Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nature Journaling

This year I decided to start nature journaling in earnest. We'd sort of done this before, rather sporadically. We'd use photographs and drawings interchangeably, and make an entry into a science notebook sometimes when something interesting popped up outside. It was rather half-hearted, in the long view of things. So when I gathered up school supplies and inventoried our learning tools last month, I included notebooks for us to take on nature walks, to practice our observational, drawing, and writing skills.

This book was the inspiration for my own beginnings. I can't remember if I found it in my public library system before or after I found it recommended by other homeschoolers. I have heard it has some New Age or pantheistic leanings, nothing explicit but something to watch out for. I don't know myself--I have yet to read the whole book. Every time I've checked it out, I've kept it long enough to be encouraged, pick up a few ideas, and send it back. It's good enough to buy, I'd say, and I haven't encountered anything problematic yet.

I'm pleased at how easily I have been able to create entries and be satisfied with them because of the advice and examples I found in this book. The technique the author describes as field drawing without lifting the pencil, observing the subject rather than what you are putting on paper--well, I thought that was beyond me until I had considerably more skill. Then yesterday, I was surprised to find myself doing exactly that, and remembering what I read, I trusted the outcome rather than constantly interrupting myself to "correct" my work.

One of the things I have learned about nature study is that it does not have to be exotic. Charlotte Mason homeschoolers talk about choosing a site outdoors to visit regularly, so you can become familiar with it and observe the changes from day to day and season to season. Our home has lots of possibilities for exploration, and we have a trail we will be traveling every day right outside our door.

I'm trying to teach our kids some methods of recording their work artistically that will help encourage their observing skills and give them some successes to keep them motivated to learn more. Their enthusiasm is important, and comes naturally if it is not drowned in too-high expectations (which, I am sorry to say, they can get from me either by infliction, osmosis, or heredity). So we are keeping things very simple and easy at first.

I do permit taking photographs, and drawing from the photographs in some situations, but I have for now eschewed using photographs in the journals, because the creative process of committing their own efforts to the page is so valuable in so many ways. Their observations are more careful and their drawings serve as visual "narrations," reinforcing what they observe. They are more engaged in the natural world than if they are simply snapping away. Not to mention drawing practice, color theory, perspective and other art lessons. Their record is something that is uniquely theirs.

(Plus, I think they like getting their stuff on the blog!)

The younger ones dictate a short blurb and I write it in for them. I help the middle ones with spelling and occasionally correct formatting but they write their own. The older ones are learning to compose their own with more and more detail, according to what they think is important. They are beginning to surprise me with what they see and think and know. Well, they frequently surprise me--this is just a new venue.

Rubbing and tracing are easy ways to enter a specimen. We use crayons and colored pencils, experimenting with combining colors to approximate what we find in nature. I hope to add watercolors to our toolbox soon, and maybe pastels, but I also hope to teach them what they can do simply with a No. 2 pencil. I encourage them to draw what they see rather than what they get an idea of. That means if you see an orange butterfly, draw an orange butterfly: 1) See if there is anything else you can notice--black coloration in the wings? bigger at the top than at the bottom? and add it to your drawing, and 2) Save the purple butterfly for another drawing. They can be very critical of their work, which discourages them, so I point out the aspects I like or things they did well. Successes.

Do you do nature journals? What would you say to a novice? Any advice? Or are you a novice too?

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