We started nature journals with the kiddos over the summer. While I haven’t been completely faithful with them, they’ve been a great activity and we catch up every couple of weeks. We’re certainly not stopping and they’re not just about nature now. We’re recording gratitude lists, family trips, and just snippets of our everyday life together.
Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up over the last couple months…
1. Take lots of pictures. This way you don’t lose things just because you don’t draw well or you forgot in the moment to write something down. I print out the pictures later and the kiddos glue them in and write more notes.
2. Get pictures underneath! Butterflies, flowers, plants, even birds–sometimes the identifying details are on the underside of the wings or body. The color markings or male/female markings tend to be hidden.
3. Get pictures of details! Zoom in on eyes, legs, wings, stems, or roots. We’ve gotten pictures of butterflies where you can see their long tongues out sipping nectar. We’ve gotten pictures of tree frogs close enough to see spots on their skin. These are cool things to kids.
4. Look at different times of day! We’ve found that bright green tree frogs come on our porches at night–right about bedtime! Early morning is the best time to see fancy garden spider webs with the dew on them. Hottest part of the day is when the butterflies really mob the butterfly bushes.
5. Note the habitat. When we document something, I often have the kiddos (especially the Ladybug) copy some notes from one of our field guides. And we’ve noticed that a lot of times we don’t seem to have the habitat described in the guide (it is just a generalization!). So we make notes of where we found the item/specimen.
6. Go multi-media. We’ve added crayon rubbings, magazine clippings, real photos, hand-drawings, wax preserved leaves, and pressed flowers to our notebooks. I made simple paper pockets for ticket stubs, brochures, or museum maps, and used 2-sided tape to add them to the notebooks as needed. We also used scrapbooking adhesive to fix clear plastic (cut from page protectors) over top of fragile items to hold them in place and preserve them.
7. Note places on your pages or pictures. It can be kind of hard to tell whether that brown duck in the pond was from the zoo, the farm park, or the City park 6 months later.
8. Note people on your pages. Sometimes the kids are so focused on pictures of their favorite things, they don’t include pictures of people. It’s nice to look over your memories and see a note that reminds you that Grandpa was there that day too.
9. Record what they say! I try to sit down with each child and ask them questions and record what they say for them–in their own words. I’m sure it’s good for them to write for themselves too, but I don’t want them to get discouraged and write less just because the assignment seems overwhelming, so I help out. And it’s fun family time!
10. Let the kids lead. I started out thinking I was going to tell them what to put in there because I didn’t want this to end up as just another coloring book of scribble-scrabble. I “loosened up” by making an agreement (mostly with myself!) to take pictures of whatever they pointed out to me and look up whatever they asked me to and let them include it–as long as they didn’t scribble-scrabble.
The Ladybug’s favorite page right now? A maple leaf we saved under plastic. (Like we don’t have 100,000 of those around here!)
The Cowboy’s? A blurry (really blurry!) picture of a poison dart frog in a tank at the zoo. (Honestly, the picture is so bad, I was going to delete it, but he was standing at my elbow at the computer and immediately started begging me to print it out!)
Speedracer’s favorite? A page he made that is just all pictures of ducks from the farm park–including multiple copies of the same picture that he insists are not the same. (Believe me, they are. I know, I printed them.)
Some of our favorite nature journaling supplies…