Tools and Materials: Journals

Ideally, each student should have a solid notebook that they can use throughout the year or program that can serve as a field writing surface and will stand up to field use. A well-made book will lend greater dignity to the process of taking notes. As students personalize and use their journal, they invest in both the book itself and the process of journaling. This journal also enables students, teachers, and parents to easily review or assess the student’s development as a scientist, artist, and thinker. Look for journals with these features:

  • Sewn-in binding,
  • stiff cardboard cover (many are too floppy),
  • medium size (composition book or equivalent),
  • blank, grid (quad ruled), or dot matrix paper (not lined paper),
  • and heavyweight paper (that prevents words and pictures showing through one side of the paper to the other).

Journals to Purchase

Composition books. 

You may be familiar with composition books with lined paper. You can purchase the same kind of books with graph paper (or blank pages) for field journaling. We recommend graph paper. The horizontal lines offer structure for writing, and the grid supports drawing and open-ended note taking (placing titles, labels, call-out boxes, etc.). Look for composition books with a stiff cardboard cover for field use without a clipboard.

Bare Books 

These little hardbound journals are sturdy and ideal for field use. The standard Bare Book has twenty-eight pages (fourteen sheets). The Bare Book Plus has sixty pages (thirty sheets). The covers are lightly colored, offering the opportunity for students to decorate their journals—just don’t use water-soluble markers for this purpose, as it will rub off over time.

Sketch for Schools 

These spiral-bound customizable journals are made with quality paper and are fifty pages. We recommend the intermediate-weight textured paper. You can add your school logo or other custom page to the front (though this adds cost). You can also send the company any pages that you want to include, such as the cut-and-paste tool kit. [internal link to cut and paste page]. 

Artist’s Loft™ Art For Everyone™ Sketchbook. 

This hardbound sketchbook (110 pages) is available at some art supply stores and is usually sold at low cost.

Self-Printed Journals

Self-printed journals are a practical choice for shorter programs they have an appropriate number of pages for the length of the program. These journals need not contain anything but blank pages, or pages with some simple structural elements (e.g., boxes or frames) to support students’ visual layouts. For recommendations of types of pages to include in this style of journal, see the BEETLES Project resource “Model Field Journal Pages.”

It is also fast, cheap, and simple to give students single sheets of paper and a hard surface for journaling in shorter programs. Cut 9-by-11-inch sheets from cardboard boxes and attach binder clips to the top, and you have made cheap yet durable clipboards. This setup is ideal in circumstances where students will journal only once during a short program, or where materials must be as low cost as possible.

Homemade Journals

Students love using journals that they have made; they will often take better care of them and are less likely to lose them. You can make your own journals as a class project. There are many wonderful teacher-made tutorials online that give you creative ways to make a journal, along with step-by-step instructions to do it yourself.

Customizing Journals

A few modifications add greater functionality to any journal. When students get to modify their journals, they personalize the book and feel that their own book is special:

Name and contact information. 

Students can neatly write their name in permanent ink on the front cover to make passing out journals easier. On the inside cover, they should write: If lost, please contact (school or parent phone number).

Quantification tools, curiosity scaffolds, drawing tricks, prompts. 

Students can paste the Journal Quantification Tool kit and the Nature Journal Essentials pages into the last pages of their journal. These references help students engage with phenomena in the field, reminding them of the types of observations and thinking they can include in their journal. 

Supply pocket. 

Use clear, wide packing tape and a piece of card stock or part of a file folder to create a flat storage pocket in the back of the journal.

Cover art.

 Encourage students to cover their journal with personalized art and quotes that are relevant to nature journaling. This does not need to be done in one sitting; students can add to the cover as they find new images or quotes that they like.

Wind band. 

Stretch an extra-large rubber band around the used or unused pages (whichever section is smaller). This makes the journal easier to open to the next blank page and prevents the pages from blowing around when sketching in a strong wind.

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