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Kid's journal ideas for nature everywhere

Updated on January 10, 2015

Nature journal ideas make ideal outdoor activities

Journal ideas for kids are everywhere including the backyard. A simple and easy project is that of making a nature journal. If you're looking for a good Earth Day activity or summer project, keeping a nature journal can provide hours of backyard fun.

Who keeps nature journals?

Well, anyone who has an interest in nature and animals. Scientists specializing in natural history documented their observations and findings in their journals and drew what they saw. The scientific diary or nature journal is still a tool of naturalists the world over.

Who are these people?

Long before being a naturalist was considered a profession, the world was populated with people who held a lifelong passion for nature who committed their lives to the scientific pursuit of exploration and discovery. Huge expeditions would be mounted and off they'd go, often putting their lives in danger, simply to discover a new bird, explore the arctic region, or follow the footprints of dinosaurs.

Nature journals are fun for artists, writers, and anyone who loves nature

Do you love birds, gush over dinosaurs, or simply enjoy immersing yourself in anything green? Then you are definitely a promising candidate for being a naturalist and certainly for keeping a nature journal.

Read on to find out about a few famous naturalists who started in their childhood following their passions, as well as an explanation of the nature-journal-diary concept. And don't forget Earth Day and some great activities that incorporate nature journals.

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Image credit: Photograph of naturalist John Gilbert Baker, see page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; By Edward Drinker Cope [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A page from a nature journal by 7-year old Edward Drinker Cope (1847)

A page from a nature journal by 7-year old Edward Drinker Cope (1847)
A page from a nature journal by 7-year old Edward Drinker Cope (1847)

The cluttered study of a dinosaur hunter - Edwin Drinker Cope's paper-strewn study in 1897

Edwin Drinker Cope went from keeping a nature journal as a boy to working in a cluttered study as an acclaimed paleontologist.
Edwin Drinker Cope went from keeping a nature journal as a boy to working in a cluttered study as an acclaimed paleontologist. | Source

Edward Drinker Cope - Boy naturalist

Edward Drinker Cope caught the naturalist fever at a young age. As a child he explored his surroundings and especially the vast gardens. He liked to draw and loved animals. He spent a lot of time visiting museums, zoos, and gardens.

A boy at sea keeping a nature journal

When he was barely 7 years old Cope went on a sea trip to Boston. While at sea he kept a notebook, or nature journal, where he made notes and captured what he saw in drawings like the one above about the sea captain.

From nature journals to published papers

He developed an interest in biology and natural history and dreamed of becoming a scientist. He published his first scientific paper when he was 19. When he attended university, he was mentored by a leading paleontologist.

From journal writing to hunting dinosaurs

Eventually Cope became a leading paleontologist, himself, and spent years fossil collecting all over the United States but especially in the western states. The competition for fossils became intense which led to the competitive war between Cope and fellow paleontologist Marsh, called The Bone Wars.

In the end, the boy who loved to journal about nature grew up and become a famous naturalist and noted paleontologist. During the Bone Wars, Cope discovered 56 new dinosaur species. In fact, several species bear his name.

Young naturalist holding a horseshoe crab shell aloft

Young boy naturalist holding his prize, a horseshoe crab shell
Young boy naturalist holding his prize, a horseshoe crab shell | Source

Tips on how to keep a nature journal

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You
Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You

I bought this book when it first came out and I've really enjoyed it. It offers a lot of inspiration and ideas to get your started and keep you journaling. Recommend this for kids interested in nature or backyard fun as well as adults.

 

Explorers record the natural world using journals - Many use a simple sketchbook as a visual journal

Naturalist's assistant shows him at work copying rock paintings in Brazil in 1840/
Naturalist's assistant shows him at work copying rock paintings in Brazil in 1840/ | Source

Here a Danish naturalist is copying rock paintings at Lagoa Santa, Brazil. The drawing is by his assistant and illustrator P.A. Brandts.

Well-known naturalist Joseph Banks in a caricature published in 1772
Well-known naturalist Joseph Banks in a caricature published in 1772 | Source

Joseph Banks kept a diary on an expedition

Notes and drawings make up a nature journal

As a boy, Joseph Banks explored the countryside near his home in Lincolnshire, England and discovered his interest in nature. He also loved history and botany. He attended the university but his father died when he was 21 and Banks had to return home to take care of the large and wealthy estate.

Naturalists loved scientific expeditions of the day

Although he didn't get his college degree, he continued studying the sciences. At the same time he grew in stature until he eventually became one of the king's advisers. Because of his strong and continued interest in botany, he pushed the king to support the many expeditions that were going on at the time.

A new naturalist keeps a journal on an expedition to the South Pacific

When Banks was 23, he made his first voyage and his diary of the expedition with his notes and drawings has survived. He went on to accompany James Cook on his first voyage to the South Pacific.

An artist becomes a naturalist

Over the years Joseph Banks became famous, wealthy, and influential. He is often remembered today due to the attention he received from a political cartoonist who dubbed Banks The Flying Macaroni.

Nature lover Joseph Banks became an explorer and a discoverer - Three facts about Joseph Banks

  1. First to identify the common garden plant, bougainvillea
  2. Set sail with James Cook on his first voyage to the Pacific Islands in 1768.
  3. Documented the existence of the Great Auk, a bird which became extinct in 1844 and was the beneficiary of several early environmental laws.

The Great Auk

The Great Auk
The Great Auk | Source

Why keep a nature journal?

Catching butterflies
Catching butterflies | Source

Don't be afraid of journaling

Recording nature is easy

A nature journal is more than a simple diary

Sometimes the idea of journaling makes people a little nervous but it's nothing to fear. Today there are so many different elements that you can bring into your explorations that a diary or journal is a good way to keep things organized and captured. Think photographs and drawings.

Use today's technology to capture your world

Not only can you use pen and paper, there are so many wonderful dairies, record books, blank books and sketch books that can be transformed. Taking photographs is another plus and, of course, you can't forget about everyone's favorite: video recording. All this can be woven together to capture a life lived in the midst of nature and all it has to offer.

Be active and observe

The way to begin and to keep a journal that records your findings in nature is to simply immerse yourself in the backyard or nearest clump of dirt and watch what happens. Something is always going on.

Observation and wonder are the primary ingredients - Tips for the budding naturalist

Your notebook can be your best friend when you're outdoors observing the natural world. Through the power of the pen, the camera, and even the video today, you can capture what happens and take note of your reactions. Using the journal allows you the luxury of thinking deeply about what goes on in the world around you.

Ready for some backyard fun? - Here's a guide to nature journaling for children

Yes, this nature journal may be geared for the kids but it doesn't mean adults can't use it. There are plenty of ideas just waiting for the budding naturalists to try.

My Nature Journal
My Nature Journal

This book itips,and ideas to help encourage everyone to be more aware of nature and the outdoors. Opportunities to record observations and reflect are provided. Great and simple way to get started.

 

Things you need to start your outdoor adventure

How to make your own naturalist's field bag - Carry everything you need in this simple and easy to make field bag.

You may wonder how you're going to "go deep" in nature if you're trying to juggle a sketch pad or a journal and writing and drawing items while keeping a keen eye on the nearest squirrel or concentrating on the hoot of an owl. Having a field bag one way to tackle that problem. Here's a list of some of the items you'll need:

  • hand towel or piece of cloth
  • scissors
  • ruler
  • needles
  • marker
  • thread

Types of nature journals - From art journal to Moleskine

There are so many different types of journals and blank books that would make a good nature journal that it's impossible to recommend only one. Here's a few that reflect different styles depending on your mood and own way of working. Try one, try them all. It's okay to have more than one type and to change your mind as you go along.

Moleskine Classic Notebook, Large, Plain, Black, Hard Cover (5 x 8.25) (Classic Notebooks)
Moleskine Classic Notebook, Large, Plain, Black, Hard Cover (5 x 8.25) (Classic Notebooks)

The famous Moleskine notebooks have a long history of satisfying the needs of artists and journalers including those by naturalists. These are terrific and worth checking out.

 
Strathmore Visual Journal Mixed Media Vellum 5.5"X8"-34 Sheets
Strathmore Visual Journal Mixed Media Vellum 5.5"X8"-34 Sheets

If you prefer to take more of an art route, then Strathmore's offering is definitely one to consider.

 

Let the outdoor adventure begin

Ways to work in the field

The following videos will give you some great ideas and tips. It's always nice when you can actually observe someone doing what you want to do.

How to make a nature journal

Here you'll not only watch how to create a journal but learn how one naturalist interprets her work.

Ready to have your own naturalist's notebook?

How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook
How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook

There is a lot of good information here on how to get started keeping a nature journal. You'll even get tips on sketching, too.

 

Things to do and not do with a nature journal

American White Pelican - John James Audubon

John James Audubon's American Pelican
John James Audubon's American Pelican | Source
While visiting Japan, John James Audubon finds a rat has eaten his work.
While visiting Japan, John James Audubon finds a rat has eaten his work.

The perils of an early naturalist in Japan

John James Audubon finds a rat ate his work.

John James Audubon's journals formed the basis for his life's work and were the foundation for all his paintings, observations, reflections and published work. Out in the field he not only sketched what he saw but wrote detailed notes that then helped him bring his subjects to life in his paintings.

An artist becomes a naturalist

Audubon lived during the time of Napoleon. As a boy he liked to draw birds. As a young man he continued his obsession with birds. Eventually he realized he could combine his talent for art and his love of nature. Once he merged the two, he had a goal and a clear mission. He would find and paint every bird in North America at the time. Yes, he was definitely obsessed with birds.

Don't be afraid to use mixed media in your journal

Audubon's passion and the thrill and excitement he felt when out in the field translated to his paintings. He used many materials to create the final renditions of his birds from pen and ink to charcoal to watercolor and oils. He would do whatever it took to make that bird happen on the page.

An early lesson

At one point Audubon had a habit of using a wooden box to store his drawings. Imagine how he felt when, after a trip, he returned home and opened the box to find every single drawing in shreds. The culprit? Rats.

Image credit: John James Audubon by Yokohama : prints from nineteenth-century Japan. Forms part of: Chadbourne collection of Japanese prints (Library of Congress). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How to see and draw things in nature - How to draw a leaf

Watch as Julie Bliss, author of Drawing Nature: A Journal as she draws a leaf in her journal.

How to draw and capture sounds in your nature journal - Draw the bird songs you hear

How to add natural elements to your nature journal - How to preserve natural elements like leaves and add to your pages

Incorporate natural elements into your nature journal using the techniques demonstrated. Shows how you can protect the delicate natural materials like leaves picked up while on a nature walk, etc. Interesting use of mica, too.

Earth Day Activities

Including instructions on how to draw a leaf

Tips for drawing leaves

Nature Journal - Earth Day Activity

Add mixed media journal pages - Draw inspiration from nature

You'll find a lot of non-traditional methods to add to your journal, things like leaf rubbings and pressings and even tips on the best way to photo-shop your images and incorporate them into your journal.

Mixed-Media Nature Journals: New Techniques for Exploring Nature, Life, and Memories
Mixed-Media Nature Journals: New Techniques for Exploring Nature, Life, and Memories

Looking for a step-by-step workbook that will lead through a variety of techniques materials? This book is for you.

 

Backyard Fun Earth Day project - Tips on how to become a backyard naturalist

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