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Nature Journal Makes Great Summer Project

By Sandy Beck

On the last day of school, I asked second-grader Jackson how he was going to spend his summer.

“Well, the first thing I’m going to do is lie on my back and watch the clouds," he said.

Jackson is on a soccer team and does other “regular” kid stuff, but his wise mom makes sure he also has something special: free time and a blank notebook. He carries it around in a little bag with a bird field guide and pencils. He draws and writes about the birds he sees, and then looks them up in his bird book.

Jackson told me that a bird we saw was an eastern phoebe and not an eastern wood-pewee because it didn’t have white wing bars. I was blown away. But I shouldn’t have been. Keeping a nature journal, a child learns to observe carefully and notice details. This skill spills over into other areas, like reading.

A nature journal is an opportunity for personal growth, a private place where a child can find his own voice. It might also spark an interest in science. It’s important to model what you want your children to do. So start your own journal, share it with them and compare experiences.

Where can you use a nature journal? Almost anywhere—any wild or semi-wild place. Even a rotting log or a back porch can provide inspiration.

Rather than simply dismissing a little green lizard with “cool”—stopping to sketch and making a few notes will slow you down. You’ll notice the pointy nose, red throat fan, long tail and the way he cocks his head to get a better look at you with those intelligent-looking, black eyes.

Remember to look for little things too, like beetles under leaves and spiders on the windowsill. Become a sensory sponge. Listen to nature’s sounds. Notice how the grass feels between your toes. Open your eyes, your ears and your wild heart.

This summer, pick up a copy of Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover the World Around You by Claire Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. Instead of expensive camps Kylee Skipperor Fun Station, give your child a small pack with a blank book. Add some colored pencils for sketching; lightweight binoculars that magnify just six or eight times; kid-friendly field guides such as The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America by Bill Thompson III; and some packing tape or squares of clear contact paper to preserve natural items, like flowers or leaves. To further enrich your budding naturalist’s experience, include a hand lens and a simple digital camera with a macro setting for close-up photos of bugs and flowers. Then give him permission to get dirty or to just watch clouds swim across the summer sky.

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