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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Preparing Tapestry: our Fourth Year

We are headed into our fourth year of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, which means we will have completed the cycle at the end of this year. (It also means this is my last year of all grammar level.) Last year, I felt like we really made Tapestry our own and found our rhythm, our stride. It felt good, like a fitted glove. Of course, when you end a year like that, it makes planning the next year exciting. I love the aspect of homeschooling where I trouble-shoot and research and find our answers, but the Lord knew I would be doing that in several other areas of our life; so homeschooling was off the hook. No massive revamping this year. With that said, preparing Tapestry for this year went really smoothly.

In summary, I love manilla folders. I keep 36 folders for our weekly “must-do” assignments like language and math and Latin. Then I keep a second set of folders for Tapestry that are labeled by Term (we do three 12 week terms) and by topic (I don’t cover everything; instead, I select the events and topics that will best suit my learners). All of our reading lists, media lists, and project papers are printed off and filed in these topic folders.

So here’s what it looks like. At the beginning of a week, I pull out two folders: the week we are in and the topic we are studying. Within the weekly folder, I pull out assignment pages and file into the kids’ daily pockets inside their binders (we use case-it binders with the accordion file inside). Within the topic folder, I look at my list all of the books and projects assigned for that topic and the number of weeks that I’ve guessed it will take us to complete (i.e. Titanic, 2 weeks). I then allocate those assignments that will fit with our week’s schedule. Last year, this method cut my weekly prep to about 30 to 45 minutes total! Both kids filed and ready to go in around a half hour. It was beautiful.

Reading Lists

Tapestry’s reading lists are copyrighted, so I can’t share the specific book titles that we are using. However, I will list a couple of other resources I use to compare and substitute book titles. SimplyCharlotteMason.com has a book finder feature that I love. Just type in the event or person you are studying, the reading level of your students, and a great list of engaging living books is listed for you. My second resource is my local library online catalogue search feature. Again, I type in the event or person, narrow it to children’s resources, and voila! I love my local library. It has an enormous selection.

I also use SimplyCharlotteMason’s Story of America and Story of the Nations ebooks as my core. These are not Tapestry titles, but the table of contents make it very easy to assign chapters that fit what we are covering. And the books are very engaging. We love them.

I select my favorites. Depending on how long we intend to study a topic, for each week I will select one to two read-aloud titles, one to two independent reading titles per child (depending on the length of the book), and the rest will be assigned merely as reference, as in “let’s look at more pictures.”

Media List

I love audios. Awhile back I scored Diana Waring’s history audio from Answers in Genesis‘ history program. We love listening to these on the way back and forth to karate and co-op. So, on the days we don’t get to our reading, we are still getting to our history. And this is another very engaging resource.

Netflix is also a resource where I search for related films to what we are studying. We don’t always get to this, but it is great for those off-days or sick days to already have this list compiled.

Projects

Homeschool in the Woods is not a Tapestry resource either, but we LOVE these projects. I use the Time Traveler activities. We make notebooking pages using both the notebooking and lapbooking project ideas. Especially since my kids are finally old enough to do their own cutting and pasting, these have been really fun activities to assign. They work on these while I read-aloud. It keeps their fingers busy but doesn’t distract them from the reading.

I generally choose the projects that fit what we are studying, our time-frame, and my kids’ interests. I spend one long afternoon printing all of my chosen activities and filing into my topic folders. This saves me so much time during the school year.

I also have the Draw Through History titles. My son loves to draw; my daughter loves to trace. And it gives them some ideas for drawing and enhancing their notebook with images of what we are studying.

Our Rhythm

I mentioned that I note about how many weeks I think a topic will take us. Last year, this was very fluid. We moved on when our books were read and our projects were done. And I found that in the end, things balanced out. Some topics took longer than I estimated, and some topics didn’t take as long. If we read everything in a week, we moved on. If it took us five weeks, because of interest or illness, we took our time and enjoyed it all. Sometimes, it was just a dud, and rather than struggle through 3 more weeks of something we were not enjoying, we covered the basics and moved on.

I’m also sensitive to my kids’ reading interests. There were some books that my son just hated, and while I realize that not all learning can be interest-driven, I think at the younger levels, reading should be. Occasionally, I’d make a call that he just needed to get through a book. But if I made that call, I ensured that I had a very tantalizing book as a reward when he finished. There were books we didn’t read cover-to-cover. (Pause for you to gasp in horror.) We survived, and were no worse for that decision.

In spite of all that flexibility, I was amazed by how much my kids retained and learned. A little went a really long way.

What about discipline and teaching kids to push through the difficult stuff? I split my subjects into two categories: our discipline subjects like math, grammar, spelling; and our inspiration subjects like history, science, and reading. This helped me define my objectives. My discipline subjects were challenging but in short spurts (no more than 15-20 min. per lesson/subject). My inspiration subjects were kept inspiring and interesting and often took closer to an hour or hour and a half (hands-on projects take awhile). But again, I watched my kiddos. If they were engaged, we took our time. If their eyes were glossing over, it was time for lunch.

Want to know more specifics? I’ve listed our specific curriculum choices here. Feel free to browse those links. Not sure what your homeschool style is? Be encouraged with my post about losing the labels.

I’m looking forward to another really great homeschool adventure, and I hope you tag along on our journey.

Losing the Labels

Sometimes, labels can be very helpful, allowing us to define our vision or explain that vision in a way others can quickly identify with. At other times, we allow those labels to shackle us to a lifestyle or an approach that maybe isn’t quite the right fit.

Crunchy, organic, homesteader. Attachment-parenting, grace-based parenting, traditional. Classical education, Charlotte Mason, unschooling.

I think to escape the label in homeschooling, a lot of us settle on “eclectic” and call it a day. It’s easier than trying to explain the exceptions we’ve made to this philosophy and that approach. But I will take the time to explain some of our exceptions, just to help you see our journey and maybe bring some clarity to yours.

eclectic homeschooling

We started out hard core classical educators. Lots of memory, early Latin, art and music appreciation. And while I still love the learning levels and cycle of history, some of the rigidity and rigor has slipped away, for our sanity and survival.

I loved everything I read about Charlotte Mason, and was fully prepared to embrace the majority of that educational approach at the beginning of the year. Short lessons saved us this year, transformed our homeschool. My little ADHD kiddos thrived with short intense bursts and learned more than you could imagine from lessons that were no longer than 15 or 20 min.; it fit them perfectly. They could succeed and still be Tiggers. I also loved the connection with people rather than simply memorizing events. We merely discovered the events as we got to know people. My son saw himself in the life of Charles Dickens, saw who he wanted to be in Abraham Lincoln, and saw what he wanted to achieve in the lives of inventors like Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.

Reading great books

On the other hand, even though the idea of teaching language the Charlotte Mason way really appealed to me, it was a colossal failure in practice. My son simply hated learning spelling through dictation; and while I enjoyed teaching the language lessons, I did not enjoy the fact that the method was so teacher-dependent. We gave it a try for quite a while and then I realized it was pointless to continue something that wasn’t working for my son simply because I was idealistic.

I learned this year, with all of our personal challenges, to be flexible, perhaps a little more realistic and a little less idealistic. I learned that no approach to education is the right approach for every child (after all, isn’t that why many of us homeschool to begin with?). And I learned that what I’m doing has to be a fit for BOTH me AND my child.

I’ve learned that labels are for canned food and toothpaste, not people.

Losing the labels