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When I was a park naturalist, nature journaling was seriously old-school. We used paper and pencils in those days, and a nature journal was exactly that…a journal that described your experiences in nature through art, poetry, and observation. Unfortunately today, nature journaling is not quite as popular with the younger crowd.
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Nature Journaling as a Form of Therapy
Journaling has been around for a long time, whether it takes the form of a diary that summarizes your daily life or a nature journal that helps you connect more with your environment. Whatever approach you take, putting your thoughts and observations on paper is a form of therapy and reflection.
Therapists frequently suggest that one of the best things you can do for a child (or adult) with ADHD is give them a place to go where they can calm their thoughts and focus on something they enjoy. My daughter calls this her “alone time.” For her, that time is spent in her cave of a bedroom where she can immerse herself in the world of Youtube, video games, or her art.
Even though I wish she’d spend more time outside, I’ve seen the results of that quiet time. She’s a pretty good artist, and she does some of her best work alone in her room. She draws something and then uploads it to her iPad. The iPad is her journal. In fact, it was that realization that led me to buy her better equipment, which others might see as enabling the screen obsession.
I used to feel the same way, but that’s not how I see it anymore. Like I said, journaling (along with a handful of other old school methods of connecting kids to nature) isn’t that popular these days. So, I’ll take whatever I can get. Besides, the thought of using an iPad as a journal gave me an idea…more on that later.
Basics of Journaling
Creating a nature observation journal isn’t technical at all…if you go old-school. You don’t need a nature journal template. All you really need is a notebook, preferably one made with thicker paper (without lines). Watercolor paper is a good option. You'll find examples of simple nature study journals at the end of the article.
Once you have your notebook, you’ll want to add a few more supplies to your nature journaling inventory:
-Pencils (mechanical pencils don’t require constant sharpening)
-Fine Point Markers
-Pencil Box (to store your supplies)
From here, deciding what you want to write about, draw, or photograph is entirely up to you. Your nature journal will not be like anyone else’s. This means there is no right or wrong thing to put in your notebook.
Write about what you want to. Here are a few nature journaling prompts for writers:
1. If you were something found in nature, what would you be and why?
2. Sit in one spot outside for 5 minutes. Observe what’s going on around you. After time is up, write about what you saw and heard.
3. Where is one place in the world you would most like to visit and why?
4. What is your favorite time of year (season)? Why?
5. Consider writing a poem about something you find in your backyard. Observe the object and jot down notes. Then put those notes into prose form.
6. What element in nature is most interesting to you? Write about it.
7. Which habitat is your favorite (examples include wetlands, lakes, rivers, forests, grasslands, etc.)? What do you like most about that habitat?
8. If you could be any animal, which would you be and why?
9. What do like most about each season of the year?
10. Choose a flower or other small object from your backyard. Observe each part of the object closely and write about it in as much detail as you can.
What if you don’t want to write? Perhaps you prefer nature art or drawing to writing. Maybe you want to collect things such as leaves or flowers and preserve them. You might be more into nature photography than art or writing. All of these are perfectly acceptable for a nature journal. That’s the beauty of journaling…there are no rules.
I’ve stressed that the old-school method of journaling (pen and paper) is falling by the wayside, but that doesn’t mean the idea of nature journaling needs to slip away as well. In today’s modern age, there are plenty of ways to keep a nature journal that appeal to all ages.
For example, if you’re into nature drawing, you might want to consider a reusable notebook, such as Elfinbook or Rocketbook. These versatile, smart notebooks look just like a traditional journal but offer a number of additional perks. For one, they're erasable (you use your microwave or a damp cloth to erase the pages), so you can use them over and over again without refilling paper. They come with a special pen and can be purchased with plain or lined paper.
Because these are smart notebooks, you know there’s more to them than just reusable paper. They come with an app (Android and iOS) that you use to scan your nature drawings or art and upload them to your computer. You can even send your nature art directly to your favorite cloud storage for safe keeping (DropBox, Google Drive, Onedrive, etc.).
These types of notebooks (there are more brands out there) are an excellent bridge between tradition and modern technology. But there are other ways to create a nature journal…
Whether you realize it or not, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are examples of 21st century journals. We use this type of media to express ourselves through words, art, and photography.
Instagram, in particular, is a great way to keep a nature photography journal. You simply take photographs, upload them to your computer, log into Instagram, and post your favorites. Add a description and a few thoughts on your photos, and you’re journaling!
Facebook is similar in design to Instagram. However, the algorithms Facebook uses to identify our interests make it difficult to handle sometimes. I’d really like the opportunity to express myself without being bombarded by ads, but that’s the world we live in now. Hey, you may even see an ad for my website on Facebook one of these days!
For me, Facebook is a journal of my family’s experiences, good and bad, but I have friends who use it to share their “nature” with the world. What better way to record your memories than through a free online resource that keeps everything neatly in place for you? No worrying about losing your nature journal…you’ve got an app to take care of that!
Tree Huggin' Tribe
I mentioned earlier that my daughter’s use of her iPad as a journal of sorts gave me an idea. Well, with technology what it is today, we know social media and use of the internet to express ourselves won’t be going away anytime soon. Unfortunately, some of the forums out there these days are full of what my daughter calls “trolls.” Per her definition, trolls are people who exist in the online world to insult, bash, or hurt people’s feelings whenever they can.
My idea was to create a membership-based community that would offer fun and relevant environmental education lessons to kids of all ages. Participants would be encouraged to share their experiences in nature and learn from others in the community as well. So, that’s what I decided to do…trolls or no trolls. I’ve built a private, online membership page on my website that is only accessible to subscribers. I monitor the comments added by members and remove any negative comments as soon as I find them (or they’re reported).
My hope is that you feel comfortable encouraging your children to post their thoughts and observations in nature, original nature artwork, photography, nature poetry or stories, and anything else that brings us closer to the natural world on this page. It may not be something they post to more than their Instagram account, but it is a place they can go to learn and be appreciated.
To learn more about the Tree Huggin' Tribe, click on the link below. And yes, there is a small monthly fee. However, this fee helps me maintain the site and continue to offer high educational value to members and site visitors. I hope you'll consider joining me in this venture.
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