I think I fell in love with nature when I went to summer camp. Hiking and horseback riding were regulars on the schedule, and I couldn’t get enough. It wasn’t just the activities themselves, but equally important, the feelings of peace and solitude that accompanied being outside.
As a parent, it’s always been important to me to cultivate that love of the outdoors for my family. We’ve hiked together since my kids were infants, became acquainted with local bike trails, and spent time exploring the Hudson Riverfront, orchards and farms, and even our own backyard. As a homeschooling mom, it’s been my goal to incorporate as much of the outdoors into our schooling life as possible. It begins with the obvious—working outside on nice days and lots of field trips to interesting spots. Last year, we began nature journaling, and have enjoyed the benefits. Even if you don’t homeschool, nature journaling is an activity that can accompany weekend and summer outings, with everyone from preschoolers to adults taking part.
There are lots of great sites that give suggestions for how to begin nature journaling, and a Google search will give you more than enough ideas. I’ll skip the basics and direct you to a few of my favorites: Charlotte Mason’s ideas, tips for keeping a journal, and some cool prompts.
Instead, I’ll share an experience I had today. Working with a group of homeschooled kids, we went outside with journals and some basic supplies—pencils and colored pencils, glue stick, and scissors. I gave them ten minutes to explore, observe, and document. They gathered leaves, grass clippings, flowers, and berries, and fastened them to their journal pages. They wrote short poems about the beauty of nature. They drew sketches of trees, clouds, and leaves. They listened to lawn mowers, and dogs barking, and birds chirping. They scattered, they clustered, they really got into it. I watched in awe as they focused, wandered about, and looked like little scientists, exploring the world. I sat there, thinking about the mental health benefits of being in nature, and how proud I was of their curiosity. Kids will never forget learning that involves the senses, that lets them move around and engage in the material. Technology provides an alluring, near-constant distraction. The youngest generations can’t imagine life without laptops and smart phones, but nature journaling allows for a little shift in focus. The next time you bring your kids outside, bring along some paper and pencils, and wait for inspiration to strike. Encourage little ones to trace leaves, bigger kids to draw whatever excites them, even jot down their thoughts if they’d like. Nature journaling is a fun bonding activity, and strengthens an appreciation for the world around us. It’s a peaceful, stress-free way to tap into your kid’s abilities in writing, art, science, all the while enjoying the great outdoors.