What is Nature Journaling?
A Powerful and Flexible Learning Tool
When we nature journal, we use words, pictures, and numbers to record observations and ideas on paper. This practice can be foundational in classrooms, homeschools, family outings, and outdoor education programs. Journaling sparks deep observation, builds critical thinking and visual literacy skills, nurtures a connection to the outdoors, and supports creative expression. The interdisciplinary approach engages learners of all ages in keenly observing the wild places in their backyard and beyond.
Nature journal entries include observations, questions, and connections, and can focus on documenting any part of the outdoors– from flowers in a garden to birds out the window, from mud puddles at a local park to spiderwebs on the schoolyard, from house plants to beans from the pantry. Journal entries can also include personal reflections and inquiry into ideas and concepts.
Varied Approaches on the Page
We intentionally write, draw, and use numbers in our nature journal entries. Writing strengthens our thinking because it invites us to organize our thoughts as we put them on the page. Drawing leads to close, careful observation and improved memory. Using numbers reveals significant patterns and a whole new set of observations.
Combining words, pictures, and numbers on a journal page creates a dynamic, rich, and memorable learning experience. When students engage in a journaling activity focused on plants in the community garden, birds on a pond, or icicles dangling from the eaves of their classroom, their observations and questions can form the foundation of learning over the course of a lesson.
Structure Supports Success
Offering structure in the form of activities is a way to support meaningful, successful journaling experiences. Simply handing students some paper and saying “Go journal!” without any further guidance can lead to overwhelm. Too much structure is also not effective, as worksheets and “fill in the blank” exercises don’t make room for students’ observations and ideas– the heart of authentic journaling and learning. We’ve found that we can best engage students in journaling by offering structured activities focused on different parts of the outdoors, with scaffolding to support engagement. Our activities use three types of scaffolding:
- a part of nature to study– for example, leaves, stream currents, cracks in the mud, a flock of birds, a spider. A defined focus supports students to spend their time making observations, not figuring out what to observe.
- a focus or goal for observation and thinking– for example, making comparisons, mapping location, focused study of a species, timed observations.
- and some strategies for recording information– for example, options for page layout (such as dividing the page in half); suggestions for including labels with a drawing; types of drawings or views to show; ways to integrate words, pictures, and numbers on the page.