Home Connections: Nature Journaling

by Melissa Harding

The Home Connections series features ways that you can teach simple environmental education concepts to your child at home.

In this week’s Home Connections, our topic is nature observation. Observation is a very important part of science; it is through observation that scientists collect data and create hypotheses. Whether studying the plants on the ground or the stars in the sky, it is important for young scientists to learn to good observation skills. One way to nurture those skills at home is through nature journaling.

Nature journaling is really just recording nature observations. A nature journal may include sketches, written descriptions, poems or songs, photographs, notes copied from field guides or books, and anything else you can think of.  No matter what level of skill your child possesses, he or she can journal; nature journaling is just a free-form way to record nature on paper.

To begin, you need a journal. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy; at Phipps, we make ours out of cereal boxes and scrap paper. The real key is how you use it. You can start your child off onto the path of nature journaling in just a few simple steps:

1. Go outside
Your backyard is a great place to start. Look at the patterns on a fallen leaf or the spots on a berry. Encourage your child to look closely at the object of his or her observation and help to point out details he or she might otherwise miss. One way to help older children observe is to create a backyard “field guide”; they can identify, draw and describe the various plants in your yard.

2. Ask a question
A simple way to engage your child in the process of journaling is to ask a question. If he or she is trying to solve a puzzle or find the answer to a question, it can be a more exciting experience. Questions can be easy (i.e. “What color are those flowers?” or “What animals is making that noise?”) for young children and more difficult for older children (i.e. “Why is that leaf so furry?” or “Who has been visiting the garden?”). Even better, ask your child what he or she has a question about and then help him or her investigate the answer. Children come up with crazy questions and you might be surprised at how fun they are to learn about!

3. Use your senses
The more your child engages all five senses, the more he or she will learn. Touch, sniff, look closely, and listen for clues (tasting is optional and should always be supervised by an adult if appropriate). Encourage your child to compare and contrast how different things feel, look, smell or sound.

4. Record the details
Help your child to record what he or she has learned. Small children may have an easier time drawing and also might enjoy using pictures from magazines to help illustrate their journals. Older children may want to write a poem or a description as well as draw; they may also enjoy recording their observations with a camera. Digital photography is a great way to get technology-oriented children excited about nature.

5. Learn more
After you have spent some time observing outside, learn more about your topic. Reading stories or field guides and researching on the internet are great ways to find out if your observations mean something in the larger science world. Noticing that the tomatoes in your garden have brown spots could indicate many different things, so researching that topic further will lead your child to learn more about fungus, bugs, or tomatoes; it may even prompt your child to ask deeper and more meaningful questions about ecology or the environment.

Some great resources to have on hand while journaling are: field guides, binoculars, a digital camera, magnifying glass or jeweler’s loop, a bug box, colored pencils, water colors, and crayons.

Here are some examples of engaging questions:
Comparison questions: Which tree has bigger leaves? Which flower has the most insects on it?
Observing a small area in depth: How many animals can you find in that bush? What insects live in that patch of grass?
Looking at animal behavior: Why do birds peck at the ground? Whose tracks are those in the mud?
Creating a backyard field guide: What different flowers are in the garden?

Nature journaling can be very enriching to do as a family; your child will be more inclined to see the value in journaling if he or she sees you doing it with them. Or, even better, keep your own journal!

If you find this to be a rewarding activity that you do with your family, please let us know about it in the comments below.

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