Nature Journaling

Rebecca Gelsi

My daughter and I have only just begun our home ed journey. She’s autistic and school has been challenging for years. She’s in Year 10 but I’m resisting that panicky (and unfounded) feeling that she’s somehow going to miss out. We’re unschooling and waiting for learning interests to emerge – in the meantime I’m encouraging her to enjoy and extend a couple of existing interests; spending time in nature and drawing or painting. We’ve taken up nature journaling. 

Nature journaling so nicely exploits the advantages of home education–the ability to spend time outdoors without hurry; interest-led education; natural learning; the flexibility of approach; and the demonstration that a pursuit can be enjoyed without existing talent or skill. We enjoy time outside together and we both keep journals—discovering new things together is such a natural way to learn and reinforces that learning is lifelong. 

More observation and recording than art, fine art skills and fancy equipment are not required to keep a nature journal. Buying art supplies is great fun but all you need to get started is a pencil and a hard cover notebook, we find A5 size perfect for taking out and about. You can also use coloured pencils, an eraser and a pencil sharpener. We’ve been using watercolours which adds an extra challenge. If you try this, look for a journal with the thicker pages designed to hold watercolours. 

While access to a forest would be wonderful, you can keep a nature journal without leaving your street or perhaps even without leaving your garden. We live in the inner west of Melbourne and have not left our local area since we started our journals. If anything, staying close or often revisiting the same place encourages you to observe more closely and to notice changes over time. 

It can be intimidating to get started in a lovely new journal. Try starting each page with the date, time, location and weather. Suddenly your page is no longer blank and it becomes easier to continue. Nature journaling is not just drawing. It can include written information such as labels and observations, wonderings, poems and feelings. Found objects like feathers and leaves and fun techniques like bark rubbing can also be used. Three questions that can help bring an enquiry or a page together are: I notice, I wonder, it reminds me of … You might find it helpful to take a photo of the things you are recording so that you can continue at home. 

It’s easy to extend nature journaling to the learning areas. Art is the obvious one, but nature journaling is not primarily art and no particular art talent is required. The most apparent fields of science are biology, environmental science, and climate science, but there’s also things like the physics of flight in birds, or the way migratory birds use the stars to navigate. 

My daughter has never mastered writing in paragraphs so short form writing in a nature journal is perfect for our studies of English at the moment. Observations in a nature journal are an intrinsically purposeful use of the written word—interest led, without the excruciating need to force out words which often occurs with set tasks in more formal schooling. Maths can be taught through measuring the size of a leaf or the angle of a branch or estimating the number of birds in a flock. Health and PE are covered by walking in nature and technology can be through the use of apps like iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID and eBird. 

Developing a knowledge of nature is rich in the humanities. For example, culture, history, and geography. Over the last couple of years I’ve been very interested in the Aboriginal seasons. There is information about the Aboriginal seasons on the Bureau of Meteorology website, including the link between environment and culture, and an outline of each of the seasons for some locations. We’re in Melbourne and the local seasons were not featured so I purchased The Eight Wurundjeri Seasons in Melbourne by Jim Poulter. 

The first thing you notice is there are more of them; the subtleties of our local environment make far more sense when viewed through more than four seasons. As this issue of Otherways is released we are in Myronong Kulin-Jumbunna or the yam daisy harvest and men’s business season in Wurundjeri Country. In Gariwerd Country around the Grampians area the season is Petyan – the wildflower season which is marked by tempestuous weather, warmer days, the bush bursting into life and the appearance of the emu constellation. 

If you’d like to explore a language try using Google Translate to look up what you see. You might discover that a butterfly is farfalla in Italian and write that next to a drawn butterfly. Suddenly you’ve covered all the learning areas! 

One of the lovely aspects of home education is how natural enquiry is and the fun of discovery. Some of this is experiential – getting out and doing something. Some is the unearthing of different resources and there are plenty of ways to find out more about nature journaling. While drawing a wattle, a quick Google search reveals that there are over 1000 types of wattle. Some of the things we have been learning about are Indigenous plants (those that grow naturally in an area), migratory and resident shorebirds, and the East Asian Australasian Flyway. One curiosity leads to another. 

There are lots of resources you can use to find out more about nature journaling. John Muir Laws has co-authored two books on teaching nature journaling that you can download free at category/books/. You’ll also find ‘how to’ videos of many aspects of nature journaling. In Melbourne, Amy Diana runs a journaling club and has been running Zoom workshops. You can find her at 

A couple of inspiring Facebook groups to join are Nature Journaling Australia and The Nature Journal Club. YouTube, as always, is full of information. 

Local councils and environmental organisations hold face-to-face or virtual events from time to time and you may have a local journaling club. 

Otherways 170 (Nov 2021)

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