Journaling Archives - Eva Varga

June 20, 2020

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.

March 14, 2016

As a homeschool mom, it is easy to lose sight of our own needs for the sake of our children and our spouse. Neglecting our needs, however, can damage our confidence, our relationships, and ultimately our enjoyment of life.

Sometimes we forget that if we don’t look after our body and our needs, we won’t be able to help our minds feel nourished, and our souls feel strong. It is important to take care of ourselves as individuals to ensure a happier and healthier life, as well as helping us to be more a part of the community in which we are a part.

Finding Balance in Life & Homeschool

I’ve written a few times in the past about how we have worked as a family to simplify our life and find balance. Today I would like to share a few of the things I do just for me and how I incorporate these into our homeschool lifestyle.

takingcareofmeMy Intellectual Self

Natural history and nature studies has always been a passion for me. As an undergraduate, the majority of my credits were in ecology and natural sciences. When I learned of the Oregon Master Naturalist Program, I knew immediately that I wanted to seek certification.

The Mission of the Oregon Master Naturalist Program is to develop a statewide corps of knowledgeable, skilled, and dedicated volunteers who enrich their communities and enhance public awareness of Oregon’s natural resources through conservation education, scientific inquiry, and stewardship activities.

Since January, I have been immersed in the online course material which provides a basic overview of Oregon’s natural history and the management of its natural resources. While some of the material is review, I have been thoroughly enjoying the assignments as well as connecting with the other participants.

In June, I will begin the regional course requirement which are in-person coures taught within an ecologically distinct region of Oregon. I have selected the Oregon Coast but I am considering adding additional eco-regions in the future.

The final required component for certification is to volunteer 40 hours for a natural resources oriented group or project. Volunteer projects can include education and outreach, citizen science, land stewardship, and/or program support. I am very excited and look forward to collaborating with resource specialists again and developing educational programs for local students.

Finding Balance

What I love best about the online course material is that I have been able to include the kids. I read aloud my weekly readings and then assign them a modification of the tasks I am expected to complete. They are thereby learning college level material alongside me.

findingbalanceMy Physical Self

When the kids were younger and we first began homeschooling, running was a major part of my life. I was marathon training six days a week – running, swimming, and cross-training. It was challenging and fun.

With each successive half or full marathon that I completed, I set a new time goal. My aim was to qualify for Boston and I was just ten minutes shy of achieving that goal. Then a debilitating injury set me back. Planters fasciitis.

Though I recovered a few years ago and have tried to return to training a few times but I have never been able to stick with it as I did when the kids were toddlers. They each have their own activities and interests and there are more demands on my time. I’ve come to realize that I have been making excuses though.

Now that we have returned home and the climate is less restrictive, I have recently begun to focus and rebuild my mileage once again. Presently, I am averaging about 22 miles per week. I’d love to run another marathon again but to be honest, my goal presently is just physical fitness and enjoyment.

Finding Balance

During the week, I generally run while the kids are at swim team. On the weekends, the family will often accompany me – sometimes on their bikes. It makes for a great family outing and keeps me motivated.

Other Things I Do

Read something fictional

I love to refresh my mind by taking a break in the evening and escaping to another world. Reading fictional stories stimulates the right side of the brain, sparking creative thought. That stimulation helps make my day go a little smoother. I think differently, approach problems in abstract ways, and feel rejuvenated.

At our Family 5 Share Meeting each month, we each take a moment to share a book we have read in the past month and how it impacted us or what we learned. It has been a great way to connect and see that learning is a life long process.

Keep a journal

I actually have several journals, though I don’t write in each one daily. Most are bullet-form so I can jot down things I did, people I met, or how I felt. It’s been a great outlet to help me be present, remember the little moments and sort out challenges in both my personal and professional life.

I’ve always encouraged the kids to keep a journal and we’ve played around with a variety of journaling approaches over the years. My husband has begun to journal as well.

A good night’s sleep

The scientific benefits of sleep are innumerable. To perform at my best, it is critical that I get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. More sleep equates to more happiness, better health, and improved decision-making. Not to mention that it detoxes the brain.

BalancingVisit the sites of other iHomeschool Network bloggers as we explore Balancing Your Life & Homeschool. 

September 21, 20151

These past couple of weeks, I have been talking about using journals with middle school students. Last week, I focused on the details of What Are Interactive Science Notebooks? Today, I discuss how to get started in using Interactive Science Notebooks.

Getting Started with Interactive Science Notebooks @EvaVarga.netGetting Started

The notebook I prefer to use with my students (in STEM Club or previously in the public classroom) is a bound 200-page composition journal. In the elementary grades, we utilized one for each science discipline – earth science, physical science, and life science. Now that they are older and we cover more material, we use one for each unit of study – chemistry, astronomy, genetics, etc.

The composition style notebook is small enough to fit in the pocket of a three-ring binder, and is therefore less likely to be lost or misplaced. More so, it remains essentially intact, whereas spiral-bound notebooks typically become inaccessible once the spirals are crushed.


  • A roll of clear tape
  • White school glue (optional – I find glue can make the pages stick together)
  • A set of Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens and/or colored pencils

Tip :: In a large classroom setting, I would suggest using colored or patterned duct tape on the spine to more easily distinguish between class periods or students.

When setting up the notebook, students are required to label and date each page based on the assignment or lesson. Handouts can be cut and taped to pages, or taped so they flip open. The first page of the notebook is skipped and is used as a table of contents. You can either create a printable for the students to adhere to this page at the end of the school year or add it gradually as the year progresses.

Tip :: If using composition style notebooks, you’ll want to reduce the size of the handouts you provide so they fit the smaller format. I like to print two per 8.5×11″ page.

Those in a classroom setting may also wish to use a scoring guide or rubric. This can be adhered to the inside cover of the notebook for quick and easy reference for both the student and teacher. The rubric is used for assessments throughout the year, and each point is assessed with a different color marker to show trends in performance from one notebook check to another.

Tip :: Keep your own journal with the template already put into it as a model. Give them a specific amount of time to get the printable glued into their notebook and then begin the lesson. Set a timer and don’t wait for stragglers.

Setting Up the Notebooks

In the first few pages of the notebook I like to include the following items:

  • Table of Contents
  • About Me (the student)
  • Formula Chart and Periodic Table of Elements
  • Signed Classroom or Lab Safety Contract (optional)
  • Vocabulary Index

A Table of Contents will help assure that your students are on the same page as you are in the journal.  This also makes it much easier to use as a reference tool and can set a benchmark of what a great journal should look like.  If you choose to do a table of contents, I suggest numbering all of the pages when setting up your journals.

The About Me page is really just an information page about the student.  You can be as specific or broad as you want to on this page.  Use it as a getting to know you activity at the beginning of the school year and ask that students share their thoughts about science.

What area of science most (or least) interests you? What unique experiences in science or travel would you like to share about yourself? What are your strengths/weaknesses?

Depending upon your state, students are often given a Formula Chart and Periodic Table for their state test.  It is important that they are familiar with these tools.  By including them at the front of the journal they can be referenced very easily.

While not necessarily applicable in a homeschool setting, a Lab Safety Contract is also a great document to have in the journal.  If there is ever an issue that needs to be addressed you can easily point to the signed document to put the ownership back on the student for their behavior.

Lastly, I would suggest using 5-6 pages an index of all the vocabulary words for the course.  This is a great reference tool for students throughout the year.

Tip :: Provide the list of vocabulary at the beginning of the year when setting up the notebooks so that the words are in alphabetical order. Students can then add the definitions as the words are introduced throughout the course of the year.

plant kingdom foldableWhere Do I Find Interactive Printables?

There are many resources online where you can purchase notebooking printables. You will find many are even available for free!

I have created and shared many with you previously. Here are just a few:

You can find these and many more indexed on my Freebies & Printables page. Others are available For Subscribers Only – so be sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you don’t already.

Follow Eva Varga’s board Science Notebooking on Pinterest.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • Science Stuff by Amy Brown – Amy has a diverse collection of interactive notebook materials, predominately in biology
  • Bond with James – James also has a large variety of graphic organizers and interactive notebook materials

September 14, 2015

Last week I wrote about using journal writing with middle school students and provided examples of a variety of journals that could be used with middle school age kids. Today, I share a more in-depth look at using learning logs or reflection journals in your science curriculum.

Reflection journals provide students with an opportunity to summarize what they have learned. Students are encouraged to reflect upon what they have learned, record any questions they may still have about the particular topic of study, and to communicate their understanding of the material. An interactive science journal is a creative, hands-on approach to doing just that.

What is Science Notebooking @EvaVarga.netWhat is an Interactive Science Notebook?

An Interactive Science Journal or Notebook is a fun and engaging way to get students interested in the content they are learning about. Interactive notebooks allow for the information being discussed to be compartmentalized into chunks of information.  I have found when information is broken down into smaller bits that students retain the information at a much higher level. When you throw in an interactive element into the graphic organizer the retention is that much more effective.

The true interactive part of the notebooks are when students use the information provided to elicit their own responses or outputs in the journal.  This requires higher level thinking and ultimately allows the students to make a deeper connection to their learning. Once students understand what outputs are, they appreciate the opportunity to select their own and often refer to these exercises as “fun”.

Some teachers utilize a dual page format where one page is the input (where students get info from reading, video, observations, lecture, etc.) and the other is the output (where they make sense of that input). Outputs ensure that every time students learn something, they have time to digest and process the material.

I feel that this tends to be a bit limiting, requires more careful planning in advance, and thus often a waste of space. I thereby allow students the freedom to utilize their notebook in whatever way works best for them. I encourage them to take lecture notes, keep an ongoing glossary of terms, and adhere the interactive pieces as we progress.

What is Science Notebooking @EvaVarga.netHow Do Interactive Science Notebooks Work?

Interactive science notebooks allow students to be totally creative with their notebooks. They are an open-ended, hands-on tool that provide students with an opportunity to make connections with what they are learning in class and provide time for them to think and reflect.

I encourage you to allow the students to come up with their own examples and sketches.  Let the students come up with their own responses to short situational prompts.  Allowing the students to make their own connections will ensure that the material is not forgotten.

Interactive science notebooks work very well as a warm-up to labs and lecture. Use the time students are cutting and pasting to review material from the prior lesson or to review for an upcoming assessment. Encourage them to use their notebooks as a study guide and reference tool.

Intrigued? Then join me next week when I will discuss how to get started in using Interactive Science Notebooks.


December 13, 20141

In the month of November, we read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief for book club.  When we gathered for Writer’s Workshop, I gave each student a Percy Jackson word search puzzle. For about 2 to 3 minutes, they were allowed to find as many words as possible. This was a great segue to our lesson on Blackout Poetry.
Blackout poetry focuses on rearranging words to create a different meaning. Also known as newspaper blackout poetry, the author uses a permanent marker to cross out or eliminate whatever words or images she sees as unnecessary or irrelevant to the effect she’s seeking to create. The central idea is to devise a completely new text from previously published words and images, which the reader is free to interpret as desired.

Austin Kleon is the person who is credited with first creating this process. He has even published a best selling book with these types of poems, Newspaper Blackout.
When you are starting out with black out poetry do not read the article as you normally would. Look at the words as raw material. See the words as tools to be manipulated. You may toggle between two articles or remain within one. Your creation does not have to relate to the original article in anyway. You should take the authors words and twist them in to your very own creation. You are making fiction out of nonfiction.

Tip: Do not linger over one article for too long. If an article does not spark inspiration MOVE ON!

The kids had a great time creating their own black out poems.  My daughter has even dedicated a book with which to use specifically for this style of writing.

Have you explored this style of poetry yourself or with your children? Share your work in the comments!

August 5, 20131

Many homeschool families engage in regular nature studies.  A nature journal is your ticket to a deep exploration of the world around you, providing a place to record your encounters with the natural world — from the everyday to the sublime. Field sketches, regardless of the degree of artistic talent with which they are rendered, force us to look closely and observe nature as it really is. Simply put, nature journaling is the regular recording of observations, perceptions, and feelings about the natural world around you.

nature journaling

The past couple of years, I have been teaching an online course, Nature Journaling in the Classroom.  It is designed to help teachers and informal educators integrate nature journaling into their K-12 art and science curriculum.  The course is offered through the Heritage Institute and optional, university credit is available.

J.L. Fottrell, a geologist who teaches drawing classes at Land Between the Lakes National recreation area in Tennessee/Kentucky and at Bowie Park in Fairview, Tennessee, recently selected my course because he had never made a systematic, concerted effort to study nature journaling.


Fottrell had this to say about his expectations at the conclusion of the course, “I expected to learn some techniques and methods for teaching the subject in a more organized, school setting.  What I learned   was what I expected to learn plus a lot more.  The reading assignments were full of good ideas and much of it was thought provoking and insightful.  I feel that I got a lot more out of the books than I expected.  The other exercises … pushed me beyond where I was, in my understanding of the subject.  I believe that I’m much better educated about nature than I would have been, had I not taken the course.”

H. Lent, a teacher in Oregon, recently took my course along with another I teach, Alien Invaders.  She spends her day between the High School, where she teaches algebra and the Middle School where she teaches 8th grade math, MAN (Math, Art, & Nature), and two art classes.  I love how she morphed the two courses together and devised a year-long study of invasive species, integrating math, science and art.

Upon completing the coursework, Lent shared with me, “I did not realize that nature journaling was such a powerful tool in life and can be integrated into any curriculum and any grade level. The sooner the better obviously to train kids and make it a life-long endeavor.  I learned the important items to include in the journal daily: how to label; to include date, place, weather, colors, feelings. Drawings and/or writing are each valuable and students can develop their own style to document their observations.”