Nature Journals Can Get Messy

We’ve been homeschooling with Ambleside Online for about four or five years now.  I thought I understood how to keep a nature journal. I have even posted previously about this very subject. My kids had been drawing pictures in their notebooks for several years from our backyard and other locations, but something was definitely missing. In a word: PASSION. They were getting bored with their journals. That’s not how science is supposed to work! Wasn’t this practice supposed to lead to more curiosity? Why wasn’t it working? What were we doing wrong?

I decided to do some research. On the Ambleside Online forums I had seen mention of a John Muir book about nature journaling, so I ordered it. It was fantastic, inspiring and…a little intimidating for beginners. I’m glad I bought it, but I decided to go back to the forums and read a little more about what others were doing.

That’s when I discovered some key information: Nature journaling is NOT a drawing lesson!

Of course, I knew that on an intellectual level, but my approach had inadvertently sent that message to my children. We took out the art supplies and nature journals once a week, drew or painted a picture, labeled it and then moved on. The box was checked, and we were done.

Not long after that discovery, I listened to a podcast on A Delectable Education about nature study in which the ladies discussed this same topic (and so much more), and I changed my approach.  I strongly recommend this podcast! It will change your perspective as well!

I have temporarily decided to leave the journals and art supplies at home, and instead we focus on discovery! We find interesting things outdoors, and we pay close attention to them. We study them without the encumbrance of having to record anything. We ask questions. We try to find the answers by observation.  It’s fun!

Then, when we come in the house, we record what we discovered. Surprisingly, my kids’ drawings improved. Their journals are also messier…A LOT MESSIER. There are jumbled thoughts and ideas on the page. There are practice attempts on the same page as the final product. They now understand that no one is judging their drawing skills. They are eager to put their thoughts on the page.

Eventually, I suppose we will talk more about ways to keep ongoing records like Muir shows in his nature journal book, but for now I am so happy to see my kids (and me) feeling excited and curious about subjects that we’ve looked at for years without ever truly “seeing.”

Here are a couple a pages from my kids’ nature journals that show some of the changes from my previous post. Enjoy!

My son (9yo, Year 3), after watching birds fly to and from our feeder. I love how the sparrow has extra wings and feet to show movement!

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Here are a few by my daughter (10yo, Year 3).

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3 responses to “Nature Journals Can Get Messy

  1. That podcast changed my perspective too! We were doing it wrong — now we’re slowly moving to more texts, less drawing lessons. I have to listen to it again and take notes. I bought the John Muir book too, and yes, it is intimidating for beginners, but I’ve began to use it for myself. Another book I’m loving is Gerald Durrell’s “The Amateur Naturalist”; not about nature journaling per se, but it shows a love of observing nature that imo is the very spirit we’re looking for here in a CM homeschool. Thanks for the post and the pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m thankful to have listened to Delectable Education BEFORE I started because the writing part is so much easier for us (me!) than the drawing part!!!! The book you mentioned is on my wishlist, but I’ve heard John Muir Laws on a podcast talking about writing about what you are noticing and wondering about and that has been my favorite part: hearing what the kids are wondering about. I think that is a big part of being a naturalist, just noticing, thinking, and wondering. Drawing can serve that but isn’t the point.

    Liked by 1 person

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