Naturalists, such as John Muir and James Audubon, kept nature journals as they observed wildlife. Today, according to the Smithsonian Institute, nature journals are increasingly popular tools for elementary and secondary students, but what about pre-school-aged kids?
Nature Journals and Kids
Nature journals help children keep careful record of their observations, give them ideas for further research and experimentation, and provide documentation of their growing knowledge of natural phenomena.
Preschoolers also benefit from close interaction with nature. In their study, “Nature and the Life Course: Pathways from Childhood Nature Experiences to Adult Environmentalism,” Nancy Wells and Kristi Lekies found that children who had many “wild” nature experiences, such as hiking, camping and fishing, became adult stewards of the natural environment. Keeping nature journals could help these children translate their “wild” experiences into learning opportunities.
Of course, journaling with pre-readers, pre-writers, and, in many cases, pre-drawers, poses challenges that journaling with older children does not. Young children can sometimes dictate responses to an adult, but parents will also want to provide ways for children to feel ownership of their journals. There are many options for preschoolers to meaningfully record observations without relying on fine motor skills or written language.
Start with the Right Sized Journal for Young Children
It’s important to begin with the right type of journal. As naturalist and educator Susan McCarthy points out in her article, “Using Nature Journaling to Connect Kids with the Outdoors,” formal bound notebooks with reams of blank space can seem overwhelming for children.
She suggests using unlined index cards. Parents can insert the cards in ziplock bags, along with any corresponding treasures, as the kids complete them, and then staple or sew them together when there are enough for a book. If your preschooler needs a larger canvas, simple pocket folders with brads work well. Your child can decorate the front with a nature collage and then simply hole punch and add 8 1/2″ X 11″ pages as needed.
Make Rubbings of Interesting Textures
Many preschoolers are tactile, kinesthetic learners. Encourage preschoolers to touch leaves, flowers, bark, rocks, and other natural phenomenon. Then, they can make a record of the texture by holding a paper over the item and rubbing it with the side of a crayon. Later, children can compare their rubbings to photographs in nature books to identify the items they found.
Glue Photos into Journals
Smart phones equipped with cameras make it easy and inexpensive for even young children to take multiple shots of interesting natural finds. Parents worried about damage to their phones may want to invest in a cheap digital camera. Parents can also photograph children with their “finds.”
Additionally, the camera itself can become an observation tool as children zoom in to look closely at one small part of an object or back away to photograph an object within its habitat. After printing the photographs, children can tape them into their journals with or without the addition of dictated commentary.
Press Flowers and Leaves into Journal Pages
While outside, encourage children to choose flowers and leaves to preserve in their journals. Children can simply tape small items, such as seeds and soil, into the journals. They will need to place larger items in a flower press, or in tissue paper between the pages of a heavy book, for a week before gluing them into journals. Then, children can identify the items in nature books and, with adult help, label them.
Children are sometimes taught to keep only leaves and petals that have already fallen from plants and are on the ground. While a “leave no trace” policy is admirable, in his groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv points out that children learn through their senses – by touching, smelling, and, yes, picking. It is important to strike the right balance between respecting nature and letting children freely enjoy it.
Draw with Nature
Many items in nature have natural pigments that kids can use to make marks in journals. Children can experiment with rubbing clay, soil, flower petals, and certain rocks onto pages to “color” them. The goal is not to create a recognizable picture, but rather to record the properties of objects in nature.
Nature Journals Encourage Close Observation
Regardless of the techniques used by preschoolers to record their experiences with wildlife, keeping a nature journal will encourage curiosity about the world and observation of its phenomena. Their pre-literate recording strategies will lead to more sophisticated methods as they grow older. And, as they explore with an interested adult, children will gain respect for the natural environment.© Copyright 2015 Nicole Fravel, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting