Connecting with nature through journaling

Girl journaling, public domain
Keeping a nature journal is a great activity for kids of every age while we are practicing social distancing. Many thanks to Jen Gray, Interpretive Specialist for Central Whidbey area state parks, for contributing this week's blog. She is new to Washington and has been using nature journaling to help her learn all the new plants and animals she’s encountering!

April 8, 2020

Are you wondering what you can do outside with your kids?

We’re experiencing some unprecedented times right now. Trying to find ways to occupy your kids’ time and help them through this new world of distance learning is challenging. Getting kids outside is one way to help break up the day. It can be a great way to get all that pent-up energy out, and it’s great for everyone’s mental wellbeing. It can also be a great opportunity for creativity and learning.

That’s where nature journaling comes in. Nature journaling is an easy, low-tech way to keep a record of what you’ve seen. All you really need is a notebook and something to write with. You don’t have to go to a place “with nature,” such as a park.

You can journal in your backyard. If you don’t have a backyard, you can journal during a walk around the block. Nature is everywhere once you step outside. It’s the wind in your hair, the sky above you, that dandelion growing in the sidewalk crack.

The Basics

Keeping a journal

Journal page Jena Gray
A nature journal can be as simple or complex as you want it to be! Words, pictures or even samples -- create your own relationship with nature through journaling. Photo by Jen Gray.

Nature journaling is very adaptive, and you can make it what you want it to be. It can have more drawings if your child is still learning to write or enjoys art. If your child loves to write, it can be filled with words and poems. Every journal is personal.

Every new entry should, however, contain some basic information. You’ll want to record the date and time, what the weather is like, and where you are. Over time, this will help you find out the secret patterns in nature. For example, are you seeing the squirrel only in the morning? Or, there’s a hoot from the tree behind the neighbor’s house most evenings?  How can those things be linked?

After recording the basics, have your child find something interesting — that bug that’s grossing you out is okay! Encourage them to draw what they see and to write something about it such as what it’s doing or how it makes them feel. Challenge them to notice changes to a place that you visit regularly. Were there flower buds on a bush last week, and now there are flowers blooming?

I can’t draw!

Deer crop
Journal page deer Jena Gray

Deer here ... deer there! A simple drawing makes a wonderful and memorable entry in a nature journal! Journal photo by Jen Gray.

Don’t worry! It’s okay! Drawing is like any skill. The more you practice the better you will get at it. Start with a small corner of your page and use the rest to write what you observe and feel about what you’ve seen.

One fun way to practice drawing is to keep your pencil on the paper and your eyes on what you’re drawing. No peeking at your paper! This will help you be focused on what you’re seeing and not the end result. You will end up with some great Picasso-worthy creations that will make you all laugh.

But wait, I don’t know that bird, flower, whatever!

slug jena gray

What ... is ... THAT? Explore your world with informational apps and websites to learn more about all things icky, interesting and awesome living near you! Photo by Jackie French.

You don’t need to be an expert on everything in nature or even one thing. It’s okay to leave your description at ’bird’ or ’bug.’ Or, if you’re feeling energized by your time outside, see if you and your kids can figure it out. There are plenty of resources online that can help you figure out what something is. Some our staff favorites are:

  • All About Birds – This site links you with a wealth of birding knowledge from the Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology (study of birds). They also have a free app you can download if you have a smartphone.
  • Audubon Washington – This site offers information on our state’s bird species.
  • Pl@ntnet - This site offers plant identification and even a free app you can download!
  • Bug Guide – Hosted by Iowa State University’s Department of Entomology (study of insects).

Adventure awaits!

There are no rights and wrongs in nature journaling. It’s a way for you and your chCherry blossoms theo crazzaloa CCFKRildren to connect to nature. Find something outside that interests you and watch it. Record it in your journals. Remember nature is everywhere around you. All you need to do is look. Step out that door and explore! 

How are you experiencing nature in a time of social distancing? 
Tell us about it and share your photos on our story share page!

It’s springtime! Nature is bursting with new life to explore right outside your door. Grab your journal and get out today!