Getting Started


Communicating ideas as to how to do something like notebooking can be quite a challenge. When I first introduced this idea to my children they would look at me with blank stares. They just didn’t get it. That was because they were used to writing only what they HAD to write. Their writing was stifled, without depth or feeling. Plus, it was always a chore trying to help them decide what to write about.

So, I read portions to them from Wisdom’s Way of Learning, and we listened to an audio tape by Cindy Rushton called, Notebooking! Yes! You CAN Be a Binder Queen! With a nature notebook, topics to write about will come naturally when you are on a walk or hike. There is always something to sketch and then the child can write about it with feeling, also describing how he sees the attributes of God through nature.

The first thing to do in getting started is to begin exploring. Get comfortable with the outdoors and begin to listen and look for things in nature that you are not used to noticing. You will find that being confined and cooped up inside stifles your senses so that you don’t hear and see the world around you. Take walks as often as you can so that you begin to hear the river, hear how one bird sounds different than another, listen to the frogs croak, or the turtles splash
into the swamp.

Teach your children to listen and hear these things too. That might mean that they need to have some rules for the walk (or a portion of the walk) or they will chatter and run noisily through the thicket, cracking branches and scaring any nature away that isn’t stuck in the ground by a trunk!! Have them sit quietly for five minutes and increase the amount of time as they become comfortable with nature so they notice the sounds and feel drawn to the peaceful surroundings. Help them to notice their surroundings. Is there limestone rock, dirt, clay, a river? What kind of trees are there, is there grass?

When they become experienced nature journalists take them on a walk in inclimate weather. Have you ever taken a walk in the rain, snow, or sleet? I know it is nicer to stay inside but there are still very interesting things to see and hear.

Let them collect objects from nature that they find along the way in a small Ziploc bag. Then when they get home they can either put the object into their notebook (if flat) or draw it.

Notebook Building How-to
Setting up a Nature Notebook is easy for a young child. Just purchase a three ring binder and slip a pretty picture into the front sleeve or try the Note Sketchbook which has a blank top half of the page and a lined bottom half. We like to use pictures from old calendars cut down to the correct size. If the child is older or interested in drawing, he can draw and design his own insert for the cover of the Notebook. For a younger child, slip his notebook entries into a plastic sleeve for protection. Don’t worry about the order or organizing it into sections (plants, trees, birds) until the child is able to do it himself. Otherwise you’ll complicate the process and make it ‘yours’ instead of
the child’s. One of my children (at least) always liked to change around where his accomplishments were kept, so I was glad that I had not put them how “I” wanted them.

For an older child, his notebook will take on an individual look all his own. He might like to have it divided into sections to reflect various interests such as birds, trees, and whatever other areas catch his eye. It really doesn’t matter how it is done, as it is something that reflects the personal style of each child’s identity. Plastic sleeves give a neat and professional appearance that is sure to impress grandparents and friends. The notebook is also a keepsake and the plastic sleeves will protect the pages and save the holes from ripping. Eventually, if any one interest grows too large for the binder, it can be moved
to its own binder. This is the beginning of writing a book!!

Children should leave their actual nature notebook at home during walks or the notebook will get ruined. Use a Note Sketchbook on the walk, and cut the page to fit the plastic sheet when the child gets home. Sketching is not accurate drawing which tends to discourage most children and adults alike. It is just a rough drawing that basically shows what they have seen. In a journal, stories
having to do with animals, or other adventurous journeys through nature may be added to the book to add variety. One child might want her journal to reflect a summer vegetable or flower garden. Another might want it to reflect a season like spring which brings so many changes in nature. The ideas are endless.

Notebooking and History

We have learned to include many wonderful things in our Nature Notebooks by reading and studying a couple books by naturalists. Nature Journaling by Leslie & Roth has all sorts of ideas. It has pages upon pages of beautiful examples for your own book. Throughout the book it gives ideas on what can be included to make your journal interesting.

We know so much about the travels of Christopher Columbus because records of his explorations were recorded in his Logbook, another name for a nature notebook or journal. His logbook is an extremely detailed book of his travels and adventures. With his logbook, he convinced Queen Isabella that he had actually reached the New World.

President Thomas Jefferson hired explorers Lewis and Clark to lead the expedition on the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. Yes, Lewis and Clark were skilled explorers, but each of them kept a meticulous journal of their travels that included detailed drawings and writings. These are the best records we have today of their hazardous two-year journey.

Formal schooling will not teach a child how to be a good naturalist. The best scientists were men like Thomas Edison who could not learn in a typical school but learned by doing. Today, we would call this a lifestyle of learning. The wonderful thing about Nature Journaling is that the child learns the scientific principles of observation. A child learns to be self-taught which is a skill that will cause learning to last a lifetime. This is a foundational goal of the lifestyle of learning – to encourage a child to engage in learning for a lifetime.

Examples of former naturalists are numerous. They are the oldest scientific learners. Pliny, Aristotle, Linnaeus, Audubon, Pasteur, Thoreau, and Thomas Jefferson are just a few who can be studied to encourage an interest to develop in our children. It is also interesting to point out to our children the differences in how some of these men viewed God’s creation. Some honored Him and others just never “saw” God in nature.

If you want to expand your child’s learning environment, consider nature notebooking. It is a natural way to involve your children in learning, taking the ‘classroom’ outdoors. Children love this. You will love this relaxed approach to learning for both you and your children. You might even find yourself keeping your own nature journal.

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Judie is a mother of 7 wonderful children and has been educating them at for 20 years. She is the co-moderator of the Elijah Counsel discussion board with over 2000 members. Note: Some of these ideas are inspired by Keeping a Nature Journal.

All rights reserved to the author. Pending permission.

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