Some of us just don’t like to read and write. Perhaps you have a child who is a reluctant reader. Not all people learn the same way. If you have a child that likes to be on the go, loves to be outside, or likes to draw, try helping her/him keep a nature journal. For a gifted child, a nature journal provides a way to integrate and develop multiple complex skills. The sky is the limit.
Nature journals are adaptable to whatever needs your child has. A nature journal can be taken with a child on camping, or other, outdoor trips. The journal keeper can make sketches, diagrams, cut out pictures, make art pictures, and/or add photos or written journal entries on a regular basis to make the journal. In my own journal, I made use of all of the above techniques.
The journal can be as artistic or scientific as you wish. Or it may just be full of casual observations. Anything goes.
The one requirement is that the child gets out into the natural world. This can be a picnic on the lawn, a gardening session, swimming in the river or a simple walk. Your family may go fishing, camping, skiing, or sledding. It is best if you are able to accompany your child on these outdoors adventures. Try to engage your child in conversation during the outdoors activity scheduled. Encourage him or her to record questions and observations in the journal. Curiosity and persistence are the two most valuable learning tools out there. Studies have shown that children who are curious, exposed to a wide variety of activities, and who have learned to be persistent in learning difficult tasks score higher on I.Q. tests.
If your child is artistic, provide field guides to draw insects, birds, plants and animals. This is especially helpful if your child can look up plants, animals or birds encountered in the outdoors experiences shared. In my own journal, I drew animal tracks, as well as local plants. If you don’t have field guides, use images from the Internet, or library books. Just remember, you can’t use other people’s copyright images for commercial purposes. Usually, it is all right to use images for educational purposes, such as keeping a private journal. Using scrapbooking supplies and papers can embellish the journal and appeal to tactile learners.
A useful technique to employ is the quick sketch. This is a technique in which one just makes a quick drawing in less than five minutes. One doesn’t worry about how well the sketch is done. The idea is to capture what one sees, because things can change quickly in the natural world. For example, making a quick sketch of cloud patterns is a good way to record a brief moment in the sky.
If your child is uncomfortable with drawing, he or she has other options. One may cut out images and paste them into the journal, make diagrams, or take photos. I even traced around some pressed plants with pencil, so that I could look the plant up later. One can label the plant parts or make brief notes for later reference. In fact, one could even press the plants between cardboard and paper towels weighted down with heavy books and then paste them into the journal. I had my grandchildren make crayon rubbings of pressed plants and tree trunks to put into their journals. If your child is interested in insects, he or she might enjoy cutting out images of insects to paste into the journal and label. Try to include common and scientific names. The same approach of cutting out images may be taken with plants, animals, fish or mammals.
Labeling diagrams and recording fun outdoor activities teaches writing skills, and drawing is actually considered an important skill for developing writing skills. The more detailed a child’s drawings are, the more detailed his or her writing is likely to be. So if your child is a reluctant writer, don’t feel frustrated. The important thing is to get the child involved in the process on whatever level possible. Sometimes, if the child isn’t old enough, or is reluctant to write, you may have her or him dictate to you, or collaborate with you, as you write down the journal entry yourself.
Children with scientific interests may want to explore their interests on the Internet. This is a good way to answer some of those questions a child may have generated, either in conversation with you, or in journal writing. For example, he or she may be curious about what bears eat, or an older child may be curious about food webs. An online search will turn up lots of information about different animals, or food chains and webs in wetlands, oceans, etc. Field guides, Internet searches and library books encourage the child to read and learn research skills without realizing that they are doing schoolwork.
All the writing doesn’t have to be scientific. One may just record what one is doing or seeing or thinking. Sometimes memories, or songs and poetry might come to mind. One might be reminded, for example, of nature stories, such as the Irish tale about the female seal who could transform herself into a woman, and who was captured by a fisherman. He was so in love with her that he kept her seal skin in a trunk so that she couldn’t leave him to return to the sea. She, of course, longed for the freedom of the ocean.
A child might want to record simple things, such as what her or his family did during an outdoors activity, and how she or he felt about the activity.
Keeping a nature journal is not only for children. I taught myself to draw plants and animals one summer. I also taught myself about animal tracks, the local ecology and food webs by keeping a nature journal. It was exhilarating to get outside that summer, and my mental and physical health benefited as well. If an adult keeps a journal alongside the child, it sends a message that the activity is valuable and sets you and your child up for shared experiences.
A summer spent keeping a nature journal with your child, can be something you and your child will always want to remember, and the nature journal can be a lovely memento of those shared times.