Our Nature Journals

by Stefani on 29-January-2010

Happy Friday y’all! And thank you all so much for your kind words about the boys Nature Museum. It thrilled them to pieces to know that you guys (and your kiddos!) appreciated all their treasures.

A few of you asked about how we use our nature journals, and the guys were happy to share some excerpts so that I can show you what we do.

Basically our journaling starts with getting outdoors. We ramble around and find neat stuff that we want to know more about. We take a photo, or if possible bring the item home. Sometimes both.

I keep a little notebook so that I can make notes about what we found and where, but we don’t take our journals with us. Someday I’d like for them to take field notes, but at the moment, it works better for us to spend our time outdoors just exploring and then to come home for the journaling.

The things that we bring home go into a big basket until we have a chance to study them further. We won’t necessarily research everything that comes home with us, but some things will catch our fancy and we’ll want to dig a little deeper.

My boys’ early attempts at journaling look a lot like this:

We include some photos of the interesting article, and maybe some of him investigating it. I might jot down a few of the observations that he has as well. In this particular entry, Ryder is studying some interesting crystals on a rock. We looked at it under the microscope and dropped a little vinegar on top to see if it bubbled – a sign that it is indeed calcite.

At this age the journal is more of a scrap book than anything else. It’s about documenting his adventures in nature and fostering his love of exploring. It’s about giving credence to his curiosity and encouraging his questions.

Eventually all those questions and observations lead to a desire to know more. At this point, we bring out the field guides and nature study books. I’ve included a link to our Amazon store here so that you can peruse the books that we have in our reference library. I try to make sure that we remember to include some sort of note about where we found our information, in the case that we need it down the road.

When we first began journaling, I would have to ask some leading questions, “hmmm… which of these five books do you think we should look in to find out more about this flower?” “The animal that made this track has how many toes? Which of these tracks do you think it most closely resembles?”

Eventually, they got very good at finding their way through the field guides on their own. They also mastered using our printer to make copies and then pasting into their journals excerpts that they deemed relevant to their find. They also record questions that remain after their initial research. In the photo below is written, “We saw a lot of nuts, but not the tree. How did they get there?”

As the boys’ writing and investigative skills grew, they began to include drawings, notes about their questions and ideas, and detailed observations in their journals.

You can see in the photo above that they have learned to make some specific records about the size and other details of their find, it’s whereabouts, the date found, etc.

Here you can see that he has pasted in some informationthat he found online about the woodpecker, and he has also written out some of the details that he found most relevant and interesting.

The above is a great example of how nature journaling leads us down some unexpected paths. After finding these deer bones, the boys were very interested in comparing the bone structure of different animals and learning about the composition, names and whereabouts of human bones as well.

Eventually their journals begin to be filled with more of their own thoughts and words, and less dictation to mama and pastings from guides. (Though we often still include those things too.)

You can see in this entry from more than a year ago, that I don’t hover over them and drain all the fun out of it by insisting that they spell everything correctly and mind their penmanship. Their nature journal is just that, THEIR nature journal. It isn’t “schoolwork” and it isn’t a formal presentation. It is for their reference, and theirs alone.

In case you can’t read it, this entry says, “October 13, 2008. Went on a walk. Found a nest and skull. The skull is very light and fragile. Birds have thin bones so they can fly. The nest is made of toilet paper and vines and leaves. Skull is 2 inches. Nest is 6 inches.”

At some point, each of my older boys began using their journal not just to document finds in nature, but also to make notes about things that they have learned about the natural world.

In the photo below, my oldest has illustrated his knowledge about fossil formation. He was excited to learn this and felt that it should go into his journal “so I’ll remember when I run across a fossil again.”

Not too long ago, one of my guys carted home a few pine cones from Granny’s house. This is not a new event. A few of them invariably come home with us just about every time we go to see her.

When he got home though, he did something that WAS new and, in my opinion, quite wonderful. He referred back to this page of his journal, made more than a year ago.

He wanted to check his recent finds against those that he remembered journaling about. He wasn’t sure that they were the same and wanted to compare the photos. We both thought it was really a remarkable moment – him being able to reference his own notes rather than only field guides.

So that’s about the long and short of it, I guess. Nature journaling has become a way of life in these parts, and I’m so glad. The boys get a lot of pleasure out of looking back on their entries and Β reliving their great moments in nature. I myself am getting a lot of pleasure out of seeing their confidence and knowledge just blossom.

I hope you guys have a wonderful weekend!

ali January 29, 2010 at 12:23 am

I love that he referenced his old notes! That is so sweet and encouraging! They’ve done an awesome job on their journals!

Sherry-Ann Hoogland January 29, 2010 at 12:40 am

What amazing memories your making!

Greta January 29, 2010 at 1:19 am

I love these! You, and your boys, inspire me.

heather January 29, 2010 at 4:40 am

stefani ~ this is absolutely stunning and inspiring! have i told you by the way i love your new format? it’s wonderful! πŸ˜‰

Stefani January 30, 2010 at 10:38 am

Thank you so much Heather! I’ve been meaning to write to you as well and tell you how very very much I’m enjoying your artwork!

Beth January 29, 2010 at 6:15 am

Thank you so much for sharing their journals – and doing it so quickly!!! Very inspiring!

Carine January 29, 2010 at 6:20 am

I am always amazed and inspired at what is done in your Blue Yonder world. Tell your boys thank you for sharing all that with us, I cannot wait to show it to my own kiddos, they’ll love it.

Miko's Girl January 29, 2010 at 6:35 am

You continue to amaze me.

Lia January 29, 2010 at 6:54 am

Holy moly! Their journals and their obvious passion for them is breath-taking. You are such an inspiring mama and teacher. I hope I can get mine interested in doing something like this.

gina January 29, 2010 at 7:26 am

what a gold mine! thanks for taking the time to put this post together. i know it must have taken some time, but it’s just fantastic!!

lora January 29, 2010 at 7:31 am

these are so cool. i have journals and binders just waiting to begin field journals with my little one. we recently moved and we now have our own few acres of woods to explore and we are living right by an amazing zoo. i can’t wait to get started! πŸ™‚
thank you for sharing these books and your great ideas. they are really special. very smart boys you have. isn’t homeschooling wonderful!? πŸ™‚

Melly January 29, 2010 at 7:38 am

Wow these are so wonderful! My kids and I have to do this. Thanks sooo much for the nudge in a fresh and new direction. oxoxo Melly in Maine ~

Amy January 29, 2010 at 7:57 am

What a priceless treasure. Something I have wanted to do for years, but never “found the time for.” Looks like a great Spring project! I love every part of it. Thanks for sharing.

melissa January 29, 2010 at 9:48 am

Stefani, thanks for this. Inspiring. My boy and I butt heads with one another so, so often- but never when we’re exploring nature. I think we may need to do this together. I’m going to print this post and learn from it. xoxo

Stefani January 30, 2010 at 10:42 am

Nature is definitely a great common ground! I will tell you though, that a lot of the time I have to look the other way while they are working in their journals. It can be a BIG temptation to jump in and direct, but I try not to. I really want this to be something personal and fun. I’m pretty certain that it would be real easy for me to ruin it by making too many “suggestions.” Happy trails to you and your little man!

Cocotte January 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

Those are some wonderful keepsakes. JodyJ linked your site and I just wanted to let you know that I’m enjoying it.

Mousy Brown January 29, 2010 at 10:54 am

I know what I am showing my boys this weekend! – really brilliant – say thank you to your guys for allowing us to see them πŸ˜€

Nancy January 29, 2010 at 11:08 am

These are incredible and inspiring. What I love is that they are learning *how* to learn, taking concepts (not just information) from one source and applying them to another, and drawing their own conclusions. I want this for our kids so much. It wonderful that it’s outdoorsy and nature-oriented, but these skills go far beyond that.

Stefani January 30, 2010 at 10:46 am

I couldn’t agree more, Nancy. I think that what they have learned about learning itself through these journals is really invaluable. They’ve learned how to observe, how to describe, measurements, classification, writing, drawing, researching… and best of all, it’s on their own terms, for their own pleasure, so they are learning that all of skills are worth developing, not because they have to complete an assignment, but because they are tools by which to accomplish their desires. It’s been a wonderful lesson for their teacher too!

Lise January 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Oh, this is wonderful to see. Thank you so much for sharing them! Please tell your boys I’m impressed with their work!

Jay January 29, 2010 at 1:32 pm

How wonderful.. Thank you for sharing that, very inspirational. WHat a fantastic way to travel and learn.. You have definitely started something in this house!

Kristine January 29, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Awesome! So inspiring! Thank you for sharing in such detail. It is really helpful!

Debbie Rosenkranz January 29, 2010 at 3:19 pm

So very cool! My boy loves to bring home all kinds of things. We usually keep them in special areas too, but we will have to start a journal as well. I guess we will start with pictures and maybe practice writing letters that correspond to the finds since we are just learning to write.

Stefani January 30, 2010 at 10:53 am

That’s a great place to start! At that stage, it’s really great to ask a lot of questions that will help them develop their powers of observation. “What sort of beak does that bird have? Is it long and thin like the one on the hummingbird in this book? Or is it short and thick like the one on this finch? It says here that the cardinal’s beak is made for crushing seeds… since your bird has the same shape beak, what do you think it eats?”
Our early attempts at journals are almost always photos with lists of observations dictated to mama. Have a blast!

Jill Wignall January 29, 2010 at 3:41 pm

This is the first time I’ve seen your blog ( i discovered it through Emma Bradshaw’s blog) and I’ve really enjoyed looking at your sons nature journals. They’re really inspiring -what a wonderful process.

Stefani January 30, 2010 at 10:54 am

Welcome Jill! Thanks so much for stopping in and giving me the chance to say hello!

Dawn January 29, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Thanks for not only sharing their work but the process. How wonderful to reference your own work. That is awesome!
Please thank your guys for sharing!

Stacey January 29, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I love reading entries like this because they remind me that kids really do know how to learn and build on their own knowledge with out being instructed how to.

Stefani January 30, 2010 at 11:00 am

THey do! It took a little guidance to get them started… but more along the lines of giving them the tools (both literal and figurative), answering and asking lots of questions, and being a co-learner rather than an instructor. Nature study as been a great equalizer for us. Unlike math/reading/history/geography, there’s no teacher’s manual and answer key for this. Unlike those subjects, I was never required to take courses/write papers/pass tests in nature study. Truth be told, many times I don’t know what it is that they’ve found either, so together we learn. I think this is a large part of why they have been so passionate about these studies… it’s more “Family activity” than “school”

maya | springtree road January 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm

haven’t been here to see what you’ve been up to in a while – will have to come back this weekend and peruse – looks like you’ve been up to some very good. πŸ™‚

Stefani January 30, 2010 at 11:01 am

Well hey hey there lady! Thanks for stopping by!

sara's art house January 31, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Wow- thanks for the inspiration!

Josh February 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm


I love how you are encouraging your children with such a holistic teaching method! Nature/Science/Math/Language Arts/Art…. These journals are fantastic (teacher and artist speaking). I stumbled on your blog as my wife is a frequent reader. I at times get a glance in. Glad I stopped to look!

Well done gentlemen!

A link from the American Museum of Natural History on Nature Journals:

Laura March 10, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Hi, I just found you via Simple Homeschool, and wanted to tell you what a thrillingly inspiring post this is for me to read. I am just blown away at how well the nature journals are working in your household. I absolutely love how your son was able to reference his own notes — wow, that had to be an amazing moment! Thank you so much for sharing — I need to bookmark this so I can refer back to it as we begin our nature journaling over here. πŸ™‚

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