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Nature Journaling

Nature journaling is an extremely effective and engaging way to teach observation, curiosity, and creative thinking. Journals are the ubiquitous tool of scientists, naturalists, thinkers, poets, writers, and engineers. Using a journal is a skill that can change students’ lives forever.” - John Muir Laws, Emilie Lygren, How to Teach Nature Journaling

Alan and Linda Zuckerman share some great tips for nature journaling in their article Keeping a Birdwatching Journal

  • If you are intimidated by your lack of writing ability, remember that you don’t need to share your journal with anyone if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to reread what you’ve written. The point of journaling is the activity itself. 
  • Spelling and grammar don’t count – even for the kids. The quickest way to destroy the joy of creation is to demand perfection.
  • Try drawing some things. It doesn’t matter how they come out – though your attempts will surely get better over time if you stick with it.
  • Your journal can’t be ruined. It is a record of your learning experiences and failed experiments, and dead ends are part of learning. Crossed out words and imperfect drawings are found in the best of journals.
  • You don’t have to write in your journal every day. In fact, it’s best if you wait until you’re in the mood.
http://beetlesproject.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/I-Notice-I-Wonder-It-Reminds-Me-Of.pdf

http://beetlesproject.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/I-Notice-I-Wonder-It-Reminds-Me-Of.pdf

The BEETLES Project at the Lawrence Hall of Science uses "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" prompts to support exploration of outdoor areas. These prompts are a great way to focus your nature journals - whether you're out exploring a nearby park or watching an ant crawl across your kitchen table.

  • I Notice: Focus on drawing or writing about what you can observe with your senses. What sounds do you hear? What colors, shapes, and behaviors can you see? Try to describe what you observe (blue, smooth, etc.) instead of just identifying it (an egg).
  • I Wonder: As you write or draw, note questions you have about what you are observing. Did you observe an interesting pattern or behavior that you wonder about?
  • It Reminds Me Of: Does what you are observing remind you of something else you have observed? Does it remind you of an event in your life when you observed something similar or felt the same way? A nature journal is a great place to record memories, feelings, and connections.

Nature Journal Activities

Description:

  • We often use the prompts "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" developed by the BEETLES Project to guide our journaling. Visit our Nature Journaling page for a quick description of how this works, or view the full lesson plan on the BEETLES website. 
  • You can use this template if you would like some structure for your journal entries, or you can develop your own format.

Journaling Prompts:

We all depend on biodiversity for our survival. For example, we eat living things, and we breathe oxygen that comes from plants.

  • What living things do you depend on for survival? For enjoyment? List as many as you can. Some may still be alive, but others may be products made from organisms that are no longer alive.
  • Think about a time when you felt very aware of the living things around you. Maybe you were enjoying the sounds of plants blowing in the wind, or you were worried about an insect stinging or biting you. Write about the experience and how you felt.

Description:

Spend 10-15 minutes (or more!) watching for weather changes out your window or while outside. 

  • We often use the prompts "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" developed by the BEETLES Project to guide our journaling. Visit our Nature Journaling page for a quick description of how this works, or view the full lesson plan on the BEETLES website. 
  • You can use this template if you would like some structure for your journal entries, or you can develop your own format.

Journaling Prompts:

Sit outside or at your window and observe the weather.

  • Record the date, weather conditions, location, and your observations:
    • Weather station observations: If you built weather observation tools, record measurements. 
    • Clouds: Is it sunny, partly cloudy, overcast?
    • Wind: Is the air calm?  Light breeze? Steady wind? Gusts of wind?
    • Temperature: Does it feel warm? Cool? If you don’t have a thermometer, you can describe it as “t-shirt weather”, “sweatshirt weather”, or “jacket weather”.
    • Humidity: Does the air feel dry or wet? Is it raining? Is there dew on plants or other signs of moisture? 
    • Pressure: If you have built a homemade barometer, can you see any change in pressure from the previous day? 
    • Change: Is the weather changing rapidly or is it steady throughout the day? 
  • Other patterns: Do you notice other patterns during different weather conditions? 
    • Are insects or birds more/less active? Do they do different activities in different weather conditions? 
    • Do trees or other plants change in noticeable ways? 
  • Return to the same spot multiple times per day or week to observe the changing weather. 
  • How do different types of weather make you feel? 
  • What does a sunny day remind you of?  What about wind?  

Spend an hour (or more!) looking at clouds. It’s a great way to pass an afternoon.

  • We often use the prompts "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" developed by the BEETLES Project to guide our journaling. Visit our Nature Journaling page for a quick description of how this works, or view the full lesson plan on the BEETLES website. 
  • You can use this template if you would like some structure for your journal entries, or you can develop your own format.

Journaling Prompts:

Take a seat in your yard or at your window to look at the passing clouds.

  • Record the date, weather conditions, location, and your observations.
  • Try finding different shapes or animals in the clouds and draw them in your journal.
  • Return to the same spot or window multiple times to observe the clouds. Draw the clouds you see, or record whether there are no clouds. 
    • Are the clouds always moving in the same direction? At the same speed?
    • Can you notice any daily patterns, such as a certain kind of cloud that only appears in the morning?

Which type of cloud would you like to learn more about? Write or draw and write what you already know about it, and then list some questions you have.

Which direction are the clouds coming from? Based on what you know about the area around you, what might the clouds have passed before they reached your location? What will they pass as they are moving away from you?

Description:

Let’s think about our own watershed and try to draw and label the different parts.

  • We often use the prompts "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" developed by the BEETLES Project to guide our journaling. Visit our Nature Journaling page for a quick description of how this works, or view the full lesson plan on the BEETLES website. 
  • You can use this template if you would like some structure for your journal entries, or you can develop your own format.

Journaling Prompts:

Think about your watershed. Draw and label these aspects of your watershed in your journal:

  • What is your home river or creek?
  • What is the tallest peak around your home river or creek?
  • Where does the water from this river or creek drain to?
  • What does it pass by or through as it drains downhill?
  • Where does it end up?
  • What surfaces slow it down? Speed it up? Hint: think about (or try) the experiment with permeable versus impermeable surfaces, from the Nature Observations link associated with this activity. 

Look out your window (or explore outdoors if you can), and record the different surfaces you see. When it rains, how does water flow along these surfaces? Are there high points and low points? Are there permeable and impermeable surfaces? Draw and write about them.

Description:

If we take the time to look closely, we can find many shapes, colors, and sometimes even crawling critters in a tiny bit of soil.

  • We often use the prompts "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" developed by the BEETLES Project to guide our journaling. Visit our Nature Journaling page for a quick description of how this works, or view the full lesson plan on the BEETLES website. 
  • You can use this template if you would like some structure for your journal entries, or you can develop your own format.

Journaling Prompts:

  • Scatter a handful of soil on a white piece of paper and look closely. 
    • Sketch the different particle sizes, describe the texture, and things you notice in your journal. What do you notice, what do you wonder about, and what does it remind you of?
    • If you are able to get soil from more than one location, compare and contrast the colors, particle sizes, and textures of multiple soils.
  • Write about a memory from your life that is related to soil. For example, maybe there was a time you got mud all over your clothes, or a time when you planted seeds in soil. Write about what happened and how you felt.
  • Find your location on the USDA’s maps of soil colors. (Select the OR.pdf file for Oregon’s map.) 
    • Describe what you notice about the soil color in your area and how it compares to nearby areas.
    • What patterns do you notice in the state map?
    • Write a few “I wonder why…” statements about what you observe on the map.
  • For a fun way to record the types of soil you are observing, try Painting with Soil!

Journaling About Arthropods:

Think about the experiences you have had with arthropods in your life, and take the time to observe arthropods in your life today! Record your thoughts and observations.

  • We often use the prompts "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" developed by the BEETLES Project to guide our journaling. Visit our Nature Journaling page for a quick description of how this works, or view the full lesson plan on the BEETLES website. 
  • You can use this template if you would like some structure for your journal entries, or you can develop your own format.

Journaling Prompts:

  • Write about an experience you have had with arthropods. Maybe you were chasing butterflies or you walked into a spider web. What happened and how did you feel?
  • Which kind of arthropod would you like to learn more about? Write or draw what you already know about it, and then list some questions you have.
  • Are there any arthropods that are special to you or to your friends or family? What makes the arthropod special?
  • Record the date, weather conditions, location, and your observations of arthropod activity:
    • What are the arthropods doing? (describe what you see, hear)
  • Can you observe an arthropod up close? Draw it in your journal. Pay special attention to the shape of its body parts and how/where different parts are connected. For example, how many main body sections does the arthropod have? Where are the legs attached?

Safety Consideration:  

While most pollinators, such as bumble bees, mason bees, and honey bees are docile, it is important to be careful and give them space when observing them as they pollinate flowers.  People with allergies to bees and pollen should take particular care.

Journaling About Pollinators:

It may be difficult to find a pollinator that will sit still for a drawing, but there are lots of ways to record your observations and thoughts in a journal. If you are able to take pictures of the flowers, with or without the pollinators, that could be a great way to record what you see. 

  • We often use the prompts "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" developed by the BEETLES Project to guide our journaling. Visit our Nature Journaling page for a quick description of how this works, or view the full lesson plan on the BEETLES website. 
  • You can use this template if you would like some structure for your journal entries, or you can develop your own format.

Journaling Prompts:

  • Try to find a place where you can make close observations of a shrub, tree, or other flowering plant.  Set a timer for 5-10 minutes, and spend some quiet time watching the plant(s), especially the flowers. Record the date, weather conditions, the plants you are seeing, and your observations of pollinator activity:
    • What are the pollinators doing? (describe what you see, hear?
    • How long do they stay at one flower?  
    • Do they visit other flowers? 
    • How many pollinators are around?
  • If you are able to get a close look at a pollinator, draw what you see. Include the plants/flowers! You could also draw a pollinator that you observe in a photo or video. 
  • Imagine YOU are a pollinator. Write a short story or paragraph describing your activities.  What/who are you? How do you interact with plants? Why do you visit certain types of plants? 
  • Write about a personal experience you’ve had with pollinators. Maybe you saw a hummingbird visit a feeder or a flower.  Maybe you were stung by a bee! What happened? What did you notice? How did you feel about it?

Journaling About Flowers:

Flowers are great journaling subjects because they have so many different colors, textures, and scents. If you can’t visit any flowering plants outside or see flowers through a window, check to see if there are flowers inside! Some houseplants have flowers, and some of the food we eat is made of flowers. For example, when you eat broccoli, you are eating tiny flower buds! If you don’t have any live flowers to observe, you might be able to find artificial flowers or photos or drawings of flowers in the newspaper, in books, or on clothing.

  • We often use the prompts "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" developed by the BEETLES Project to guide our journaling. Visit our Nature Journaling page for a quick description of how this works, or view the full lesson plan on the BEETLES website. 
  • You can use this template if you would like some structure for your journal entries, or you can develop your own format.

Journaling Prompts:

  • If you are able to observe flowers close up, choose one flower (you can leave it attached to the plant) that you would like to observe. Record every detail you notice about the flower. It can be tempting to say, “I’m done!” before you have noticed many of the details, so you might choose to set a timer for five or ten minutes to make sure you take the time to move beyond the “obvious” details.
  • Go on a shape hunt! Choose a shape (triangle, circle, or another shape) and try to find flowers or parts of a flower with that shape. Record your observations in your journal with drawings and words. You can use photos of flowers if you are not able to observe any live flowers.
  • Write a poem about how you feel when flowers first begin to bloom and signal that spring has arrived.
  • When you look out your window or walk around outside, make a color map that shows where you can find flowers of each color. Repeat this process in a week (and in another week after that, if you want!) to see how the colors of flowers around you are changing.

Journaling About Trees:

Trees are great journaling subjects because they don’t crawl or fly or squirm away as we try to look closely. You can observe trees indoors by looking out your window or outdoors by sitting quietly near the tree. When you do this, record what you notice, wonder, and feel.

Journaling Prompts:

  • Make a sound map using your sense of hearing with this Project Learning Tree Sounds Around activity. (en español)
    • You could make a sound map that includes multiple trees, or you could make a sound map of one individual tree by mapping how sound moves through the tree when the wind blows on the leaves or branches.  
  • Observe the same tree each week throughout the spring season to track changes in how it looks. If you are able to observe a tree up close, also record how it smells and feels.
    • You can use this template if you would like some structure for your journal entries, or you can develop your own format.
  • Write a poem about your tree, either on your own or using Poet-Tree (en español). 
  • What organisms are using your tree as part of their habitat? Record your questions and thoughts about the habitat your tree provides.
    • Some organisms may be large enough to observe through a window. If you can go outside to observe a tree, look closely at the bark to see if you can find any small plants, animals, or fungi!

Birds are perfect subjects for nature journaling. Most of us can observe birds in our every day life, by watching them, hearing them, or both! Birds have interesting behaviors that can inspire many questions, especially if we take the time to observe them closely.

Journaling About Birds:

You can observe birds by looking out your window or sitting quietly to listen for them. When you do this, record what you notice, wonder, and feel.

  • We often use the prompts "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" developed by the BEETLES Project to guide our journaling. Visit our Nature Journaling page for a quick description of how this works, or view the full lesson plan on the BEETLES website. 
  • In their guide for Keeping a Bird Journal, Alan and Linda Zuckerman recommend that every journal entry contain at least this information:
    • The date.
    • The location of your observations.
    • The weather.
    • What plants are blooming. (Describe them if you don't know their names.)
    • The birds you observe and what they are doing.
  • Return to the same spot (for example, look out the same window) more than once to see whether you notice different birds (or different behaviors from the same birds) at different times or on different days.

Journaling Prompts:

  • Sometimes a blank page can be intimidating. For help structuring your journal entries, check out this journal template, which you might choose to copy by hand onto your own paper.
  • Write a creative story that uses some of the birds you are seeing as characters.
  • Write a poem about birds, either on your own or using a Poet-Tree. (en español)
  • Record your questions and thoughts about a bird's habitat needs and life cycle.

Drawing Birds:

Do you want to draw the birds you see but don't know where to start? The naturalist, author, and educator John Muir Laws has a How to Draw Birds guide on his website that will lead you through the steps.

These activities are part of weekly activity sets that we are providing for parents and teachers supporting students while schools are closed. For more information, return to the Educational Resources for Stay Home, Save Lives page.

Questions?

Please don't hesitate to contact us at outdoorschool@oregonstate.edu or 541-737-4391 if you have any questions about the Outdoor School Program!