3 Easy Nature Journaling Activities for Beginners

These activities all come from John Muir Laws’ free PDF Opening the World Through Nature Journaling.

Are you looking for ways to incorporate nature journaling into your week? Do you have some notebooks and colored pencils but don’t know where to begin? Or do you have a group of friends who meet for nature group and never quite get to the journaling part? Whatever your background, the following activities are easy and fun! As you are about to see, keeping a nature journal doesn’t have to be complicated.

1. Secret Plant Scavenger Hunt

In this activity, the students record detailed observations of a plant and challenge a partner to find the plant they drew. This activity will get students to concentrate on details and drawing a real plant instead of simply reproducing a mental image of how a plant should look. Because the activity is presented as a game, it is a non-threatening introduction that gets everyone drawing and focused
on natural details.

“We are going to play a nature observation game. When I give the signal we are going to spread out and each of you will find a different plant to study. You will have fifteen minutes to record as much information about your plant in your journal using both writing and drawing. You want to be very thorough because at the end of the time period I am going to call you back to this spot. You will then select a partner, take your partner to the area you were journaling, and see if your partner can pick out the specific plant you drew (not just the species that you were looking at) just by comparing plants with your journal entries. Show your partner the general area where your plant is located. Narrow down the area if your partner is having trouble locating your plant. Remember, the goal of this activity is to make drawings and notes that will make it as easy as possible for
your partner to find the plant that you drew. Here are the boundaries for this activity.” Define boundaries so students will not wander too far. “If you would like to have a partner, make sure that the two of you are not sitting near each other while you are taking your notes. If you finish before the time limit is up, remain sitting and try to add a few more details. What might some of those details be?” Get suggestions from students: color and detailed notes, bent leaves, insect bites or discolored spots. “Any questions? Ready, set, go!”

Age level: 8 years-adult
Suggested time: 45 min.
Location: Outdoors in an area with a variety of plants.

2. Plant Time Line

Students follow the process of budding through fruit development by looking at plants in different states of growth. By comparing plants in different states of flower to fruit development, students can construct models of plant development. This activity helps students focus on and understand the function of plant parts and their change through time.

“Find a flower that you think is at the peak of its bloom. Make a careful diagram or sketch of that flower in the middle of your page. You will only have seven minutes to find and sketch this flower so you are going to have to work fast and accurately. Get out your journals. Ready? Begin.” Students draw flower. “Now we are going to take this a step further. When I say go, find a flower that is a little further developed or older than the
one you sketched. Draw it to the right of your first flower. Then find one that is a little less open and draw it to the left of your flower. Continue like this, adding flowers on either side and see if you can find ones that are still in bud or perhaps even producing a fruit. We want to see if you can find the youngest and oldest stages. You will need to look carefully; it gets tough once the flower starts to drop its petals. Any questions? You have sixteen minutes (or more) to see how far you can take it in both directions. Ready? Go.”

Age level: 8 years-adult
Suggested time: 45 min.
Location: Outdoors where you can find a variety of life stages of one species of plant.

3. Comparisons

Students find two specimens of similar species (such as two species of lupine), branches, mushrooms, flowers, grasses, etc., and draw them side-by-side, noting differences between them. By comparing two similar objects, students find differences between objects and see variability within a single species. By looking for differences within species, students are forced to observe more closely and are introduced to the concept of environmental and genetic variation.

“We are used to seeing differences between individual humans. None of us look alike. There are differences between individuals of other species as well, but we have to train our eyes to see them. No two flowers in a meadow, mushrooms on a hill, or leaves on a tree look exactly alike. Here’s your challenge. Find two similar appearing flowers, leaves, mushrooms, grasses, etc., of the same species. Make a careful diagram in your journal of each side-by-side. If they are small, you may want to draw them larger than life size. Look for as many differences between them as you can find and point them out in your drawings or written notes. You will have to look very carefully because the differences will be very small. If you are drawing a live plant, do not pick it but make your drawing while it is still rooted in the ground.”

Age level: 8 years-adult
Suggested time: 45 min.
Location: Outdoors where you can find two similar species such as two species of pine trees.

Find more ideas in the free PDF download: Opening the World Through Nature Journaling by John Muir Laws