your Virtual Classroom

  1. When inserting images, use “png” or “transparent” in your search query to find objects that have a transparent background. You might also consider Lunapic. Lunapic is a free website where you can make the backgrounds of many images transparent, recolor, or add all sorts of effects.
  2. If you can’t find an image in the exact color you desire, first go to Format options in the menu above (or right-click on the image). Then select an option from the Color menu that appears on the right panel.
  3. If you use Chrome and you want to use your Bitmoji, I suggest adding the Bitmoji Chrome extension. This way you can insert images directly into Google Slides. Alternatively, you can create a file folder with Google Drive and download your favorite images. This helps if you plan on attaching audio files to your Bitmoji (see tip 4). Unfortunately, you cannot copy and paste your sticker from the Bitmoji extension and then add audio to it.
  4. To add audio to an image of your choice, first add the audio file to your slide. Then click on the audio icon and click Replace Image which will appear in the menu bar above. Then either search for the image in Google or upload an image. If the new image is not square, parts of it may be cut off. To correct this, click on the “crop image” icon and adjust the bold, black cropping handles as needed. 
  5. For any objects that you wish to keep stationary (i.e. the floor) I recommend that you add those to the slide master. This will clean up your canvas. With several images, it can get crowded and difficult to isolate a single image to make changes. To access the slide master, click on the Slide – Edit master. Keep in mind that the images you place in the slide master can not be linked to a URL or an audio file.

Preparing Your High Schooler for College

Getting into college is the culmination of all a student’s hard work in school. It also requires a well-thought-out plan. My son’s interests and goals for the future are not as clearly defined as were his sister’s. Preparing him for college is a little more complicated.

Throughout his middle school years, I have enjoyed watching him discovering his passions as well as his personal strengths. Homeschooling has allowed him the freedom to pursue his interests and follow meandering paths.

Now that he is in high school, college – if he chooses it – is only a few years away. The self-directed learning skills he learned during the grammar and logic stages will continue to serve him well.

Customizing Your Homeschool

When homeschooling the high school years, there are so many things to keep in mind. Honors courses, electives, GPAs and transcripts … Oh my!

For the past few years, I have focused on helping my daughter prepare for college. She has always known she wanted to pursue a career in engineering. Her courses have thereby always included a lot of math and sciences.

As a dual enrolled student – she has been able to take full advantage of the STEM classes available at the community college. Now that she has been accepted to the university of her choice, my attention shifts to my youngest.

My son’s interests and goals for the future are not as clearly defined as his sister. This takes a more concerned effort on our part to ensure we make choices that will provide the best option for him in the future.

Depending on his career path, college may not even be the best course for him. Currently a sophomore in high school, it is really too early to tell.

Dual Enrollment

Regardless of why he may choose, it is our goal as a family to provide the best platform from which he can launch. We want to ensure he is ready to go in whichever direction he chooses when the time comes.

He is presently considering two very different paths – aviation or music. Unfortunately, there are few opportunities for either where we currently live. We’ve sought out a private teacher for music but there is not a youth orchestra or classical ensemble whereupon he can gain experience playing with others.

Like his sister, he is dual enrolled at the community college. We have even used a similar forecasting plan to help outline the courses he will take at the high school and those he will take at the college.

We chose this avenue because will provide him with a solid foundation in mathematics and English language skills – writing, public speaking, etc. He will be able to fulfill high school graduation requirements while simultaneously completing baccalaureate core or undergraduate courses.

Though aviation courses are not available and even the offerings in the music department has been severely reduced this past year, he has been able to take significant strides towards completing an Associates Degree. In all likelihood he will finish his associates long before earning his diploma.

The dual enrollment approach is not for everyone. It was the best choice for us first and foremost because I knew both kids were mature enough to handle the college atmosphere. We were also able to receive tuition reimbursement from a charter or umbrella school so the financial benefit was huge – essentially two years of college for free.

I received a copy of Homeschool High School with College in Mind by the author, Betsy Sproger, in exchange for an honest review. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Preparing for College

When my daughter started high school, Betsy’s book, Homeschooling with College in Mind, provided a great starting place. She shared tips and success stories based on her own experience homeschooling her daughter during these later years.

I am delighted that her book has now been revised and updated just as my son embarks on his own journey. It’s been a great tool as I refresh my approach to homeschooling high school.

While college may not be a consideration for all students, Betsy’s guide is a great start for families homeschooling this final stage of the trivium. Most families find homeschooling these later years to be daunting simply because of the record keeping involved. Betsy provides templates to make these tasks manageable.

She gives tips for handling stress, how to earn credits, and walks readers through the process of creating a transcript. Her ideas for the college application essay and the section on the Common App are especially helpful.

I appreciate that she outlines several ways students can earn credit: the textbook method, the hours method, and the mastery method. We have used a little of each in our homeschool and her guide to translating this onto a transcript is easy to follow.

Homeschooling with College in Mind is available in both paperback and for the Kindle. Her conversational tone provides a relaxed, encouraging approach to the often stressful high school years.

With Betsy as your guide, will feel confident and motivated to continue your homeschooling journey through the high school years and prepare your children for college.

Mastering Mandarin Language with eChineseLearning

Learning a language can be an experience that transforms your life. It provides a competitive edge in career choices and opportunities for personal enrichment through travel and building relationships with new friends.

In our homeschool, my children chose to learn Mandarin Chinese at an early age. It has since become a focus of our curriculum. Recently, my daughter prepared for the Chinese Language and Culture AP exam and now my son has taken on the challenge.

I received access to an eChineseLearning class in exchange for an honest review and I was compensated for my time writing the review. All opinions are my own.

One of the best ways to learn a foreign language is to work with a native speaker. A native speaker provides you with the opportunity to learn a variety of useful phrases, sentence structures, vocabulary, and the proper tones. The more you engage with native speakers, the more you learn.

This rule has been proven to be effective for many language learners. I am confident it is the reason my daughter was successful. Finding a native speaker is not always easy, however. Especially if you live in a rural area as we do.

I have picked up a few Chinese phrases over the years. I have always wanted to learn more though. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a short conversation with my kids in their target language?

Learning Mandarin with eChineseLearning

I was delighted to learn of the online lessons available through eChineseLearning. Perhaps now I could begin to learn what the kids are saying when I hear 妈妈 (māmā)?

My first lesson was with Bonnie. It was just like sitting down for a cup of tea in our favorite coffee shop. Meeting for the first time, our conversation focused on getting to know one another as she gently corrected my pronunciation and guided me to express myself.

I had explained in advance that my goal was conversation, it was less important for me to learn how to read the characters as I know I do not have the time to invest. I simply want to be able to chat.

E: 你好。(Nǐ hǎo.)

B: 你好。(Nǐ hǎo.) 你好吗? (Nǐ hǎo ma?)

E: 我很忙,我很好。(Wǒ hěn máng, wǒ hěn hǎo.)

Bonnie pointed out that the conjunction 但 (dàn) would be useful in this situation to join these two sentences together. I listened to her example and repeated,

E: 我很忙,但是我很好。(Wǒ hěn máng, dàn shì wǒ hěn hǎo.)

B: 你是美国⼈吗。(Nǐ shì měiguó rén ma?)

E: 对。(Duì.)

Positives of eChineseLearning

Our lesson continued for thirty minutes though a typical lesson is 50 minutes in total. We took turns using the vocabulary intermittently as either a statement or a question.

She did a great job of allowing the conversation to flow as naturally as possible considering I know very little. She was able to scaffold the lesson and made adjustments to the lesson according to my needs and level of understanding.

As a VIPKID teacher, I am familiar with online language learning. Just as my students have a workbook from which they can study between our online lessons, eChineseLearning provides textbooks. With guidance from the teacher, a study plan is crafted.

Students have the option book their lessons with a favorite or regular teacher but are also encouraged to work with a variety of teachers to develop their listening comprehension skills.

I was very impressed with the quality of the lesson and am excited to continue developing my Chinese language skills.

Negatives of eChineseLearning

While eChineseLearning is good in many ways, it has disadvantages too. All their lessons are conducted with a teacher on a one-on-one basis, so I have to say they are not cheap. It might not be suitable for you if you do not want to spend a lot of money on learning Chinese. However, if you are very serious about learning Chinese and have a strong specific goal, eChineseLearning is definitely worth a shot.

Stay Strong Campaign

eChineseLearning students and teachers send their wishes for people fighting the coronavirus around the world. I was touched when I watched this video – they want everyone to know that we are not alone.

Best wishes for people fighting the coronavirus around the world!

This is a great time to begin language lessons. Currently, eChineseLearning provides three campaign offers:

#1 Not Satisfied with a Lesson? Don’t Pay for It!

If you are not satisfied with a particular lesson and your request is reasonable, eChineseLearning will provide you with a free make-up lesson.

#2 1-Month Free Lessons to Give Away

If you purchase or upgrade a course package during the campaign period, you will get an extra month of lessons (two lessons per week) for FREE.

This offer is valid for new, current and former students.

#3 Refer a Student and Get Two Months Free Lessons and $100 Credit

If you refer a student to eChineseLearning during the campaign period, you will get extra month of FREE lessons on top of the existing rewards (1 month Free lessons plus US$100 credit), which means you get 2 months of FREE lessons and US$100 credit in total.

What are you waiting for? Come join me. ⾛吧! (Zǒu ba!) – Let’s go!