Nature journals for your out-of-the-box learners

By Kathy Kuhl     Nature journals can give your homeschool just the boost you need. When children keep nature journals, they become more observant. It’s perfect to start anytime and continue whenever you go outdoors or travel–even travel down the street. And it’s easier than it sounds, thanks to some great tools.

What are nature journals?

A nature journal is a way to record what students notice outdoors. In a notebook, the student can draw or paint what they see in nature and write comments about it. Recording makes us observe more carefully. What colors did you see on that rock? What were those animals eating? What sounds did the birds make? Nature journaling helps us recall better what we have learned.

How do I teach my kids to use nature journals?

Encourage your kids to record whatever in nature they find interesting: an odd rock, a bent twig, a bird. Or record what you did, or write what you saw. Remind them to jot down the date, too.

Last spring my granddaughter noticed a rock. At first, I dismissed it as ordinary gravel. But as we looked closer and saw its curved, concave fractures, we realized it was probably obsidian.

Naturally, if your child is dyslexic, you won’t be worrying about spelling at this time. If your child is distractible or hyperactive, this time outdoors may help them focus (or hyper focus), but don’t press them to create a masterpiece of perspective and accuracy. The goal is to observe better. It’s a process.

Tools for nature journalling

  1. Any small notebook will do if it will lie flat. If possible get something  with paper sturdy enough for paint* or ink not to bleed through the paper. Our family used small Moleskine Cahier Journals (5 x 8 1/4 inches, 13 x 21 cm), which have a study cardstock cover, a pocket in the back, and come in different colors, which I found at Barnes and Noble. Leuchtturm also uses very good paper, as do other companies. But a friend got decent one from a dollar store. My daughter’s family uses small watercolor pads.
  2. Pencils, crayons, colored pencils, water color pencils–whatever you like. You can use whatever you have.
  3. If you’re interested in taking watercolors along, my daughter recommends this brush with a built-in water reservoir, which her children take on the trail and to parks.
    Pentel fillable water brush
  4. A small magnifier on a lanyard is a handy tool for your young naturalist. The lanyards on this brand makes them hard to lose. The Private Eye company sells them on different colored lanyards so you can tell whose is whose.

John Muir Laws has written two books on nature journaling. You probably want the first one.

5. The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling is an art instruction book you could use to teach yourself and your children both science and art.

His book How to Teach Nature Journaling would be helpful if you need tips for teaching a group of children to use nature journals. 

6. You’ll want to pick up a nature guidebook or two from the library to look at when you get home. (“I don’t know what that insect was–let’s look!”) Then see which guides you like best and might want to buy.

7. You might also like these folding pocket guides that add almost no weight to your backpack. They are laminated pamphlets.There are 69 in the series, everything from Florida reptiles to Arctic wildlife.  Here’s a few samples: Gulf Coast Seashore Life, Rocky Mountain Birds, Wisconsin Wildlife.

Sample of a folding pocket nature guide

Who is John Muir Laws and how can he help our unique kids?

The author of many nature guides, John Muir Laws (aka Jack Laws) credits his lifelong interest in nature and his dyslexic brain with helping him develop skills of persistence, observation, and illustration that have helped many readers enjoy nature better.

Jack Laws spent his free time outdoors, his refuge from struggles in school. He wrote a brief, encouraging note to other kids who struggle in school here. (And he turned off spell check before he wrote it.) He also posted a video of his short talk at the 2013 Conference on Dyslexia and Talent. He tells how his nature journals helped him endure school and develop his keen eye for how different parts of nature interrelate.

YouTube video


Have you tried nature journals in your homeschool? Any advice? Questions?
Please use the comment section below.


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