What to include in your nature journal

nature journal | how to get started and what to include | nature study

We were a few years into nature study before I started keeping my own nature journal along with the kids. I’ve stumbled along and tried a few different methods of sketching and journaling, but I’ve finally found a groove that’s working for me. If you are stumped about what to include in your nature journal, here are a few ideas to get you started.

What to include in your nature journal

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Start with a heading. Include the date and place of your hike, maybe the time of day, the weather, and anything else that seems pertinent.

Make a list of things you spotted on your hike. For me, this is the best way to get past the “writer’s block” of nature journaling. Instead of staring at a beautiful blank page hoping I don’t ruin my nature journal with my lack of artistic talent, I start with listing all of the plants and creatures we identified on our walk, even if it’s just a few common birds and flowers, turtles on a log, frogs in a pond, dragonflies, etc.

nature journal | nature study | whole-family learning

Sketch and caption of a few of your favorite moments. As I’m making my list, I usually always have a few favorite memories from our hike. I sketch two or three of these favorites into my nature journal, and then journal a sentence or two about what we saw and what happened. I’m far from an artist, so these are much more about remembering than anything else, just a rough sketch. I’ve tried a few different tools, but I’ve found I love using watercolor pencils and a watercolor marker most of all for my sketching, and a Sharpie pen or Micron pen for the journaling itself.

Include a few new discoveries. Our routine is to take a few pictures of “mystery” plants or creatures and then to use Google Images to identify them. After we’ve figured out our new discoveries, we sketch these on a page in our journals, practicing observation skills as we sketch the details. I’m not super talented, but I don’t feel I have to be. We’re learning plenty with our rough sketches and fun memories.

So often in education, we make the process of learning and discovery much harder than it has to be. Nature journaling and nature study do not have to be complicated or intimidating. It’s really about discovery and wonder and shared memories.

If you’d like a little gentle direction for your nature study, check out these NaturExplorer studies (affiliate link). Each study gives you fun books to read, tons of nature walk ideas and activities, as well as printable pages to add to your nature journal.

Our Journey Westward

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Identifying Nature with Google Images

identifying nature with Google Images | nature study resources

When we first began our nature study hikes, I felt very intimidated by all of the questions my kids would ask that I didn’t have an answer for. But I’ve learned through the years of parenting them, that learning beside them is even more valuable than having all the answers. Now, when we hike the fields and forests, we take pictures of the plants and creatures we want to identify later, enjoy spotting those creatures we’ve identified before, and observe all we can. While field guides are helpful, most that I’ve used are limited, and I don’t always find what I’m looking for when we are out on our nature study hikes. Instead, I’ve found one of the most valuable tools for identifying nature is Google Images.

Identifying Nature with Google Images

Take a good picture, or several. Try to get it from a couple of different angles. Take a picture up close and farther away, top and bottom, or both sides. Of course, some nature moves away more quickly than others, so you may only get one good shot. 

Observe and take good mental notes. Just in case you can’t get that picture, take a minute to observe closely. Especially with birds that are difficult to photograph, take some quick mental notes: body shape, beak shape, coloring, etc. The more you do this, the better you will get at taking that mental photo for later on.

Do a search of Google Images. Once your hike is over and you’ve returned to civilization, do a Google search. I love identifying nature with Google Images. You may need to try a few different search terms, but even the process of finding what a plant or creature is NOT will teach you tons about nature. Include your state in any search to narrow the possibilities, and include a brief description: “[our state] purple wildflower,” “[our state] forest snail,” etc. Give it your best guess. Google what you think you saw; if that’s not it, try again. If you think it might be one of two things, google “differences between ____ and ____.” When we first moved to our house, I wasn’t sure if the trees in our neighborhood were birch or aspen. We did a nature study, beginning with google, about the differences between the two trees and then went for a walk to look at them more closely for ourselves.

Record your finds in your nature journal. If you want to print off the picture and insert it into your journal, go for it. But I’ve found a really effective part of nature study is practicing drawing the item into my journal. I pay much more attention to the details when I’m drawing. How many petals did the flower have? Were all the petals turned the same direction? Where exactly was that yellow band of color on the bird? I’m forced to observe even more closely as I draw the final result of our study into my journal. And because nature study is largely taught through example, my kids learn to do the same.

If you are new to nature study, I can’t stress enough—don’t let your lack of knowledge stop you from getting out there. With the technology we have today, learning and discovering isn’t limited to the class room. Identifying nature with Google Images allows you to be a part of the learning process with your kids. Enjoy your hike, let your kids take plenty of pictures, and then come back home and keep the discovery going.

Ideas for battling Summer Boredom

battling summer boredom | helping kids set goals and expectations | bucket list for kids

We are officially on summer break from our homeschool year, and on the very first day my kids were already wandering around aimlessly asking for screen time. Not even a full 24 hours in, and my kids were already bored! But not for long. I have a plan for battling summer boredom, Christmas break boredom, basically any kind of boredom. And it’s really simple.

Battling Summer Boredom with a Bucket List

The very first activity for every break includes creating bucket lists. While my little (rising Kindergartener) is a too young to have an official list, he has plenty of ideas to contribute. Both my older kids make out their own list. Essentially, their bucket list is their list of ideas for what makes a successful summer break. I ask questions like what would you be disappointed that you didn’t get to do by the end of the summer? What activities have you been really wanting to do but haven’t had the time because of school?

In other words, my kids’ strategy for battling summer boredom is setting goals and expectations for their summer. Whenever they act bored or a little lost, I refer them back to their list or, in true parenting style, offer to give them some work to do.

Place to Go

This is the easy part for my kids. They always have a long list of places they’d like me to take them. By having them write it down, I’ve shown that I’m aware of their desire to do that, and that I have all summer to follow through. They understand that not everything on their list is possible (i.e. a trip to LegoLand), but in the first week, I try to get to one or two of their top places to show my commitment to them. We are going to make the most of our break. Most places are simple: the beach, a swimming pool, the park, the movies, the science museum, camping, etc. Some times, I have them rank their places to go so that I know what to make a priority. For the most part, this is my only responsibility on the list, but it eliminates the nagging when they get bored if it’s already written down somewhere.

Things to Do

My kids are always full of big ideas; its one of the upsides to ADHD. From huge lego productions and i-stop motion creations, to puppet shows and other dramatic endeavors—my kids have ideas for tons of major enterprises that require time and pooling of resources. There are also ideas like riding their bicycles or scooters, playing baseball or football with friends, having a picnic, and of course, watching particular movies or playing Wii.

Skills to Work on

I coach my kids through this section to help them set some summer goals. What desserts do you want to learn how to make this summer? What meal do you want to learn how to cook? How many new chords or songs do you want to learn on your instrument? Do you want to sketch something or paint something? Including this in their plan for battling summer boredom gives them direction and helps me make a few summer plans myself.

Interests to Pursue

In some ways, this is similar to the “skills to work on” but a little broader. Basically, was their something from this year’s school that you wish you’d had time to learn more? Is there something you’ve been wanting to explore that you haven’t had the time to explore? Maybe it’s coding or survival skills, maybe it’s bracelet making or pottery, maybe it’s looking at more things under the microscope—whatever! This can be broad, and sometimes they have something to add while other times they don’t. I don’t force the issue, but I always ask, just in case it lights a fire.

Books to Read

Of course, we all want our kids reading during the summer. Maybe your child has a series of books they want to read or reread, or maybe it’s a goal of a certain number of books or pages they want to read. For my kiddos, I keep them very busy with assigned reading during the year, good books that often become favorites for them, but there’s a lot of them. And my kids often don’t have the time they would like to pursue personal reading—until break time. I’m okay with that, because I know it adds extra motivation for them to continue reading during break. One of the things my kids get most excited about is reading whatever they want. I don’t have rules about “twaddle” or how age-appropriate or anything else. As long as the book doesn’t compromise any of our core family values, my kids can have at it. That first library trip of the summer is their favorite. And because all the rules are off, even my dyslexic daughter gets excited about reading her favorites, including her old favorites she’s read many times over.

There are a couple of fun reading challenges for the summer, if you are looking for a little extra direction or motivation. Join the Reading the World Book Club and even turn it into a missional fundraiser. Or, create a Tower of Books challenge.

We are already busy checking off some of those summer bucket list ideas and making the most of our summer break. Battling summer boredom is so much easier with our lists, and by summer’s end, my kids can measure just how awesome their summer was by what got checked off the bucket list.