Keeping a Nature Journal: Getting Started in 5 Exercises - Eva Varga

January 23, 20145

Children are naturally inquisitive.  They are excited to learn about the world around them and to explore new things.  The media and advances in technology, however, threaten this natural curiosity.  Children today are more easily able to tell you more about the particulars of a Wii game than they can tell you about the plants or animals in the park near their home.

nature journaling in 5 exercisesI don’t ever want my children to lose their fascination with the natural world, to lose interest in a bird hopping along the sidewalk or squirrels chasing each other around a tree outside our window.  I want them to forever marvel at the water droplets glistening on branches after a heavy rainfall and to smile in delight when a dragonfly alights on their toes while floating down the river.

Rachel Carson said it well when she penned, “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.”

With intentional teaching of how to use a nature journal, children can walk away with life-skills that encourage scientific and aesthetic observations, creative and technical writing, perception and analysis, questioning, synthesis, focus, self-expression, and reflection. Clare Walker Leslies’ books are a catalyst to do just that.  She inspires, encourages, and mentors, even the most reluctant.  She gives you the feeling that everyone can be a naturalist and find success in using a nature journal.

Keeping a Nature Journal

Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie is one of my favorite resources for nature journaling. Her encouragement to slow down, observe, reflect, and embrace my connection to the living, natural world compelled me to read the book from front to back in one sitting.  I couldn’t put it down.  Her words were so encouraging and invaluable to me.  She conveyed “that drawing is at once a way to see … and the door to a deeper sense of affiliation with the earth.” 

Kids love to explore so why not combine this natural affinity with the life skills of writing, drawing, and sharing.  Nature journaling is very flexible – students can write poems, diagram an animal, describe a scene in prose, or press a beautiful leaf or flower within the pages of their book.  They can share it with family and friends and find joy in discovering the natural world together.

Art, science, writing, math, social studies and other fields of study can be interwoven within the pages of a student’s journal.  Walker’s book is a welcomed resource in encouraging easy and fun ways for getting excited about nature journaling.  Her descriptions are clear and easy-to-follow and beckon learners of all ages to become connected with their own places and landscapes.

getting started in 5 exercisesHere are a few ideas for getting started . . .

  • Choose a place near your house or school.  Spend twenty minutes or so sitting and paying attention with all of your senses to everything that surrounds you.  What do you smell?  What do you hear?   What do you see?  When you are ready, begin recording as many details as you can in your journal (Don’t forget to record the place, date, time, and weather at the beginning of your entry).   Return to the same place some time later and do the same exercise.  Do this throughout the course of a few weeks, months, or years and keep track of how your special place changes.
  • Sit in a place where you can see the sky without trees or buildings blocking your view.  Look up and draw the clouds as they float over your head.  Clouds do not stay the same shape for long so you will have to draw quickly.  Label the cloud images you see . . . my daughter once saw a dragon breathing fire on a castle — all in a cloud!
  • Park yourself near a bird feeder and write about/draw the birds as they come to eat.  Try to describe the flying style of different birds.  Describe the sounds they make.
  • Listen to the wind.  The wind makes some great sounds as it blows through different trees, a person’s hair, a flag, a boat’s sail, your baggy pants, etc . . . Try to listen to the wind’s various sounds and record them in your journal.  Try to imagine what the wind is saying to you.
  • Pick up a leaf and try a blind contour drawing.  Don’t take your eyes off of the leaf or your pen off of the paper as you try to draw the leaf’s details as accurately as possible.  When you think you are finished look down at your paper.  You may get a chuckle as the lines may only loosely resemble the leaf you thought you were drawing.  However, with practice your blind contour drawings will improve because your hand will learn to follow your eyes more accurately.  This kind of drawing without looking works well with trees too.  Blind contours of birds and squirrels and other creatures who don’t like to sit still to have their portrait drawn are more difficult.
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