Starting a Nature Notebook for Homeschool

November 7, 2019Stacey Lynn

For those familiar with the Charlotte Mason homeschooling method, you’re probably already familiar with a nature notebook that all students are encouraged to keep. There is something about observing God’s creation and taking time to document that observation that greatly enriches our lives. Since children get great delight out of even the smallest discoveries, it helps to document them for a later date.

Even better than simply asking your children to keep a nature notebook is to keep one for yourself and sharing it with them. This will give them an excellent example and will inspire them to tell about all their amazing discoveries, just as you have done. You can even set aside specific times to do nature studies, with enough time allotted to add entries into the nature notebook.

There are many reasons for keeping a nature notebook. Even without arduous drawings and eloquent words, these special additions to our homeschool journey can be a great asset. Here are some reasons to keep one.

Learn About Local Wildlife

There is a huge world around us. Sadly, though, most of today’s children don’t even know it. Thanks to the overuse of screens, electronic devices, and television, many children rarely go outdoors to actually enjoy the environment around them. Keeping a nature notebook is an excellent way to help your child engage with the world around them, see things they don’t usually see, and learn a great deal that would otherwise have been lost.

But you can keep this notebook even when you travel! For instance, when traveling for holidays, special occasions, or going camping, you can take this notebook along to record special moments away from home. This greatly broadens the perspective, especially if you’re traveling out of your local area to another place that has different plants, wildlife, or nature-based occupations. It’s truly a joyous way not only to expand your child’s mind but also to spend excellent quality time together as a family.

Get Up Close and Personal With Nature

Have you ever watched an ant carry something three or four times its size from one place to another? It’s an amazing feat that not only creates questions to be studied in a lesson once you’re back indoors, it also brings certain passages of Scripture to life as well. Many of these “life-lessons” can even be taught in the midst of the observation. The same can even be said if you happen upon fossils or the bones of a long-dead animal. Adding sketches or pictures can commit the scene to memory, leading to other aspects of study for another day. See here also: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=ant+farm&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

Even when the subject is plants, a closer inspection can give amazing detail that might otherwise have been missed. For instance, noting the insects that live on the tree or plant, damage the plant might have undergone or taking interest in the way it changes color from season to season is an amazing way to learn.

Develop New Skills

The practice of documenting what you observe is very important, and can even be used in many job-settings. Not everyone has learned how purposefully and accurately to detail what is seen. At first, the very best effort might seem trivial, but over time, you will see improvement. Proper practice really does make perfect, but not just in one area. Drawing skills will improve, as will narration, writing, punctuation, grammar, and story-telling ability. All of these skills may not be appreciated in today’s modern age, but they truly have their place in the life of a well-educated person.

Other new skills might also emerge, especially if your child thinks about creating poems and adding embellishments to their artwork. Artistic inclinations are always encouraged in the nature notebook and can be an excellent, and almost therapeutic way to handle certain things. For instance, if the day has been particularly trying, grabbing the nature notebook and heading outside for a breather is never a wrong decision. And it can sometimes erase an entire day’s weight from your child’s shoulders.

Prompts for Getting Started

If your child seems to be having a hard time getting started with a nature notebook, here are a few questions to ask to spur them towards action. You can start by asking what it is that they see, and where they see it. Encourage them to note the weather. Is it windy, raining, clear, warm, or cold? What does it look like?

Another good starter question would be, What did you enjoy about today’s outing? This gives them the opportunity to tell about the experience from their own personal viewpoint. Along those same lines, you can prompt them to think about what they did not like. You can then encourage them to write these things in their notebook, just as they would say it in answer to your question. Let them know they can write conversationally as if speaking to you or even a good friend.

There’s No “Right Way” or “Wrong Way”

The best news of all is that there is no right or wrong way to create a nature notebook. The directions are simple: Get into nature, observe nature, and record nature, as it is seen and experienced. For some children, this might be a simple rough sketch. For others, likely older children who have been journaling a bit longer, it can mean intricate drawings with captions, explanations, a side list of questions to ask or items to research, and so much more.

Make plenty of supplies available including paints, pens, pencils, erasers, tape… anything that can be used to make the notebook more engaging and appealing. You might even create a bag or satchel in which the nature notebook and all the goodies used to work in it are kept, all neatly together. When you leave your home, they can simply grab their bag and know that they have everything all together for an exciting day of nature observation.

Keep Supplies On Hand

You can never have too many supplies available for the nature notebook. The more creativity is allowed in the creation of the notebook, the more important it will become, even to the point of being an excellent keepsake one day. Here are a few important things to keep on hand, just in case you have a really artistic or inquisitive child.

  • Loose-leaf paper
  • A hole punch
  • Notecards
  • Recycled cardboard (from cereal boxes, packaging, etc.)
  • Yarn, ribbon, or string
  • Stickers
  • Pens, pencils, colored pencils, and paints
  • Zipper pouches
  • Binder pockets/pouches

It should be noted that these materials should never make your child feel as if they have to use everything in their nature kit. On the other hand, they can be encouraged to think of other “tools”, if they’d like. Some days, the only thing they need might be the notebook itself and a simple pencil. Other days, what they see may strike them so deeply, they’ll want to use other ways to describe and retain the information. Either way is fine, and when you let them know that, it opens up their world, allowing them to make more decisions on their own.

Creating the Nature Notebook

If this is your first time working with or implementing the nature notebook, it might seem a little daunting, especially if you’ve done much research on the subject. It seems like you have to have special journals, supplies, and tons of artistic and literary talent, but that’s not true at all. In fact, when you first get started, you might find that your children simply scrawl out a little something and write a few words. Of course, children balk at new experiences like this, but it’s well worth continuing. They’ll get use it to it, and probably much faster than you might expect.

The first step is to find something to record notes and drawings. This can be a journal, sketchbook, watercolor pad, or even a three-ring binder filled with loose-leaf paper. It doesn’t have to be something monumental when you’re just getting started. Some homeschooling parents even devote a day or two in class to actually create a nature notebook using hard cardboard backs, three-hole punches, and metal rings or ties to hold everything together. Others have manipulated a paper bag until it looks just like a journal. The truth is, you can be as creative (or NOT creative) as you and your child want to be.

Next, you’ll want to include a writing instrument that your child greatly enjoys using. If they enjoy the feel of the instrument in their hands or the way it feels as it’s marked across the paper, they are much more likely to want to use it and use it often. For my own daughter, this turned out to be some very lovely thin-lined permanent marker pens. They come in an array of colors and can be found in any scrapbook section of your local craft store.

Those two items are the only necessary pieces to the nature notebook and if that’s all that’s ever needed, that’s okay! But let your child know that embellishments are welcome. In addition to sketches, they can include pressed flowers, leaf rubbings, brochures from vacations or travel, cutouts from a magazine, newspaper, or postcard, or any one of a million other things that seem special and noteworthy to them. After all notebook and, it is their notebook and should reflect their thinking.

The objective is to study nature as God created it. Many supplemental resources available to you approach nature based on the theory of evolution. You can combat that mythical concept by using materials that teach Bible truth available from our vendors at Great Homeschool Conventions.

In Closing

There are many ways to make a nature notebook your very own, and there’s no better way to learn about this if you’re new to it than attending one of our Great Homeschool Conventions. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a featured speaker or a workshop where this very topic is being discussed in great detail. Even if that’s not the case, you’ll meet plenty of other homeschooling families who, you might learn, have spent a great deal of time “notebooking” about nature.

Our Great Homeschool conventions are regional gatherings, which means there’s likely to be one near you. Of course, some will be closer to our locations than others, and to make it easier for those that will be traveling, we offer hotel discounts, military discounts, and free admission for active clergy members. We believe everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy a Great Homeschool Convention and we hope to see you there!

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