Nature Watching and Journals

 What is Nature Watching and Journals:

The best way to learn science is to observe God's creations. Nature watching involves walks in the park, hikes in the country, silently observing in the back yard, or even staring out the window. It is the process of really observing the details of God's handiwork. It is noticing the textures, the shape, the design, and the manner of a specimen. It is science at its best, in the lab or real life.

Nature Journals are diaries or notebooks recording your findings. It can be as detailed, colorful, and poetic as you desire. Our journals are a speckling of pictures, notes, and poems we find that fit the season. It becomes a record of our discoveries, memories, and an extension of ourselves. I have found that I love doing my own Nature Journal as much as the girls do (maybe even more). One of the neatest things is to go back to a previous season and by just looking at your drawings and notes, you are transported back to that time. With careful questions to your students, they can start thinking and recording like a scientist. You can even make these theme related - birds in spring, leaves in fall, etc. What a glorious way to record science!

Tools for Nature Watching:

  • Binoculars
  • Magnifier of 5X or 8X
  • Field Bags
  • Field Guides
  • Trail Guides and Maps
  • Good Hiking Shoes
  • Water to Drink
  • Neutral colored, cotton clothing
  • Insect Repellent
  • Snack of Trail Mix
  • Plastic Freezer Bags (For collecting treasures)

Nature Journal Supplies:

  • A good sketch pad, journal, or notebook
  • Mechanical pencils (They keep a sharp point)
  • Soft, cushy finger grips for pencils
  • Black ink pen - ball point or felt tip
  • Prismacolor Pencils if you wish to color your sketches

Things to Include in Journal Entries:

  • Date
  • Time (Be specific)
  • Weather (You can include temperature, wind, humidity, and sky conditions)
  • Habitat or Location
  • Draw and label details of your specimen
  • Compare sizes (Size of thumbnail, thumb, finger, palm, etc.)
  • List Textures or patterns (fuzzy, thorns, freckles, spots, smooth, etc)
  • How are the leaves and veins on the leaves arranged?
  • A simple sketch will do. You may wish to try and trace items like leaves.
  • Might wish to press leaves and flowers and tape into journal and cover with clear contact paper.
  • Make note on what's going on: What is the animal doing or what period of growth is the plant.
  • Make note of landmarks of your adventures. Wild animals make note of landmarks and often keep coming back to their same spots. If you mention that it is on the blackberry trail near the old fallen Oak, you can later retrace your steps.
  • Make note of items like owl pellets, ants, dropped feathers, cocoons, or insect wings on your nature adventure. All of them have a story to tell.

What to Look For:

On Mammals:

  • Stripes, spots, or streaks
  • Bands or rings around the tail
  • Mask or dark band across the face or around the eyes
  • Claws

On Birds:

  • Bars or bands across the tail
  • Narrow bar of white across the wing (wingbars)
  • Eye-ring or ring around the eye
  • Eyebrow or streak of contrasting color above the eye
  • Bib or dark area under the throat
  • White throat
  • Neck bands, rings, or a broken band
  • Spots, either large or freckles
  • Crest or long head feathers
  • Make note of the sound the bird makes.

On Butterflies, Moths, Beetles, and Other Insects:

  • Shape or length of antennae
  • Wing patterns of either borders, bands, or stripes
  • Camouflage patterns or colors
  • Eye spots or false eyes - large round spots that may serve to frighten away enemies.

On Plants:

  • The height of the plant - ground or knee high?
  • Number of petals of a flower
  • Shape of flower - trumpet or separate petals?
  • Colors and patterns - stripes, spots, or dots?
  • Center of flowers - different colors and shape?
  • Sepals (green petals) - shorter or longer than the petals?
  • Leaves of flowers - rosette design at base of stem or along the stem in arrangements of either opposite or alternative?
  • What is the size of the leaf - thumb or thumbnail?
  • Edges of leaves - smooth, wavy, or toothed?
  • What is the leaf texture - waxy, leathery, thick, fuzzy, smooth, or rough?
  • On trees, notice the same leaf observations.
  • Shape, size, and texture of tree.
  • Notice the fruits and nuts of trees.
  • Bark of trees - smooth, flaky, stringy, rough, etc.

Seasonal Nature Sites:


  • Now is the time to go and enjoy bird watching. The males have on their colorful coats and are singing to attract the females. Nests are also being built.
  • Frogs are beginning the choruses. Find a pond and watch the frog cycle in process.
  • Plant some seeds. Draw what the different plant seeds look like.
  • Investigate some spring flowers. How soon did the first flower pop its head out of the snow and what was it?
  • Go on a hike and enjoy the first bursts of life coming out everywhere.


  • Insects are starting to get noisy. Listen! What insects are you hearing? Make some notes of what they sound like and study how they make their noises.
  • Explore some wetlands. Dragonflies, turtles, and wetland wildflowers are sure to be admired.
  • Those beach trips offer investigations into shells and sea birds.
  • Grow a garden and note the changes you find there from week to week.
  • Plant a butterfly garden and enjoy watching and drawing all the different types and their behavior.


  • What an excellent time to do leaf studies of trees. Enjoy their color, their fragrance, and all the different types.
  • Harvest time provides a look into different fruits and vegetables.
  • Note the flowers that bloom only during this time of the year.
  • Certain farms open up for tours during this season. Take advantage of them if you don't live on a farm and draw the different farm animals you find. Ask some questions and make note of what the animals were doing.
  • Pumpkins are always fun to measure, check if they float, cut apart, estimate seeds, and then count them.
  • How many different types of apples can you find?


  • Learn some about animal tracks and go tracking. The snow makes an excellent blanket for tracks to show up clearly.
  • Keep your bird feeder filled and watch which birds come visiting each day.
  • Mark small holes in the snow. A burrowing animal lives there. Check the site out come spring.
  • Search out some snowfleas. These are not actually fleas, but they are very tiny insects that can be found abundantly on the surface of the snow around trees.
  • Note the shape and size of snowflakes on your mittens. Draw a few and dry to make copies of them as an art project.
  • This is a great time to really make some detailed notes of different tree barks.
  • Evergreens can provide some interesting plant studies.

***Forms to use for Nature Journals

Books on Nature Study or Nature Journals:

  • Russon, Monica, A Beginner's Field Guide Watching Nature, ISBN 0-8069-9515-7
    (Summary: Describes how to make close-up observations of nature and how to record what you see, including recognizing field marks, identifying plants, noting characteristic sounds, and watching specific animal activities.)
  • Holden, Edith, The Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady, ISBN 0-03-021026-7
    (Summary: A facsimile reproduction of a naturalist's diary of 1906)
  • Criswell, Susie Gwen, Nature Through Science and Art, ISBN 0-8306-4575-6
    (Summary: Nature has been described as the ideal laboratory for scientific exploration and the ideal easel for artistic endeavors. This book builds upon this idea for 50 outdoor and indoor activities. Each includes step-by-step instructions, materials list, and time required.)
  • Andreola, Karen, A Charlotte Mason Companion, ISBN 1-889209-02-3
    (Summary: In this book, beginning with chapter 33 and continuing through chapter 35, Ms. Andreola discusses how to do a nature study in the Charlotte Mason style and gives some pictures of her family's drawings from their journals.)
  • Comstock, Anna Botsford, Handbook of Nature Study, 1911, Cornell University Press
  • Milord, Susan, The Kids' Nature Book, 1989, Williamson Publishing, ISBN 0-913589-42-X (Has an activity a day for a year in nature. Some of the ideas would be good to implement into your nature journal.)

Internet Links:


Background from Graphic Garden

***Updated 04/30/05