Remember the Summer (and Beyond!) with a Nature Notebook
But summer is also a great time to turn a love of nature into a learning experience, by having your family start a nature notebook. The good news is you can use the same ideas all year to document all four seasons!
There are many reasons for creating a nature notebook but perhaps the most important is that it gives us time to reflect on nature and to enjoy our surroundings; something many of us forget to do because of our busy schedules.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. — Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN
We go into the woods because we find the woods beautiful, and because we often feel disconnected from nature in our modern world. By having children involved in the process, parents get to enjoy nature through a new set of eyes, and all the wonder and mystery we saw there when we were kids comes rushing back. Nature is seen in a new light and brings out our creativity, which allows us to help our children to do the same.
But what are nature notebooks? The idea comes from Charlotte Mason, whose early schools focused on Bible instruction, exercise, hands-on experiences, and nature. Every student was encouraged to keep a nature notebook, which contained both text and illustrations to bring the study of nature "to life."
However, you don't need to be following the Charlotte Mason methodology to include nature books in your family's studies or pastime. Anyone can create a nature notebook. It's very simple!
To get started you only need a blank journal or notebook and a pencil (later on you'll want to have some art supplies for decorating.)
Begin by taking a walk in the backyard or park with your children and talk about things you see or find there. You'll want to do the first excursion together so that you can help them with the first recordings and give them an example to follow for future entries.
When you return, discuss the walk with your children and have them write it all down in the notebook, as a journal entry or even a story – let them work in a style they are most comfortable with. This is a creative process and you want it to be an enjoyable experience so that they will continue to update the notebook whenever they encounter nature.
After the written entry is finished, have them draw pictures on the opposite page of the notebook illustrating some of the things they saw. If you want to follow Charlotte Mason's recommendations, the illustrations should all include captions that contain both the Latin name of the item as well as its familiar name.
You can find lists of flower and bird (or insect or plant) species online or in the library and can keep a copy in the back of the notebook for reference. You can also have your children create their own reference list by making columns of names and entry dates in the back of the book.
By taking this extra step, this affords the opportunity for some science to sneak into the discussion in addition to the language arts, visual arts, and possible connections to math and history. In fact, the opportunities for learning are limitless depending on the focus of your discussions.
You can also do research before your walk or after or look together while you work on the nature notebook to help accurately identify flowers or birds, and discuss the history of the park, or to talk about symmetry, for example.
Poetry is a great complement to nature notebooks; not only should you encourage your children to create their own poetry to enhance their entries you should also have them find published poems that reflect what they saw or how they feel about the excursion.
Feel free to let students decorate their book covers and margins. One easy way is by having them create stamp pads from leaves or flowers, or fruit and vegetables in keeping with the natural theme.
Of course Charlotte Mason's students did not live in the digital age but yours do! You can have older students bring a digital camera along to snap photos of some of the items they see and include those as well (of course you want to encourage the illustrations as a means of reinforcement of ideas through physical movement as well as developing creative interpretation.)
The overall goal of nature notebooks is to support children's love of nature and natural curiosity by making them a fun experience. In addition to the "lessons" you can encourage your children to make entries into their notebooks whenever they want, whether or not it was a planned moment.
The best part of keeping the notebooks is that they become a focal point for learning, interaction, and activity that can reach into every part of your family's life and create a connection to nature that can last a lifetime!
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