Nature journaling

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  • Jessica Telian

    This is my third year homeschooling, but my first using a Charlotte Mason approach. I’m really excited about it, and feel like it will be a great fit for our family…except I’m really apprehensive about nature journaling. ? I’m really NOT AT ALL artistic in that way (stick figures are pretty much the limit of my abilities…I’m not even kidding!), but all the nature journals I’ve ever seen pictures of are gorgeous! I really don’t want to hinder my kids due to my lack of ability, but I’m not really sure how to avoid that. Tips? Ideas?

    Also, what’s the best age to begin nature journaling? My oldest is six…


    Hi Jessica! 🙂

    I felt the same way when we first started nature study. I have never been able to draw any thing past stick figures! I was so surprised to find that I could actually draw recognizable birds and plants in my nature notebook. The secret is that you are looking at the actual object you are drawing instead of trying to create a picture from your mind. You draw in short, light strokes and don’t try to make your lines perfect. I think you’ll be as surprised as I was when you try your hand at it.

    I think the fact that you are just starting nature drawing with your children may even be an encouragement to them as they see that they aren’t the only ones new to this endeavor. Having beautiful nature journals is not the point of nature study so no worries there! I wouldn’t say that my nature journal is beautiful but I enjoy looking through it because it is mine. 🙂


    Same here! We have dabbled in it in the past, but nothing consistent. The other day we were heading to town and a butterfly hit my antenna and stuck. I stopped at the next stop sign, hopped out and grabbed it. One wing was a little damaged, but the kids didn’t mind. They love butterflies and this was an impromptu way for them to see it up close. Yesterday we sat down and drew it, then labeled the parts. I was proud of myself – I can’t draw worth a flip, but actually sat down and took my time (also something I don’t do well). My 5 year old was in tears b/c she couldn’t get it to look like she wanted so I just did a quick outline and let her color it in (not sure how to handle that going forward – she has some mood issues we are working on and is easily frustrated. She also struggles with writing, not sure if it’s fine motor or what. Her thumb is double jointed which makes it a bit hard for her to hold a pencil correctly, especially traditionally sized ones… ideas? She wants to participate, but I can’t handle a meltdown everytime). The other two did theirs all on their own (one option for an over head shot while the other did a side view).



    Something I have done in the past for helping me to draw something I saw but do not have in front of me is googling drawings of the specimen. I print out the really nice outline drawing and use it as a reference to draw my own, then we will look up the colored ones to make sure that we have the correct shades of colors to complete our drawings. 😉

    I went to the CMI Conference this year and the focus was on Natural History and they brought in John Muir Laws (Jack Laws) to be the featured speaker. I had never heard of him before, but he is wonderful – both as a naturalist and educator, and now as a CM fan. Now I am a fan of his. lol (As a side note, Jack is dyslexic and struggled with that for years. His books are created to cater to that – so everything is marked by symbols and colors for quick identification. He shared his story with us and all of us were touched by his experiences and his desire to share and lift the stigma & burden carried by children/families affected by this.)

    One of the things that I heard said a couple of times by different presenters was that we tend to make our Nature Journals into Nature Portraits and not into learning tools. It really struck me. The point of the Nature Portrait is to really observe and record what we see, but do we take it further? Once we write the Latin name, do we even think about it again? I know that my family didn’t. Jack challenged us to take our journals into a whole new level by recording more than just our one specimen. Use each page to notice the whole area by recording the specimen, wondering (write questions), and jotting ideas like “it reminds me of…” He showed multiple entries of his journals that were so inspiring. But what really sold me was the actual pictures of my friend’s son’s journal. He had his usual entries in his journal. Then she told us she had gotten her new Jack Laws book in the mail and her 11 year old son devoured it for days. He then brought her some new journal pages (self-directed) and showed her what he had learned. OH.MY.GOODNESS.  It was AMAZING! He had drawn a frog, labeled its parts, talked about where it was, what it did, and had even drawn an question mark and written some “I wonder” questions.

    Anyway, Jack’s book is by far the most practical and inspiring Nature Journaling book I have EVER seen in all my Nature Study years. When I first saw that it was recommended reading, I was like no way. I have lots of how to nature journal books and I do not need another one. I was wrong.

    It contains SO much information, including the usual stuff, but the last half of the book has lessons in how to draw everything you run across using basic shapes and observation. Much of what is in the book is also free on his website. You can watch free YouTube videos and learn to draw from those. Look around the site. He teaches, invites, encourages, and empowers anyone who wants to, to succeed in this nature thing we do. =)

    Here is his new book:

    Here is his website with all kinds of how-to information:  click on “Nature Drawing” on the menu


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