The more observant one is, the more one can find in the natural world to inspire awe. Cultivating your child's powers of observation is like handing that child an antidote against boredom and an inoculation from becoming jaded. I want my children to have what Douglas Wilson calls a Contempt for the Cool, and part of my strategy is to help them fall in love with the natural world.
Charlotte Mason used nature notebooks in her schools as a way of sharpening her students' power of observation, and it was an integral part of their nature study. The students used watercolors and wrote down observations. Mason writes of the benefits of an observant mind sharpened by nature study: “...a love of Nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them, will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humour...It is infinitely well worth of the mother's while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather to cherish in them, the love of investigation.”
Recognizing a flycatcher from a distance by its flight pattern, or finding a woodrat's home under the tress, or finding harlequin bug nymphs on a bladderpod, these are the rewards of a careful eye. My children amaze me with the treasures they find and the creatures they recognize, often in what looks to me to be an unrewarding piece of land. The moms in my nature group are as enthusiastic as the children, and also come running and shrieking to share in the discoveries to be had. As a good friend recently said of us with a smile, we can be quite embarrassing.
I started keeping a nature journal shortly after starting my boys on theirs. It has since turned into a favorite hobby. At the moment, my favorite art supplies for use in my nature journal are Micron pens and tube watercolors. I sketch with a 3B pencil, I then redraw with pen, erase the pencil marks, and add details with watercolors. I use a Micron 05 005 to draw with and I write with a Micron 05. My sketch book has 140 lb. watercolor paper.
I used to let a single detailed drawing or two speak for itself on a page.
But since being inspired by another mom's nature journal , I've included more writing. And I have learned much, researching facts to fill my page with. I also sporadically include the French name of a given drawing in my journal.
All of our drawing are done from direct observation outdoors, from a specimen brought home, or from pictures in field guides.
We label each page with the date, the location of the nature walk, and the species. This is my eight year old's journal:
This year we've included more comparisons of like species and anatomy into our journals, like this sketch by my ten year old:
Using our nature journals on trips is our favorite. If I read to them while they draw it's even more fun.
The way we use our nature journals is always changing as I get inspired by other Charlotte Mason moms, art books, and blogs. I love seeing how other people are using their nature journals these days. If you have any other ideas, please share!