Monday, January 7, 2008

Our First Nature Journal

The idea of nature journals has always appealed to me.  I purchased one in the form of a weekly calendar a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. Despite homeschooling for 10 years, I have only recently purchased The Charlotte Mason Companion. My kids have always enjoyed being outdoors collecting various assortments of seeds and seed pods, opening them and scattering them to the wind.  They enjoy collecting my flowers,  enjoying their colors and scents.  They even enjoy moving my rocks from the dry creek bed I made under the dripping roofline to various corners of the yard!  They thrill to find a colorful bird and try to imitate its song.  However, the idea of sitting down with a sketch pad and pencil in the great out of doors has never been an enthusiastic prospect for my kids. 

Finally the day came to nudge them in the historic activity.  We have been studying the Renaissance and they will be doing research reports on Leonardo da Vinci, who as a boy, made nature journals.  To their quiet dismay, I decided that their major art project for this history unit should be nature journaling.  Today was the day!  Gloomily, yet without complaining, they listened to me exult the virtues of the art!  I showed them beautiful examples from my old desk calendar, which also includes a bit of journaling.  

In preparation, we put bird seed out for the birds.  While we waited for the birds to arrive, they asked me to do a journal too! My daughter and I started sketching the pointsettia in the kitchen while my son sat outside and sketched the plum bushes in front of the shed.  

Our cat was fascinated to find us in unusual places, dd and I at the kitchen table, the pointsettia on the floor and ds outside at the porch table.  She kept looking out the window in perplexity.  I wish I had my camera handy! 

While sketching the pointsettia, dd noticed I did a few unique things.  I am not an artist, but I showed her how to sketch a 3D pot, why I shaded (light and shadow,) and how to combine colors. (Disclaimer:  I know my technique needs lots of practice.  I believe that the learning comes from the doing.) We also talked about perspective and texture.  When she first started sketching the flower, it was right in front of her on the table, where the bracts were parallel with her eyes and she really couldn't see anything.  So I put it on the floor so we could see the tops of the bracts.  

Here is 14yod picture...

Here is my picture...

Meanwhile she commented that she either heard a bird or her brother.  My son quietly opened the door to tell us he had been watching a cardinal fly from one of our trees to the other.  In all, he saw 2 cardinals and 1 goldfinch.  

This was a peaceful time that seemed to be quite positive.  DS is finishing some final details on his sketch now.  I asked him if he had a good time sketching today.  "Oh yes!" he exclaimed.  I smiled and said he didn't seem so excited when he started and he smiled and said, "Oh no."  Here is his page. I am flabbergasted!  He has always been quite the artist and it's a shame that it's difficult to see the soft colors.  But they are lovely and have an impressionistic touch.  But the words get me.  I have never seen him attempt poetry before. I didn't even ask him to do the poetry.  All the writng is his idea.  See the cardinal in the tree?  He darkened it for the photo.

Close up of the latticework in front of the shed..

Close up of the poetry...

I asked my daughter how she enjoyed it and she smiled and said she really enjoyed the nature journaling too!  I think some new nature journalists were created today!

Updated 8-25-11
Last winter I purchased an old EFT video from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center Bookstore about Mark Catesby. He was a famous naturalist from the early 18th century in colonial Virginia. At this link are some of his prints of flora and fauna, at the Colonial Williamsburg website, with teaching ideas!  My kids will like this! 


  1. NatureNotesFromAboveJanuary 7, 2008 at 5:00 PM

    Fantastic journaling! Once you have been bitten by the nature bug you can never get rid of it *grin* Are the bird drawings in your very first photo yours or a book? If it's a book would you mind sharing with me which one it is, we are really into birds right now :)

    Have a blessed evening,


  2. MayTheyBeMightyMenJanuary 7, 2008 at 5:14 PM

    I am sooooo inspired! (Also tempted to add more "o" to my so!)

    I need that book! I need to find more creative ways to do things. We are studying Fulbright's Botany this year and I need to get these kids out more, and we need to start adding drawing and descriptive writing to the whole kit and kaboodle.

    Thank you for sharing! This is priceless to me mid-winter when we don't see the sun much and my inspiration seems to be "solar powered" or something. :)

  3. SongOfTheSagebrushJanuary 8, 2008 at 4:59 AM

    I've seen examples and read about doing these, never jumped in and did it...maybe we can start by journaling our little aquarium critters!



  4. saw your post on the TLT loop and had to pop over to see. Glad i did!

    What a wonderful beginning to your notebooks! I hope you'll continue to share with us!

    you can see a sampling of our nature studies (and some journal pages) over at this link


  5. I love the idea of nature journals too, but we never seem to get around to them Perhaps we'll give it another go in the spring. Dd has always enjoyed them, but ds is always reluctant to do anything artistic.

  6. My oldest began a nature journal in spring. I am so lucky to be able to do this with him during the warmer months, especially at his age! Because he is so young, his journal is quite simple. He picks a subject outside and writes out details of what he sees. Sometimes he draws pictures. He loves to spend long periods of time outside, following insects and studying birds. It is such a joy to be able to do this for science. He can learn by watching and reading, and no textbooks are necessary (my favorite part)!

    I love the pictures that you and your children drew. What talent!

  7. I, too, was prompted by your TLT post to pop over and see how your children's first attempt at nature journalling went. WOW! I'm inspired! I have the CM Companion....time to pull it back out! Thanks for posting this. I thoroughly enjoyed getting a peak into your day! Rhea from IA, and TLT.

  8. This is fantastic Laurie! I'm so glad your family had such a great start in nature journaling! There is something to be said for doing it when they are older! That is so cool that some birds came to your yard afterall. Sometime I should show you pictures of my dc's nature journals, LOL! We started them when the children were very small (5, 3, 2) and they have pages and pages of indistinguishable lines in their journals. But they have gotton better as they've gotton older! And it's always fun. One of my boys once decided to draw the sewer cover he saw in the middle of a sidewalk while on a nature walk around our suburban neighborhood!