S6 E5 | Nature Journaling: Everything You Need to Know (Jeannie Fulbright)
At the same time that it builds a foundation in scientific thinking, nature journaling benefits your children in numerous other ways. In this talk, Jeannie will share all you need to know for making nature journaling both easy and enjoyable for the whole family. She'll share tips on choosing a journal, how to get started, and ways to encourage reluctant children.
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
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Jeannie Fulbright Hello. I am so glad you joined me today because I'm going to be talking about a subject that is near and very dear to my heart. Wouldn't it be amazing if there was a secret formula that you could inject your children with that would develop personal initiative and motivation--self-motivation--and academic success, emotional stability, joy, peace, positivity, unity with family and siblings, and attentiveness to their lessons, and actually cause a lot of neural pathways to develop--brain development? Well, you might wonder, "How on earth can nature journaling do all this?" And I'm going to tell you the first and most important part of this is getting out in nature. There have been so many studies, thousands of studies over with thousands of people, on the positive effect, the positive benefits, that getting out in nature has for children. It reduces cortisol levels, that fight or flight instinct that can cause disease if it's too high all the time. It causes you and your children--adults and children--to be calmer, more peaceful, to get along with others, and it actually helps children to develop problem-solving skills. There have been so many studies on the health benefits. It really does reduce the risk of so many diseases. Essentially, it's something that we all need. There have been so many studies on nature and the academic benefits it has for children. There was a California study that showed conclusively that the more natural of an environment a child gets time in--for more than an hour a day--the better they perform academically. There was another study that showed that there was a correlation between trees and academic performance. The more trees that a child had in their natural world and their environment outdoors, the higher their test scores. It's been shown to reduce ADHD symptoms, and we really would all benefit from getting out in nature. It would make us all healthier and happier and calmer. The sad truth is that many kids get less than an hour a day outside, and that's just a tragedy because God created us for a garden. God created us to be outdoors. Charlotte Mason says: "In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps the mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet, growing time spent for the most part in the fresh air." And I talked about guarding your schedule last time, and this really goes right along with that. We want to schedule time daily to get outside, and you will see the benefits almost immediately. You can even track the benefits every time you spend time outdoors. Have a chart where your children tell you how they feel at the end of the day, and you will start noticing that the days that they spent outside and the more time they spend outside, the happier they feel at bedtime. Especially on those days when you don't feel like you have time to get outside and you feel you feel too overwhelmed or too busy to do it, those are the days you need to get outside the most because that's when you are having high cortisol levels--those stress hormones are going through you causing you to feel overwhelmed--and the more time you spend out in nature, honestly, they have shown so many studies that it reduces symptoms of depression, it reduces the feelings of being overwhelmed. Even in the cold weather that we're experiencing right now--right now in Georgia, we're getting a little bit warmer--just bundle up and get outside and get some vitamin D because it's really important. So that is the number one reason why it's going to benefit your children and your family.
Jeannie Fulbright Also nature journaling. How does nature journaling increase these benefits? Well, when our child is nature journaling, what happens is they really do slow down; they slow down their thinking and they become more observant. They begin to really think about what is going on around them, and that causes them to be in the present moment, and it gives them an appreciation for things they may not have ever noticed before: the bark on a tree, the insect crawling on a branch, the way a leaf falls from the tree, the way...anything that they see they can just observe. And it causes just a real appreciation for God's creation, which makes life more meaningful. When we have them nature journal, what they do is they are creating their own living book of nature. And what this does is it develops in them a sense of belonging in nature. That's an important part of the development of our children; we want them to feel at home in nature. The more time they get outdoors and the more good memories they have of being outdoors, the more they're going to know, "This is where I go when life gets too stressful." So when they're older and they're in college and they're off in their careers and they have their own families, when life gets hard, they will have formed a habit in their mind of going outdoors and finding that peace back in their heart again--finding that peaceful place just of being in this world and knowing that it's so much bigger than the little issues that we get overwhelmed with. So we want to develop this habit in our children, this habit of going to spend time in nature, and nature journaling has so much value for our children. It develops their scientific thinking skills and their scientific inquiry. It's truly a foundational tool for future science and science in the classroom that causes them to really become more observant. Observation--being able to observe things and notice things and notice details--that's a habit. That's a skill that you can learn. Some people are very observant and some people are not. And you can actually train this in your children and even in yourself. It also increases the habit of attention because a child who's going outside--and I always recommend when you first get outside, just let them run and play and shout and have a good time, but then have that moment when they're feeling calmer to focus on something that they want to put in their nature journal. This does develop the habit of attention. The habit of attention is something that we can also train. Charlotte Mason talks about the habit of attention being one of the foundational habits that we want to train our children to have, because that is the habit that allows them to focus on their lessons, to focus on what they're being read to or what they're reading. It's the habit of attention that we develop as we help our children and teach our children to notice nature and to create something of value, something of their observation in their nature journal.
Jeannie Fulbright Another thing that nature journaling develops is their creativity. And creativity is a really important element for success in life and success in every endeavor in life. Creativity is used in every field of study, in every major that they might major in, or every industry that they would go into. Creativity will help them to be successful. And a lot of times in school--school subjects--we don't foster creativity. Children are born creative; they always have this beautiful imagination. And a lot of times an education can actually squelch that and extinguish that fire of interest and that imagination in their head. And we want to not extinguish that; we want to develop it. There are some other academic values you get from nature journaling: there's math skills that they learn; science, of course, is huge--it's foundational for science education; English, because they'll be writing and observing and making notes and points; and then, of course, their art skills--and I'll talk to you a little bit more about how we can develop their art skills and give them more confidence if they're not naturally an artist or naturally gifted in art. Charlotte Mason says, "Every child has a natural interest in the living things about him which it is the business of his parents to encourage." She also says, "As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature diary is a source of delight to a child." In fact, this is such a foundational tool to use for children to develop them intellectually and academically that many European countries have nature journaling as part of their science curriculum, including countries that score the highest on international assessments like Sweden and Finland and Japan. Nature study and nature journals are essential tools for these children's education, and they spend more time outdoors than children in countries that are not scoring as high. And so we want to make getting outdoors and incorporating nature journaling part of the curriculum. Join the nations that are doing it right. Get our children outdoors. So this is really "the why" of nature journaling, the benefits of nature journaling. So let's dove into "the how" of nature journaling.
Jeannie Fulbright The first thing you want to consider is the kind of nature journal you want to get. I'm going to be honest, I always invested in super high-quality art supplies, but one thing I did not really invest in when my children were young was the actual nature journal itself. Charlotte Mason says, "An exercise book with stiff covers serves for a nature diary, but care is necessary in choosing paper that answers both for writing and brush drawing." So, when my kids were little, I hadn't read that clip from Charlotte Mason. I just thought, "It'll be fun if we just make our own nature journals." I had one of those coil binding machines, so I just got a copy paper together and found some pretty covers from the scrapbooking supply store and I put together some nature journals with just basic copy paper, and they just weren't beautiful. Now, what my children did in them--inside of them--they were beautiful. They were gorgeous drawings because we used high-quality pencils and art supplies and paints and such, but the paper really wasn't designed for that kind of work. Even though today I still see the vibrancy of their work and it's such a pleasure--it's such a joy for me to look back over their nature journals because, most of the time, I remember where we were when they created that work of art and it just brings back such happy memories from our childhood. And so I realize now that quality in choosing a nature journal really is key. I should have given them beautiful journals with hard covers that were lovely, heirloom-quality, heirloom-potential nature journals. If you give your children something beautiful to do their work in, they are going to put more effort into the work. And although my children did put effort into it, I think they would have enjoyed the process of nature journaling if the nature notebook was a very special notebook. Again, the quality of paper is really important. It needs to be hardbound and sturdy, not flimsy like mine where I had to keep all the nature journals for them because they weren't strong enough to withstand their little daypacks and the spilling of water, or whatever that might happen in their daypack, or the way they kind of swing it around and it hits things. You need something that they can carry around, that they own, they have ownership over it, that they have it in their daypack when you go out hiking or go to a nature center or the botanical gardens. You want them to have autonomy and authority and feel ownership over their nature journals, not something that you have to keep because you've given them a book that can't withstand childhood. So I highly recommend getting a hardbound, sturdy cover with pages that are quality paper that can handle any kind of art medium. If they want to do watercolors, paper that can handle watercolor, but also paper that they can also write on. As Charlotte Mason says, "that can handle both." The quality of the artwork and also strong, sturdy paper that they can write with as well. Even if they choose to just do a pencil drawing, it should serve both purposes. I also recommend when you're choosing a nature journal that you don't get something that has a hundred or more pages because children should have a new, exciting experience of getting a nature journal every year. It should be part of the new curriculum they get, is the new nature journal. And when they have finished the year of school, their nature journal should be mostly full. It would be wonderful if you had to have every page full, so you don't want very many pages in it because you're not going to nature journal more than maybe once a week, and sometimes maybe twice a month. So you want to make sure that at the end of the year, the Nature Journal doesn't feel incomplete. So that's a big thing is that I had put on so many pages in their nature journals that we would have a year's worth of nature journaling--we might have, you know, 25 pages done or 30, and the back of the book was all these empty pages, so it looks very incomplete. And you want them to feel like they have accomplished something at the end of the year. Their nature journal has most of their pages done, and that's a feeling of success, and it encourages nature journaling in the future because they do feel more successful when they have filled those pages in. Now, if you have a child that wants to nature journal every time they go outdoors, that's fine too. You might want to get sketch books and that sort of thing for that child. But most children will want a nature journal that's good quality with just about 45-50 pages and total, maybe 35, but not too many. You want them to feel a sense of accomplishment. Also, you want to make sure that your nature journal is small enough that when they do a simple drawing of a bird, it doesn't look incomplete. That was another problem is I did copy paper, which is 8.5 by 11, and that's just a really big canvas for anybody--an adult or child. Unless you are a gifted artist and you are naturally going to fill up a huge page, it's just a lot of canvas for a child to fill up. And so I would say a nature journal about half that size would be better because when I look through my children's nature journals, I'll see a pencil drawing of an interesting leaf with dots on it. And then... I have one right here with me that my daughter created, and it says, "I thought these spotted leaves looked like someone had painted spots and dots on them with a paintbrush." And then, you know, we have these ferns that she had done in the book, but it looks incomplete. It was such a special moment for her to try to copy those fern leaves and put the little dots on, and then she wrote her little thoughts about it. But it's a huge page and there's a lot of empty space. And so the paper was too big. And then the page right after that, she's got a little picture of a beautiful little bird that she drew--a little yellow bird--and I'm not sure which bird it was at that time... I can't remember. She didn't put the date or the place where we were. But it's a beautiful little bird, but it gets lost in that huge page. And so I recommend if you choose a nature journal that you choose smaller journals that are small enough to try out your child's work looks complete and big enough that they can do a landscape and that sort of thing. But just, unlike I did... I don't want you to make the same mistake I did. I want you to use care when you're choosing your nature journal. And you can go to my website, I have all kinds of information about nature journals on my website, and I also have a lot of different articles about nature, study and nature walks and that sort of thing. So you can find those on my website, for sure. And that should be in the show notes.
So, how do we start? So I recommend that when you began nature journaling--if you're new to the nature journaling, or nature study/nature walk journey--that you go to the same place three or four times at first. So each place you go to, go to the same place three or four times, then children just get more, they get more comfortable with that place. They begin to notice a little small minutia that they may not have noticed otherwise. But when you first get there, let the children burn off their energy and run about and just, you know, shout and run and have a good time and exhaust themselves. That's the first order of business as a mom. And then, after that, we want them to just settle down, maybe have a blanket that you lay it down on the ground and then encourage them... Again, I wouldn't do this more than once a week. We don't want to make nature journaling another subject. What we want it to do is just to be something wondrous that they love to do. And as they add to their nature journal, it will increase their enjoyment of nature journaling because they will look back over the things they created and remember the places that they went. And, it's just, it's really wonderful for a child to create their own book, and that's what they're doing. So after they have released their energy, I would just encourage... Well, before you go out, if it's going to be a day of nature journaling, I would establish that in the beginning, because a lot of times you're going to just go outside and they're going to go out and play and they're going to have a great time in nature, and that's their nature walk/nature study. It's not guided; it's completely autonomous. The children are in charge of what they observe, what they notice, what they look at. And we have to trust that the child is learning even without us and our instruction. In fact, a lot of times, our trying to redirect them to different things to look at what we're looking at is actually an interruption; and what God is doing in teaching them and just their own observations and noticing things that we may not have even noticed--how shadows fall across the trees, or whatever it is. They're learning. They're growing. They're becoming more knowledgeable. They're getting a strong foundation in science through their own observations, not what we point them and direct them towards. So I would say the less we talk, the less we interrupt their experiences, their thoughts, their moments outdoors, the better it is for the child. We are not going to tell them what to look at or what to observe or what to notice. We're just going to ask them, "Hey, okay, so now it's time for us to pull out our nature journals whenever you're ready. Find something that you find interesting." And the first thing you want to do is you want to ask the children, "What do you notice? And when you notice things, what do you wonder? These are questions you have. What do you wonder when you see that? And what does it remind you of?" So these are three questions we want to kind of keep in forefront their mind: "What do you notice? What do you wonder? And what does it remind you of?" And these are just allowing the child to think more deeply about the things they're looking at.
Jeannie Fulbright I recommend each child has their own magnifying glass in their daypack. In addition to their journal and pencils--and again, high-quality art supplies are essential. The highest quality pencils will produce the best results--be the easiest to draw with. If our children do not have high-quality art supplies, the artwork doesn't look as good, and it's also not as encouraging for the children to continue to draw because the colors are not coming out as vibrantly as they should. And it's really important that we really choose the best pencils, the best paints, whatever we have--we want them to be happy with the results. And they will be happy with the results if you use professional quality pencils, artist quality pencils and art supplies, not student quality, because those just are, they're just not going to have the same results. So we encourage them. "Okay, you know, let's get all our journals." And I recommend mom have her own journal as well, because there's nothing better than modeling behavior for our children and showing them the enjoyment of it and allowing our children to have total autonomy over what they are looking at. They all have their magnifying glasses. They can study it up close, and you can just feel a real affinity towards that moment in time when everybody's got their journal out and just enjoying deciding what they're going to put in there, based on the answers to those questions: "What do you see? What do you notice and what do you wonder about that? And what does it remind you of?" And these are the kinds of things they will think about as they're deciding what they're going to put in their nature journal. And so for each page of the nature journal... We didn't always do this, and I really wish we had been more diligent to do this. But I always recommend putting the date and like a little weather icon--you can do sunny, a little sun, or little clouds for cloudy days or rain, rain pellets, whatever. You can have your own little icons that they put at the corner of the page. And then the place where they are. I mostly remember where we were when my children drew the pages from their nature journals. But there are a lot of drawings that I don't remember where we were, where they saw that. And so it could have been on vacation. It could have been, you know, at a sanctuary. We didn't write it down. So I just recommend that the only thing you require of their nature journal is that they put the date in the place. And the weather would be great too, but not necessary. And then after that, they have complete control, complete control over their nature journal. They do not have us telling them what to do. Charlotte Mason tells us not to direct them in their nature journal. This is their book. This is their own book of life, that they are--their living book that they are creating, and we want to let them choose what to put in their nature journal. If they don't want to draw a picture that's okay. But we want to make sure they're putting their observations, their thoughts, maybe questions they have, lists, and how many they see. And get them counting and thinking about what they're seeing, in terms of their deep observation. Write the descriptions or diagrams or labels. But I would encourage drawing drawings and sketches. Now, some children are reluctant to draw because they're frustrated with their lack of skills. And I think it's important that we teach our children that everybody can learn to draw. Some people have a natural affinity towards it and can do it quite easily. But everybody can learn to do it well. And if your children says, "But I can't draw!" You just tell them, "You can't draw yet. You can draw later. But right now you're in the process of developing the the brain pathways that will help you grow in resilience and develop the skill of drawing. So if you can keep trying, and it's and it's a struggle, but when you keep trying, you will actually develop skills that you would never have developed if you didn't continue to try to do that." So I recommend, when you're indoors, that you also give them time every day to practice their art skills. I am with my children. We use stencils and then I have them paint within the stencils that they had used to trace something on their sketchpad or a watercolor pad. And we also use light boards. They're so inexpensive. Now you can buy a light board where you print up a picture that's similar to the bird, or whatever it was they saw, and then you put their paper over the picture on top of the light board and it comes right through and they can trace it. And this develops drawing skills. It's not cheating. It's not cheating to use a stencil in their nature notebook. If you have a pack of stencils of insects, then if they see a butterfly, you can let them use the stencil to trace the outer edges of a butterfly and then they can color it in based on the butterfly they actually saw. So stencils are not cheating, light boards are not cheating. But I do also recommend that you find some drawing tutorials. There wasn't a lot on YouTube when my children were growing up, but I know there are wonderful drawing tutorials for anything you want to draw on YouTube. And so I highly recommend that every day your children be allowed to learn to draw a new thing--a new nature object for the outdoors. My kids also loved the Mark Kistler videos. We purchased those through, I think, like, a homeschool buyer's co-op or something. Mark Kistler taught them how to shade things and make it look more realistic, and it really developed their confidence in drawing. But as your children continue to add sketches to their nature journal each week, they will grow in confidence. And this is another reason why you want to have only a few pages and get them a new journal every year because as they develop their skills, they're going to want a new nature journal to put it in.
Jeannie Fulbright There's lots of different things you can do. I recommend teaching them to put lines and put things in boxes. Divide the page in half for the different things they're learning about. One thing my children loved to do, and I loved to do myself in my nature journals, were phenology wheels. You can see lots of examples of those online. Charting the moon--each day that the different ways the moon looks. You can do a phenology wheel that charts a whole month of plant growth, or when the leaves first start budding every day or every week what they look like each step of the way. So if phenology wheel, or just a phonology page. Phenology is not necessarily a wheel, but wheels are fun to use. Or you can do seasonal, or a whole year--the four seasons. A four seasons page is always great. Have the child choose one thing or one area to draw one time in four seasons. So you'll do it once in the summer, once in the spring--or once in the summer, once in the fall, once in the winter, once in the spring. And so they can see how it changes. And this just really teaches critical thinking skills and some scientific analysis skills. And you'll just be amazed at what's really developing in your children, that you can't even see, through observing things over time. Another thing you can do is have one page dedicated to birds. So every time they see a new bird, they can turn back to that page and add a new bird to it. And trees, they can look at the different kinds of trees in their area and their yard and their places where they go and the different ways that the bark looks. They could do bark rubbings, they could do leaf rubbings, and they could also have specimens--put a little specimen of a leaf in their notebooking journal. One thing that I recommend when you do that is that you use Mod Podge or Elmer's glue: You put the leaf down...you glue it down and then you put glue on top of it and let it completely dry. And that will preserve the color of the leaf. That will preserve it perfectly. You can do that with flower petals or any other flat object that you want to put in your nature journal. I do recommend letting it completely dry. So yeah, you can have pages dedicated to the different insects or different flowers they see. Just, you know, give them suggestions. But again, the journal should be all their own and they can do it however they want. The one thing that I would caution you is don't overdo it. We do not want to make it a chore. We want to make it a special moment, something delightful for them and something that is just theirs, all their own. And it's just a special thing for them. Not a chore. Like, "Okay, now you have to put..." If the child really doesn't want to add to their nature journal, maybe spend more time on art lessons at home, and maybe that will encourage them when they get back out in nature to add to their nature journal. But I wouldn't make it a chore at all or make it a stern requirement. We want it to be a joy. We want our children to love being outdoors, and to feel at home outdoors, and to feel like this is where I'm allowed to just be. I'm allowed to be whatever I am, and act however I want, and just...and, you know, children are much better behaved outdoors than they are indoors. So we want to get outdoors as often as possible and encourage them. Ask them questions about what they're seeing, and anything they notice just say, "Hey! Maybe put that in your nature journal." Another thing you could do, if you love being with other people and you have a group of homeschoolers nearby, is start a nature journaling club. Encourage everybody to get a nature journal. And you're just going to, once a month, all go out to do nature journaling together. You want to have blankets to sit on, or little chairs, or whatever it is, make it a special time for everybody to get outdoors and nature journal together. And when you go outdoors, you want to make sure that you are bringing supplies that you will need. Definitely check the weather. Make sure that it's not going to be too hot or it's going to rain--make sure you're prepared for that. And you know, you can still do things out in the rain if you bring an umbrella and you're dressed correctly. And if it's too hot, you know, make sure that your children have a spray bottle of water to spray on their face and necks every now and again. And I do recommend that every child has their own day pack that they have ownership over. And I would make sure that everybody's day pack has snacks and water, and it not be, mom decides when we're going to snack. Let them feel like when they go outdoors, this is their time to just explore and to do with the way they want to do it. And if they want to eat their snack the minute they get there, then that's their own choice. And we just give them autonomy. The more choices we give our children, the better they are at making choices, and the better they learn about choices they make. And we we really want to give them as much autonomy as possible, especially on their nature walks. And of course, we went for each child to have their own magnifying glass. And mom can have a set of binoculars. Make sure that you choose binoculars that are easy to use, but also very crystal clear. So I may have some binocular information on my website. If not, I'll be putting that up soon. And also just hats, you know, if they have a hat they can see their nature journal better. And I just think you will have a wonderful time.
Jeannie Fulbright I just hope that this helped you to realize that you can do it. Nature journaling is not complicated. It's easy, it's fun, and it's such a wonderful, joyous time for you and your family to spend together outdoors, absorbing God's creation and the vitamin D that he put out there that--we don't know--it's just a mystery how it helps us so much in our health and our mind and our spirit and our body. And I just know that you will find it a joy if you make it a regular part of your week. Charlotte Mason says, "Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed, which will be a source of delight throughout their life." And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through my website. My email might be there. It's [email protected]. And I would just love to answer any questions you have and connect with you. But, in the meantime, I will be seeing you on the next episode. Thank you so much and have a very blessed day.