Nature Notebooks are artist sketchbooks where the children can draw whatever natural items strike their fancy.
The more options you offer the child, the more likely they’ll find one or more ideas that spark their interest. The Nature Notebooks should be voluntary, by the way–not an assignment or a plea from the parent (“Now, draw the pretty bird for Mommy, honey. . . .”).
- Information from first-hand observation the child has done themselves (not things they’ve learned from “teaching” or in the classroom).
- Drawings of leaves, flowers, birds, insects or anything else discovered by the child in it’s natural setting.
- Labels for their drawings—both English and Latin names if applicable.
- Notations on where the object was found.
- Notations about the temperature or weather conditions, dates, etc.
- Life cycles of plants. Draw the bare tree in Winter; the Spring buds; the Summer blooms; the Fall colors and seed pods. Or in a backyard garden you could draw a seed; draw the sprouting seedling; draw the full grown plant; draw the stem, leaves, flower, etc.; draw the fruit, vegetable or flower; draw the new seeds for starting the cycle again.
- Draw and describe an ant hill or a bee’s nest.
- Take out a hand-held high-power magnifying glass and draw the intricate details of a bee’s wing, or whatever else might be fascinating viewed through a magnifying lens.
- Science experiments the child has actually performed. Set-up, observations, results, etc.
- Pressing and mounting leaves or dried flowers.
- Samples of different types of leaves: divided, heart-shaped, fluted, needles, etc.
- Samples or drawings of different types of seeds: nuts; seed pods; seeds that fall to the ground; seeds that float through the air; etc.
- Parts of the flower: petal, sepal, stamen, etc.
- Sketches of animal tracks.
- Sketches of the lifecycles of animals. Caterpillar to cocoon (or chrysalis) to moth (or butterfly); or egg to tadpole to frog (or salamander).
- Nature-related poems or quotes. The poems can be ones found during the child’s reading time, or poems composed by the child.
For an outstanding example of a fully developed Nature Diary, take a look at the beautiful book The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, 1906. This book is currently out of print, but you can have Amazon.com do an out-of-print book search for you.
I also highly recommend the book, Keeping a Nature Journal: Discovering a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. The book is written and illustrated by science educators who use Nature Journals as their primary way of teaching people to learn about nature firsthand. A beautiful book! It totally changed the way we approached Nature Journals — the first day we looked at the book, my 12-year-old daughter and I spent two hours at the local beaver pond sketching red-winged blackbirds, Canada geese, rough-skinned newts, turtles, and wildflowers.
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