Nature journaling can happen anywhere. You don’t have to travel far away to experience the wonder and magic of slowing down to make observations in your nature journal. Observe the plants in your yard, on the porch, or out the window. Journal about the beans in our pantry, or the birds sitting on the telephone wire down the street. It is the practice of journaling and focused attention that makes these subjects interesting and worthy of study. Wonder and beauty are accessible, here and now, in the everyday objects and scenes that surround us.
When it is challenging or impossible to spend time outside, live cams and nature videos can also be great ways to practice nature journaling. Videos can also offer opportunities to get to watch rare animal behaviors, see organisms’ structures and features clearly, or see organisms that it might be hard to catch a glimpse of in the wild.
Some tips for getting the most out of your video journaling experience:
1. Choose something you’re genuinely curious about.
There are literally thousands of videos you could choose to watch. What are you really excited about? Maybe you’re curious about the animals that live in a faraway place you’ve always wanted to travel to. Maybe you’re excited to learn more about critters that live in your local area. Maybe there is a kind of animal or plant that you have always wanted to study, but doesn’t live where you do. The more genuinely curious you are about what you’re going to observe, the more fun and productive the experience will be.
2. Start by thinking about what you already know about the subject.
At the beginning of any learning experience, a valuable question to ask yourself is: “What do I already know about this subject?” Activating what neuroscientists call your “prior knowledge” about a subject serves to connect your current ideas about a subject to the existing neural frameworks in your brain, leading to deeper, stickier, and more meaningful learning.
3. Choose a clear goal for your journaling session.
Sometimes, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin a journal entry. Going in with a clear goal can support you to be deliberate about how to use your journaling time effectively, to guide the observations and ideas that you choose to record, and inform how you use words, pictures, and numbers on the page. This is true in any nature journaling session, and journaling from a nature video is no different. There are many goals you could choose. Maybe your goal is to learn more about animal behavior. This would lead you to focus more on using words and pictures to document what the animals are doing. Instead of doing close-up studies of the animal’s structures or body parts, you might use diagrams and words to describe their behaviors. Maybe you want to work on your sketching technique, and this would lead you to choose to focus on doing multiple quick sketches on the page. Think of a goal that feels right for you in the moment. You can also use one of our nature journaling activities [link to activity page] to offer a goal or focus for your observations.
4. Say observations, questions, and connections out loud.
When you hit “play,” watch the video for a little while before you put pencil to paper. Say your observations (“I Notice…”), questions (“I Wonder..”), and connections or analogies (“It Reminds Me Of…” out loud. This will focus your attention and help you keep your observations in working memory as you begin to put them down onto the page. Continue to vocalize your observations as you watch the video and begin journaling.
5. Pause, rewind, repeat.
When you’re watching a deer in a local park, you can’t “pause” its behavior to take a closer look at the shape of its antler, or “rewind” to try to get a glimpse of what kind of plant it is eating. When you’re watching a video, take advantage of the opportunity to pause to study interesting features, rewind action-packed sequences to make deeper observations, or replay the entire video and make observations with a different goal in mind.
6. Play with asking questions, making possible explanations, and further research.
As with any nature journaling experience, journaling from a livecam or nature video is an opportunity to learn and make discoveries about the subject you’re observing. Get questions down onto the page. Then play with your questions by reviewing the video to see if you can answer the questions through making more observations (“I wonder how many of the crabs crouched close to the ground when the seagull flew close by. After watching the video again, I saw 12 out of 27 crabs did. If the gull swoops by again in the video, I will make another count.”) ; make possible explanations to answer your question (“Maybe the crab has eyes on tall stalks above its head so it can see in all directions”), and do further research (“Let’s see if there are any studies that have been done about crab eye function, that could confirm or disprove this explanation.”) Remember, the goal is learning, not making a pretty picture. Have fun with it. See what you can figure out from your own observations by first watching the video before turning to an internet search.
Videos and Resources
Monterey Bay Aquarium Livecams
Cornell Lab of Ornithology Livecam
Free Nature Video Resources
The BBC Earth YouTube channel has a lot of 3–5 minute videos of different organisms. PBS Deep Look videos are another rich source. YouTube also has clips of nature videos. Some links to such videos are listed below, along with videos from other sources.
Look to your local nature centers or favorite parks to see if they have a livecam!
Looking to facilitate this kind of experience with your family, or with an education group? The activity Indoor Field Observations from the BEETLES Project offers a full script and write-up to guide you in this.