by Amy Pentimone
The first hints of beautiful spring weather bring an urge to set the books aside and soak up all the sunshine. Your kids would probably love if you did just that! But what should you do when your inner teacher says to just push harder and get school done for good … is it work before play, so to speak?
Either of those are viable options, but my personal favorite choice is entirely different — nature journaling!
When I was growing up as a homeschool student, nature journaling was science, art, English, physical education, and communication all wrapped up in one … plus a field trip or recess at the same time. If you’re thinking that my mom is brilliant, upon reading that, I whole-heartedly agree! And if you also wonder how it was possible, here are details …
Once a week (or, at least, on a consistent basis), Mom set aside several hours for nature journaling. Depending on the day, the amount of time we had, and (probably) her own level of motivation, we’d go outside — maybe to the nearby lake, maybe to different city parks, or maybe simply to the backyard with sketchbooks, colored pencils, and all of us children in tow. Once we got to our destination, the guidelines I recall were simple: stay within eyesight of mom and record what we saw and felt in our nature journals.
The freedom of this assignment was endless – we could run around, choose our favorite spots, and write, draw, sketch, or color in our journals however we wanted. When our allotted time was over, we’d present our journals to one another before heading home.
I remember this being one of my favorite weekly activities and something I still love as an adult. If you’d like to give it a try, here are a few simple suggestions based on my childhood memories.
- Make it easy for yourself. Nature journaling doesn’t need to be fancy. A simple sketchbook for each child, small packs of colored pencils, an outdoor location, and there you have it. If your kids are younger and you need to keep them close together, consider bringing some blankets to set on the grass for everyone to stay in one place or assign buddies so no one is alone. You can keep the location simple, even if that means just the neighborhood park or your own backyard. (I do remember one of us nature journaling about our mailbox one time … thankfully, my mom prioritized our efforts and not so much the content of our work!)
- Choose to participate. My siblings and I loved that our mom participated in nature journaling with us. We were always amazed at her sketches and notes, never understanding why she said they weren’t “that good.” I still think they were great, but the point is mostly that your children don’t need you to be an artist, they need your enthusiasm and example. Drawing with mom was an extra-special art class!
- Invite friends. I remember several times when mom invited another mom and kids to join in our nature journaling. It provided time for her to connect with other ladies from church while also not disrupting our school day — and of course, we enjoyed the time with our friends. Choose a park and invite another mom to meet you there with her kids. You don’t have to worry about cleaning the house, and if no nature journaling happens, relationships and time in the sun aren’t wasted!
- Let it be fun. In other words, relax! I’m sure that’s easier said than done when you’re trying to get all the kids outside for an educational activity, but the more you can relax and enjoy the time, the more likely you are to be consistent with it. If your kids are anything like my siblings and I were, they want to be outside and away from the textbooks. Some kids might just want to run around and put very little in their journals. Others might dig in the dirt and draw the bugs. As a dreamy child, I remember trying to write poetry about the feeling of the weather. There’s really no wrong answer! Nature journaling is educational and healthy, so choose to laugh together, encourage your kids, and make the most of whatever nature journaling looks like for your family.
As I write this, I wonder if my mom has the same memories of nature journaling as I have. The real answer is probably not exactly. She likely remembers a lot more hassle involved with getting the kids and nature journals and colored pencils into the van, the complaints I’m sure we made, and the work it was to keep track of six children while also drawing with us. I’m thankful she didn’t let those things keep her from trying to “make school fun.”