Cultivating Observation Skills with Simple Nature Journals

It has been BUSY around our house the past couple of weeks. Wrapping up the end of a school year always comes with extra events and tasks that wear me out. While our Classical Conversations group ends at the end of April, I'm not usually ready to say, "Schools out for the summer!!" (Although it is very tempting). My solution to my weariness to continue is fun-schooling. Not that all schooling isn't fun, but I like to focus on something in the month of May that extends the learning without feeling like straight up school.

This year we've decided to take time to start developing our nature journals. I'm really excited about this direction because it gets us outside, slows us down, and causes us to observe something other than ourselves! There are so many wonderful places to explore, and I can't wait to see the beauty cultivated within the souls of my children as they fill out their nature journals.

Nature journals


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Where to start with Nature Journals

First, I started off with something to guide me in guiding my kids. I picked up a copy of The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. While this book seemed pricey at first, the first few chapters made it worth every penny. I love how John Muir Laws thinks. He's very inspiring, but also very down to earth in his descriptions of how to get started in this great endeavor.

He encourages three basic ideas to encourage what to put on your paper:

  1. I notice - this makes you work on basic observations. This is something I really want to develop in my kids, and it is such a simple way to cultivate it.
  2. I wondernext, you cultivate curiosity with great questions. You don't have to be able to answer these questions, because these questions will drive your research later. Jotting down the questions can help draw out the wonder as you continue to notice more about the object/subject you're drawing.
  3. It reminds me of - I love this last notation. Children have beautiful imaginations. They can stretch their imaginations in this phase by thinking about what their subject looks like.  Have they seen something similar in a movie or cartoon?

Nature Journaling

Supplies for Nature Journals 

My husband made us some caddies to carry our supplies out into the field. You don't need anything this fancy, but it is sure nice to have everything at hand to capture the moment.

nature journalsHere's what's in our tool kit:

nature journals

Resources to Continue Discovery

After we've cultivated wonder, we need to follow through with resources to discover answers to their questions. While there are some avenues of study in which the mystery will never be resolved, there is plenty to learn about the natural world, and a library of good books is a great way to continue learning.

We have several great resources to use when we get home, but some we just check out at the library. I love how research draws out unexpected learning as well. I've also found that when the student is driving the research, they tend to remember it more.  Isn't that fascinating?!

nature journal resources

Practice makes Progress

I think one of the most important things I want to remember as we journey along with our nature journals is that we're not seeking to make perfect books of art. It takes time to become a masterful artist with the supplies that we're playing with in our journals. If we ever want to become great, we must practice, and that practice will make progress towards something lovely.

I also invested in a fun online class at Craftsy. This online network of creative geniuses is a homeschooler's dream. You can purchase access to classes, and then work along at your own pace. We chose the Illustrated Nature Journaling class to help our skills in the field. I look forward to seeing how we will progress over time!

Illustrated Nature Journaling - $39.99

from: Craftsy

However, the lovely artifact is only a dim reflection of the beauty that has been cultivated within a soul that can see beauty in the world around them. That is my true goal. That is what I see to make progress in, and it too will take time.

Do you nature journal? 




  1. Jennifer on May 13, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    We love nature journals. We usually make ours using an old cereal box for the covers and watercolor paper for the pages. If you make the cover 6″x9″ then you can cut the water color paper in half and get twice as much paper.

    • Betsy on May 13, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      That’s a great idea! I love reusing old cereal boxes.

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