Each afternoon, indoors or outdoors depending on the weather, I read aloud with the kids, while they flip through nature books, illustrate and paint. We’ve always had a simple approach to our study and enjoyment of nature, beginning with simply playing [and hiking and camping] outdoors when they were young. I use the term study loosely here since we aren’t often researching Latin names or classifications of plants and animals, although my oldest three have done so more as they grow, simply from their curiosity. For now, the primary focus of this time is merely to learn to pay attention to the world around them, to observe details in the things and places we experience, and even the illustrations we notice in a book.
Children can craft their own exploration through well-illustrated books just as well as they can in the outdoors, so I try to leave a variety of well-illustrated nature books available on the table for them to thumb through whenever. Ideally, these books compliment their outdoor time, even if they aren’t exactly the same in content and timing. Together we might talk about a certain animal or ecosystem as they pop up in our stories or research something new we find outdoors, but for the most part I encourage freedom and curiosity in their nature studies, both indoors and out. I simply ask them to choose something that interests them, sketch it as best they can, and add color. For the older ones, I encourage more labeling, but for Olive, who tends to grow frustrated that she can’t draw as well as her older siblings, I simply encourage her observation and drawing skills.
For young children, I’ve also noticed drawing is far less intimidating when sketching from a book than trying to sketch a living thing, so I also keep a variety of drawing books around to help encourage them to notice the elements of shape in illustrations. A how-to on one bird will easily translate to another. A cat might have the same shape as a fox with different details. Sketching one leaf, will help you sketch another. And so on. Notice and alter the details, I encourage.
We haven’t ever kept a nature journal in the traditional sense, although I admire those who do. For now, notebook-ing is an easier commitment and process for us. After their artwork has dried, we simply slip it into a page protector in a binder to preserve it. Naturally, their notebooks also reflect their whim––opposed to a more orderly and processed study––revealing a starfish on one page and a rabbit on the next. But I’m okay with this right now, as it fits into our day in a less stressful way, giving exposure to a variety of living things perhaps they’ll order in later years.
For those of you interested in beautiful resources, here are some of the ones we are using and enjoying in our home, often in those afternoon table scenes I share on Instagram:
DRAWING + JOURNALING REFERENCES /
Draw Write Now series (for young children)
Drawing With Children (teaching parents to teach their children to draw)
The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling (for older children and adults)
Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You (for older children and adults)
The Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders All Around You (wonderful for cultivating simple connections to nature from home)
ILLUSTRATED BOOKS /
Botanicum (pre-ordered and so excited to add to our study of plant life)
Nature’s Day: Discover the World of Wonder On Your Doorstep (wonderful for younger children)
REFERENCES FOR PARENTS
Last Child in the Woods (re-reading this now; so good)
Play the Forest School Way (a wonderful resource of playful activities with nature, geared toward ages 4-11)
The Handbook of Nature Study (intimidating in size and text, but a great reference for older children and adults)
110# cardstock paper (cheaper than watercolor paper)