Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Third Stage of Nature Journaling

Introduction to the Stages of Nature Journaling
Stage 1- See and Identify (ages 6-9)    Part 2
Stage 2- Taxonomy and Description (ages 10-14)
Stage 3- Style and Create (ages 15+)

This last stage of journaling is the most beautiful and rewarding stage. It is the result of all your efforts to help your children enjoy the natural world.  Ideally, young people begin to find their own style as their unique personality directs the arrangement and content. They show greater independence and take ownership of their journals. You find you don’t need to nudge and direct so much anymore. Nature walks are a source of refreshment and journaling is an outlet for their creative juices.. Some will enjoy it more than the others, but all should like to journal nature by now. If not, then you may need to ask yourself if you have been taking Miss Mason’s suggestions to heart. If you’ve neglected regular nature walks or not shown interest in nature yourself, if you have allowed too much TV or entertainment or made the activity academic, then this can undermine your child’s affection for recording the natural world’s wonders. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just pick yourself up and start afresh. Believe me, I’ve fallen off the wagon many times. I just don’t stay on the ground very long.

Here are a few tips that can help jumpstart this stage for your older children.

Let Other Naturalists’ Notebooks Inspire Them
Miss Mason gave her students the writings of other naturalists to read. When I did this with my teens, it inspired them to try various methods of journaling throughout the years until they arrived at a style of their own. Some of these naturalists simply painted without much writing. Others, such as Dallas Sharpe and Susan Fenimore Cooper wrote down their observations and thoughts about nature and life in general, using very few visual aides. Thoreau philosophized. Edwin Teale made his journals in the form of a seasonal calendar. Edith Holden utilized poetry and quotes. Margaret Shaw wrote her daily observations like a diary. Lilias Trotter wrote prayers while painting from nature. Some used black and white drawings. Others preferred painting in great detail.

I caution you not to try this with young children. It overwhelmed my children and they felt very inadequate, wanting to give up. They were too young to be inspired in this way. When I put these naturalists’ writings away and waited until they were older, it made a world of difference in attracting their interest in ‘style.’

Here is a list of some of the naturalist’s writings that we have used. I simply added one of these each term to my student’s schedule. We started this around 12 or 13 years of age and by 15 years of age each of my children had developed their personal style in nature journaling.

The Countrywoman’s Journal by Margaret Shaw
Rural Hours by Susan Fenimore Cooper
Fabre’s Book of Insects by Jean Fabre (this beautiful edition is illustrated by Detmold)
Lay of the Land by Dallas Lore Sharp
Walden by Thoreau

Beginning Watercolor Journaling video REALLY inspired our family and highly influenced the way we journal. It is pricey, but worth it. Your non-artist will come away thinking, “Even I can do this!” It certainly helped this mama get out of my non-journaling nature rut. Buy this video if you can!

Study Habitats in Detail
They keep records and drawings in a Nature Note Book and make special studies of their own for the particular season with drawings and notes...The studies of Form III for one term enable children to––"Make a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put in the names of the plants you would expect to find." CM vol 6
Up until now, my children identified individual specimens. It was time for my older students to have greater challenges. As Miss Mason suggested, I assigned an entire area for them to explore. Their task was to identify as much of its flora and fauna as they could. This took an entire term or sometimes, even a year.  Once, I assigned a meadow behind our house. Another term, they mapped our creek bed. They learned the names of many ‘weeds’ that we had never paid much attention to. Those many, obscure, nameless plants, flowers and shrubs suddenly became very interesting to them.  I believe this assignment gave them a tangible goal to work towards and added fresh appeal to nature journaling. If you live in a city, you could do this weekly at a local park. When we lived in the city, we frequented empty fields.

This wraps up our series on the stages of nature journaling. I do not want to leave you with the impression that these stages are rigid. There will certainly be overlap and variation depending upon the personality of each child. These are just general guidelines based on Miss Mason’s writings and are designed to help you get a sense of progression in the journaling process.

one step at a time...


  1. LOVE this, Linda! Recently I finished Janet Marsh's Nature Diary...I found it very inspiring! :)

  2. Amy,
    I haven't heard of that one. Now I'm interested.

    If anyone else knows of other naturalist's notebooks, please share.

  3. Anonymous27.8.12

    Linda, I'm wondering how this sequence should be adapted to older students, 14 and 15 for example, if they haven't done that much nature journaling yet. I assume they still need to go through all three stages, perhaps more quickly? Just wondering what you suggest. Thank you. I wish I had known about you from the beginning of our homeschooling days.


  4. Judi, I have never introduced nature journaling for the first time to an older student so I don't know the answer to this. I think I'd try your suggestion and introduce the stages more quickly. I also suggest the nature journal video above. It could inspire reluctant journalers.

    If anyone has had success with older students doing this let us know. What worked for you?

  5. Linda - I didn't want to ask this on the forum as I know this is KINDA a book sub question. Hopefully, you don't mind me bugging you here about it! ;) I really would love to hear your opinion...

    I'm LOVING This Country of Ours and my dd/ds do such a good job on the My Amercia book...however, I was wondering how you deal with complaints/frustrations about the depth of the information...especially my ds is having a bit of trouble with just understanding everything and keeping up as far as the broad scope of it...I did adjust the narration time to just a paragraph at a time for him as the chapters where too tough. He seems however to be getting to a place where he is frustrated about learning with this book. Is this something where I need to just work on the habit of concentration and press through using this book!? I think it's such a rich title!!! My friend is substituting The Light and the Glory which I think is fabulous also but just not anywhere as in depth...

    I guess my question is do you think there are times when we just press through something that might not be our FAVORITE thing, but is good? Or do I look for a different title? I think maybe I also should split the chapters into smaller chunks as Miss Mason said so that we do a little when he isn't as frustated, kwim?


  6. Hi Amy,

    I think this question would be fine for the forum.

    I'm partial to TCOO. I really think it is a great read, albeit a little difficult for first year students. How old is your son? I think that sometimes CM moms (on forums I have read) quit too soon on a hard book because a child isn't thrilled with it. Charlotte Mason recommended that we just keep on reading. She didn't cater to each child's preferences once she had found a great book. She knew that some kids would enjoy it more than others, but all would glean from it. It's not important that they understand everything they hear. If that were so, we would have to throw out a lot of Miss Mason's recommendations. That is how I look at it for the vast majority of books we use. So, my stubborn opinion is to stick with it. :)

    I don't like The Light and the Glory for Children. The language is simple, the stories are simple and it doesn't challenge a child like the older books do. Even more importantly for me, it is based on a religious ideology that I disagree with- America is God's chosen nation, the new Israel. This ideology unfortunately, causes the authors to offer a historical slant that is not accurate and misleading. America's sins are glossed over. I think Peter Marshall was a wonderful man. I just don't think he should have written history books.

  7. Amy, the following is from a reviewer named Christy from Amazon. I generally don't trust reviews from there for my homeschool books, but since she went to Wheaton, I thought this would be helpful:

    "This is a children's adaptation of the 1977 adult book "The Light and the Glory" which attempts to prove (or just assume) that the United States is the New Israel, (and thus entitled to special blessings and privileges as God's special nation) and the founding fathers were a bunch of card carrying Evangelicals. In 1999 at Wheaton College, which is a well-respected Evangelical liberal arts college, we spent three days in our political science class addressing just a fraction of the numerous historical and theological errors that this book presents as truth. The professors thought this was necessary since so many of the students from Christian and homeschool backgrounds had been fed this nonsense since childhood."

  8. Thank YOU! I didn't even realize that about the theology! I don't agree with that view either about Israel! This is what I get for not researching it more MYSELF. I really appreciate your opinion and thoughts on this! Thanks again. You are a blessing. :)