Teach Outside
Resources and inspiration for current and aspiring outdoor educators and those interested in a natural learning environment.

Nature Journaling


Nature Journaling


  Comparing and Contrasting Leaves, His Own Journal Entry Decision


How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird, by Jacques Prevert with Illustrations and Translation by Mordicai Gerstein

Masking Tape

Mechanical Pencils


Opening the World through Nature Journaling by the California Native Plant Society


Supply Box


Free play is the primary goal, teaching as moments of discoveries happen. To value this method, I ask only one child per class visit to work in their nature journal in turn. Others may freely work in their journals as they choose. Keeping a roster of students' names ensures I work closely with every child.

My class sessions are loosely divided into three sections of time: 1) free play/observation, 2) free play/nature journaling, and 3) free play/reading/research. Nature journaling doesn't start right away in order to allow students to find out about things that interest them first and to get in plenty of physical activity. Again, free play is the primary goal, so that is always an option. Students have free choice whether to join me, their teachers, other friends, or have time to themselves.

I keep masking tape on hand in case a child decides to press flowers onto their page.

We have a few rules:

-The nature journal is to be revered. Our initial conversation goes something like this: "How old are you? Five? Okay, so in 30 years, when you're 35 years old, you can open this nature journal to find out what your 5-year-old self was interested in and up to. Work with your journal on your lap. Try your hardest to keep it clean, dry, and unwrinkled. I keep the nature journals with me and we will work on them all year. At the end of the year you can take it and your mechanical pencil home with you."

-One page per day.

-Some writing and some drawing on each page. Younger children provide narrative as a teacher writes, and as they learn to write the teacher can say each letter they want, write down words lightly for children to trace, or write words on another piece of paper for children to copy. If they forget how to write a letter, I'll often try to point to one I can find somewhere in the world for them to copy.

-Each page to have a note as to the date and time. If children are to young for this, I write it for them, making sure to make a connection with them.

At some point during the school year we read How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird, which beautifully shows the nature of nature illustration! Not all the children will understand the message, but that's okay. It's for you, too!

At the end of the school year I present the children with their nature journals. We have not had as many class sessions as there are pages and not every child writes every week, so they're encouraged to continue their work outdoors on their own. I tell them that this is the first proof of their work as scientists.


I make a checklist with each student's name on it. For each week's class session it is a different child's turn to work on their nature journal.


An older child learns more about writing by copying the date and time I'd written on a younger child's journal page.


Journaling may be a solitary pursuit...


...Or a social one.


There are infinite possibilities for working on nature journals with your students!

Remember that nature can be found anywhere. Your school grounds and nearby areas offer plenty of opportunities for nature immersion even when it may be through a window.

One of my groups of children were telling me about their adventures they'd planned to have over their Spring Break. I "loaned" them their journals with a note in each about when to return it. I loaned one of my Sierra Nevada field guides to a child taking a trip to Yosemite. They all remembered to return their supplies and we talked about their adventures in class when we all returned.


Yosemite nature journal entry from Spring Break. "I saw a beautiful view."


Grand Canyon nature journal entry from Spring Break. "I was in a train when I saw the prairie dog."

Regarding funding, at one school we use donated journals and the school pays for the mechanical pencils. At another school I submit a request for the money as part of my contract. At the third school I submit receipts to the Parent-Teacher Association and they reimburse me. In the last two cases I requested a $2.50/student materials budget before the beginning of the school year. If using mail order, be sure to give plenty of time for the shipments to arrive before they'll be needed because faster shipping costs more. Custom journals can be considered when parents pay an art materials fee at the beginning of the school year.

Following are examples of nature journal entries from different ages of children:


Two-year-old's entry from Monday, February 23, 2015, 11:06 a.m.

"Mama. Papa. Sister. Owl. Rick. Shoe. Shovel. Leave. Ground. Wood chips. Lemon. Flowers."


Three-and-a-half-year-old's entry from Thursday, October 9, 2014, 11:14 a.m.

"I drew playing with my waterslide in the afternoon. The drought's still here and I can't play with my waterslide yet."


Five-year-old preschooler's entry from Friday, October 24, 2014, 10:56 a.m. with a pressed flower.

"Feathers are blowin' in the wind. The ground and the earth hold the flowers up, that makes the earth be good."


Kindergartener's entry from Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 4:15 p.m.

Note the erased snowflakes and snowman.

"At first it was snowing and then it turned sunny. And when the sun came out a lot of windows opened and then it was sunny for the rest of the day."


Kindergartener's entry from Wednesday, February 25, 2015.


"Who's watching the Watchmen?" The children are! During this time of Black Lives Matter protests, the children became hyper-aware of police surveillance. Many lost sleep as helicopters surrounded their houses all night. In answer to the query, "Is that the same meter maid as before?", this child chose to draw the vehicle and note its number.


First grader's entry from Wednesday, March 4, 2015.

"Sniping around tree."

This particular child came to the garden with a plan to use ropes to tie to a sapling branch I'd stashed in the previous weeks to make a bow. He made the bow, created this illustration, and was able to shoot his "arrow" from the tree before class ended.


A boat made of flowers and leaves atop a piece of bark made together by a first- and a second-grader together...


...And one of their illustrations about the project.

4/15/15: "My boat I made!!!"

Following is one preschooler's journey through the school year:


Thursday, September 18, 2014, 11:16 a.m.

"I drew this. I just didn't want you to keep it at the garden."


Thursday, September 25, 2014, 10:52 a.m.

"That was a big animal and it lived a month ago on a safari and it was called an alligator and that was never found."


Thursday, October 9, 2014, 10:59 a.m.

"My picture was a snapping crocodile eating turtles!"


Thursday, November 6, 2014, 10:57 a.m.

"It's a Nile River where a Nile crocodile and Nile whale live. Not a toy garbage can. It also has trash in it. I wish I could have a worm. I also wish I could hold a snake."


Thursday, January 8, 2015, 10:47 a.m.

"It's called a crocodile turtle. That's why it has big flippers."


Thursday, January 15, 2015, 11:06 a.m.

"Look! I draw a dragon!"


Thursday, January 29, 2015, 10:40 a.m.

"I draw a map. It's a map of the garden and my house."


Thursday, February 12, 2015, 11:12 a.m.

"Sharp teeth that this animal just lost. Now it's poison. Now it has bad germs in it and now it breathes fire that becomes a called a dinosaur and it's poisonous!"


Thursday, March 11, 2015, time unknown

"A megadragon. His habitat. It's a sea habitat because he's a sea dragon. Cuz he doesn't have any feet."


Thursday, March 26, 2015, 10:55 a.m.

"Mine is called a Megadragon with megalong legs and sharp quills to keep him protected and quills on his nose. There's one thing about him: he has great eyesight and a mouth you can't see and he has a great smell and he can smell his food when he comes charging past."


Thursday, April 9, 2015, 10:59 a.m.

"The mega-dragon has spots and teeth and legs and noses and lots of..." (Sorry! Messed up and edited more than this child's name out...)

"'Worms and the Dragon.'"

"The Ground"


The materials and methods represented here have proven more successful than I could ever have imagined with children ranging in age from two-year-olds through fifth graders, bringing me closer to the students and deeper into their interests and thought processes.

At one school we are using spiral bound, hardcover, lined notebooks that were donated. They are hardbound, which is a nice feature, and the pencil slips easily down through the spirals. At the other schools we are using sketch pads, Item 10316-1001 from Blick Art Materials.The benefits of this item are its price, small size (weighs less for transport), and the nice stock. The downsides are that the cover easily wrinkles when young children open and shut it themselves and the pencils are too long and fat to easily slip into the spirals. I write the children's names on each cover and store them in alphabetical order.

For my personal use I purchased a Cachet Select Spiral Bound Sketch Book because it's hard cover and spiral binding allow for easy use of just one page at a time while set upon my lap, my pencil slips inside the spirals, the smaller size is easily stored in my backpack, and the elastic band keeps my place or holds the pages in the wind.

The size, lead thickness, and workings of BIC 0.7mm. mechanical pencils works great for all ages of children.

A list of journaling suppliers can be found on John Muir Laws' site:

John Muir Laws' site is also a resource for nature journaling tips. He also offers courses.

Sketch for Schools offers custom, budget sketchbooks.


A workshop showed samples from a variety of field journal styles. This one shows a salamander from Robert C. Stebbins' field guide entry from 1946.

Lesson plan by Heather Taylor, teachoutside@gmail.com. You are welcome to share all materials with credit to her.