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Scientists, naturalists and curious thinkers everywhere have kept nature journals for centuries.
They use them to record their observations of nature and the world around them. The data from the journals of citizen-scientists are very important in phenology, the study of the timing of events in nature, like when birds migrate or when mosquito season starts. The multitude of data gathered has helped biologists track changes in the timing of the seasons back through the 1800s.
You may have heard of two of the most famous people to keep a nature journal: scientist Charles Darwin and writer/poet Henry David Thoreau. Keeping a nature journal is also a great way for children and adults to increase mindfulness, connect with our local environments and sharpen observational skills.
In this activity, we will use our senses and observation skills to start our own nature journal and record data about the world around us.
This activity will take about 15-20 minutes or longer, depending on interest, and can be repeated as many times as desired. It is appropriate for all ages, child to adult.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Learning Time: 15-60+ minutes
Age Range: All
- Paper - Loose sheets, in a binder, or a bound notebook
- Pencils or pens
- Hard surface to write on such as a clipboard, back of a book or board game box lid (Only needed if using loose sheets of paper)
- Colored pencils, crayons, or markers
- Ruler or tape measure
- Magnifying glass
- Jar with lid
- Field/identification guides
To start, all you need are the essential items listed above and the great outdoors. “Outdoors” doesn’t have to mean a secluded trail. It can be a grassy backyard or local park, or even just a clear view out of your back window.
Journal entries can be about anything and everything, and can be made in words, drawings or both. Encourage exploration of what may naturally grab your child’s interest, but also point out what they might not notice, such as an insect in the grass, the veins of a leaf or the variety of different bird calls. And remember, this isn’t just an activity for the kids; adults are highly encouraged to make their own journals, as well!
Find a spot where you can sit and write and/or draw for a while. Challenge yourselves to make as many observations as you can about things you’ve never noticed before, and remember to have fun!
An entry in a nature journal could include any or all of the following:
- Date, time and location
- Weather conditions
- Drawings of plants, animals or landscapes
- Descriptions of what you see, hear, smell and feel
- Tie these to drawings to bring out more detail
- Encourage kids to observe closer by asking leading questions. How many leaves does this flower have? What do they feel like? What do the edges of the leaf look like?
- Measurements of plants/insects taken with a ruler or tape measure
- Try a haiku – a style of poem consisting of three lines of five, seven and five syllables in that order
- Creative writing/stories about what you see
- Comparisons between similar plants or animals
For younger learners try this: When observing a plant, encourage them to find shapes or count sections. Challenge them to find triangles in the bark of a tree or count the number of petals on a flower.
For older learners, take more detailed data, utilizing a measuring tape or ruler, of various plants and insects. Organize the journal, using the first few pages as a Table of Contents and numbering each subsequent page. After the first couple outings, find a theme for a series of entries (or the entire journal) that matches your child’s interests – like identifying birds or flowers or writing poems based on each nature walk.
Note: The coming of spring also means the beginning of tick season. Recommended clothing is light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and be sure to check everyone for ticks after coming back inside.