When I first started moving toward a classical/Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling, I read about nature study and its importance. It sounded like a lot of fun, so I purchased the Handbook of Nature Study and tried to give it a go, nature journals included. The only problem was that my kids balked at the idea of keeping a nature journal and I had no idea what one should look like. We gave up on the idea of journals because the Handbook said not to force it.
Years later, my kids still don’t want to journal, but I have decided to keep a family nature journal of our adventures. I was keeping handy notes of things we learned about like moon phases, but I wanted to improve upon the process. Enter A Delectable Education’s podcast on nature study with all its helpful links. Now I see that there are three main components of a Charlotte Mason-style nature journal. They are:
Keep a list pertaining to whatever topic you are studying. You could list the species, scientific name, order, number seen, and/or months or dates observed. For instance, if you are studying birds and you see a Blue Jay, you might list it as “Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, Passeriformes,” and then record the number or dates seen. Here are typed samples of some of the common birds in my area to show what I mean.
The species information:
The dates seen and/or number seen (I have marked both ways so you can see how it could be done. This is not an accurate list pertaining to the birds in our area but just a list I made as an example):
Real-life handwritten examples of nature lists from the past can be seen here.
Make a short, simple note of each nature study class noting the date, weather, and what you saw. For example, here is an entry made by Margaret Hickling in her journal last century:
Today has been very warm, the trees are a mass of foliage. The flowers peeping out of the hedgerow, among which were ground ivy, celandine, and germander speedwell, looked very gay amongst the green grass. The birds were singing in the trees, and we found the nests of a hedge-sparrow, chaffinch, and thrush.”
For more examples of journal entries, you can read Margaret’s entire journal here.
This is probably what a lot of homeschoolers think of when they think of nature journals: pages filled with beautiful paintings and drawings. But how is this supposed to be done? First, you need not make a picture of everything studied every week. An occasional picture will suffice. Second, as to medium, I don’t think there needs to be any hard and fast rules as to what medium you prefer, but I did find these videos recommended by A Delectable Education and YouTube on dry brush painting to be helpful (sorry I can’t find ADE’s link at the moment but I will update it if I do):
I don’t think one needs to sweat this. If you prefer pastels or pencils or pencil crayons, then I don’t think it really needs to matter what you use. The point of drawing is not to produce a masterpiece but to sharpen one’s observations of the subject you are studying. So if you hate painting, then draw. If you hate drawing, then paint. And if you hate both, maybe try sculpting instead – even in Play Doh. To see real-life examples of nature journal artwork, check out this journal. Page 2 has a lovely drawing of flowers, although I find the student’s handwriting hard to read.
If this still sounds intimidating and you want to see something a little less accurate, check out my first attempt ever at dry brushing a mourning dove. The brush I had was too big for details so the beak and tail got a little too long (note: I smudged out our nature journal notes around the picture to show the picture so that’s why the rest of the page looks painted):
And there you have it. The easy Charlotte Mason nature journal method. Give it a try and see how fun and simple it is once you start!