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The Secret of the Nature Notebook

“Where do I find a nature notebook?”

“What does it look like?”

“How do we go about creating a nature notebook? Is there a template somewhere?”

Questions like these cross my desk regularly. So let’s reveal the secret of the mysterious nature notebook. The secret is: it’s empty. That’s right. When you first get a nature notebook, it will be empty. A nature notebook is simply a blank notebook with stiff covers and heavy paper for writing, drawing, and painting. A sketchbook works well.

Give each child his or her own nature notebook, and of course, get one for yourself! Then whenever you go outside to do nature study, make an entry or two in your notebooks. Charlotte Mason explained: “As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb” (Vol. 1, p. 54).

Record in your nature notebook

  • what you see,
  • where you see it, and
  • any other observations from nature. Then
  • embellish your notes with illustrations. And
  • add appropriate poetry, as desired.

In other words, make the notebook your own. Each child can enter whatever he prefers; they don’t all have to be the same. In fact, each nature notebook will be different — and that’s okay.

Just keep in mind that these notebooks are designed to help cultivate within your child the joy of nature and discovery, not to become a source of irritation, frustration, or competition. If your child finds writing difficult, offer to write his comments in his notebook as he dictates them. And whatever you do, don’t grade or correct a nature notebook! “The children keep a dated record of what they see in their nature note-books, which are left to their own management and are not corrected. These note-books are a source of pride and joy, and are freely illustrated by drawings (brushwork) of twig, flower, insect, etc.” (Vol. 3, p. 236).

So there you have it — the secret to the nature notebook. A simple idea that can reap wonderful benefits for you and your child!

If you would like to see a sample of a beautiful nature notebook, take a look at The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden. This book is a replica of a 1906 nature notebook that contains dated entries, detailed illustrations, and selected poetry and quotes. A word to the wise: look at it for inspiration, not for comparison. If it makes you or your child feel inadequate, put it away! Your nature notebook will become “a source of pride and joy” as you make it a personal reflection of your own nature experiences and growing interest.

Do you have any other tips, comments, or questions about nature notebooks? We’d love to hear them!

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11 Responses to “The Secret of the Nature Notebook”

  1. Karen August 16, 2007 at 2:29 pm #

    I provide my kids with colored pencils instead of paints. They are less messy and easier to pack for a day at the park. They are also perfect for little ones who may not have the necessary fine motor skills for painting.

  2. Ritsumei August 19, 2007 at 8:35 pm #

    I just got Keeping a Nature Journal and I’m really happy with ut – one thing I love is that the drawings they give, while done by a very good artist are sjetches, not “finished” art. I converted one of my sketchbooks into a nature journal & I’ve got a couple of colored leaves on my kitchen table waiting for me right now. Gonna try my hand at colored pencils, see if I like the result. I’m really looking forward to what my little Monkey does with his when he gets old enough to do this!

  3. Katherine Hughes August 20, 2007 at 11:04 pm #

    I found a lovely nature journal with beautiful quotes in it at PAIDEA CLASSICS http://www.paideaclassics.org ! You might want to check them out. Katherine

  4. Flo @ Yielded Heart August 26, 2007 at 5:13 pm #

    Hi! This is from my recent blog post on nature study. I thought it might be appropriate to share:

    The only thing I require of the child is to write the Latin names of the species if at all possible. I avoid at all cost being critical of the sketches or the recorded observations. All I have to say is that the Creator made everything thoughtfully, and with that in mind, we should also examine things regardfully, and write carefully about them. There is no need for chatter, for a sketch speaks a thousand words. With my oldest daughter, words are hand-picked to tell the stories.

  5. Doug September 5, 2007 at 8:31 pm #

    I recently helped our children set up a Web site that is sort of a high-tech equivalent of a nature notebook. They use it as a place to post their photographs along with a few comments or observations. Some of our children much prefer photography over drawing so this suits them well.

    They are just getting started so it’s a bit rough, but feel free to check it out if you’d like: naturenotebook.net. (Site no longer online.)

  6. Rachel October 7, 2009 at 1:11 am #

    Thanks for the great tips. My twin boys will be five years old soon and I want to give them each nature journals in the spring. They are just starting to show an interest in drawing and I think they will absolutely love having their own notebooks to draw in.

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