We hope you've been inspired by this week full of posts about nature journals. Our family has certainly felt the spark.
There certainly are many ways to create a nature journal, and they are each enlightening in their own way. But a particular kind of learning emerges from what I’ll call “progressive” nature journals, that is, a journal that returns again and again to a specific living thing or a specific location over time.
I believe this is a very early blooming variety of cherry--this tree was tricked into blooming by a short warm spell. Left: Using the point-and-shoot; upper middle: his photo; lower middle: my photo; right: his drawing from memory.
One way to keep this sort of record was described by Lucia in her post at the start of this week, when she related how the boy in The Trumpet of the Swankept notecards on various natural subjects. As this fictional boy explained, his system allowed him to continue to add notes over the course of weeks or months. Then, as his notes accumulated, he could spot certain trends.
Inspired by this, we decided to take that core idea—returning to a specific subject over time, hoping to make connections and encourage further learning—by creating a journal to document our regular walk.
Forsythia in late winter. Left: my photo; right: his photo with the point and shoot camera.
As a family, we take a specific route through the neighborhood that never varies, because that’s the way the streets run. It is packed with houses, (partial) sidewalks, asphalt roads, and modestly-sized front yards. It’s late winter here, and I wondered, what if we started now to keep track of the changes in the natural world we see during our walk?
While we do lots of noticing in nature as a family, and we do talk about the things we see, it’s the concentration of the journal on our regular route that I hope will give our family more insight into the plants and animals that inhabit our everyday world.
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To start documenting the changes we’ll see throughout the year on our neighborhood route, I lent our five-year-old a basic point-and shoot camera. I suggested that he photograph what he noticed along the way. He was very proud of his pictures. As the walk continued, he became more and more excited by the tiny hints of spring coming just around the corner. (Although he isn't wearing his coat in these photos, trust me, it was plenty chilly.)
Blue crocus. Left: his photo; right: his drawing from memory.
Our 7-year-old decided she would rather observe than take pictures. I fell somewhere in between; I brought my camera too, but only took an occasional photo as something struck my fancy.
When we returned home, we sat down and talked about all the things we had seen. I asked what they had observed—what the weather was like; the color of the sky; how warm or cold it was; whether it was windy. We didn’t see a single bug, and we only spotted a few birds: a fluffed up robin, a chickadee, and a male cardinal. The trees, we noticed, were still bare, so that it was possible to see the squirrels’ nests toward the tops of the trees. But some of the woody bushes had the very tips of green leaves emerging. One garden had crocus about to bloom, and two daffodils.
Outer ring: his point and shoot photos; center photo: mine.
After talking about what we had noticed, the kids used crayons to draw what they recalled. Interesting contrasts emerged between what was observed, what was photographed, what was remembered.
Lone robin, fluffed up against the cold (his photo); our daughter's drawing from memory. Last year we didn't see a robin until the first day of spring. This time they were lured back early.
We'll paste our written memories, pictures, and drawings in a journal devoted to this route. When we take this walk again, as we inevitably will, I hope we’ll find some insight in spotting what has changed.
Have you also been inspired this week to start a nature journal? Have you ever kept a special journal that returned to a specific topic or space over time?