Creating a nature journal for kids is a wonderful way to nurture a child’s love and respect for Mother Earth. It’s an effective play-to-learn tool, combining learning, exploring, and adventure!
While any blank journal could technically be a nature journal, there are fun ways to customize it for your child’s interests, age, and your local area. It can contain activities, challenges, fun facts, space to draw, and so much more!
I’m going to help you get started on your nature journal for kids! But first, let’s go over the basics and the benefits.
(Or, if you want to skip the hullabaloo, you can just use this free downloadable, printer-friendly nature journal for kids.)
What is a Nature Journal?
Simply put, nature journaling is the act of recording observations of nature in a free and non-restrictive way. This might include, but is not limited to:
- Sketches of animals, insects or anything else that occurs in nature
- Writing, including nature-inspired poetry
- Leaf rubbings
- Nature-inspired art using crayons, pencils, markers or watercolor
- Pressed flowers or leaves
There are no rules! A nature journal can be open-ended, allowing children to express themselves in their own, creative way. Before we provide the “how-to” of creating a nature journal for kids, let’s first look at the benefits of nature journaling.
Benefits of Nature Journaling
There are many benefits to creating a nature journal for kids. Not only is it fun for kids, but it’s also great for their health and development!
Calms a Busy Mind
In today’s current world, children are exposed to many fast-moving images and experiences through digital media. Pediatricians say that calming one’s mind can lead to improved emotional and overall health.
By creating a nature journal, children step away from fast-moving information and can just let their minds wander as they create. This allows them to rest their brain in a safe setting.
Use Senses to Observe the Natural World
When children observe the natural world, it gives them the space to use and practice their five senses. By sitting and observing the natural environment, they can utilize their senses to take in the world around them.
They will start to notice different smells, noises, textures, and sights that they may not have noticed previously. Just keep an eye on what they try to taste!
When children are given creative freedom, like writing about the wild or creating nature-inspired art, they can express themselves in a way that feels right to them. Not only do they learn what they like to write or create, but also what they don’t. Overall, it can help them learn and express themselves in a unique way.
Creativity often grows when the mind can be free to do what it wants. One idea will lead to a new (and sometimes better!) idea. By providing children an environment to explore without restrictive rules, they will naturally become even more creative.
Helps Foster a Connection to the Natural Environment
When children sit and think about nature, they will start to feel, or feel deeper, about the natural world. They may discover a love of hummingbirds that they did not have previously. Or notice the differences between a Seven-spot Ladybird and Nine-spotted Lady Beetle (it’s more than just color!). As their interest piques, children will begin to feel a connection to nature that could last a lifetime.
How to Create a Nature Journal for Kids
If this is your first time making a nature journal for kids, keep it simple and have relaxed expectations. This time is meant to be positive, allowing your child to bond with nature—it shouldn’t feel like a dreaded homework assignment!
First, instill a joy for journaling, then encourage your child to take their journaling to the next level. Though, it might not take much encouragement once they start discovering new things!
What You Need to Start Your Journal: The Essentials
The first thing you need is a journal (surprise surprise, right?). Look for one that has thick pages and a hardboard cover. Thick pages are great for kids that want to add watercolor or other art mediums later, and hardboard covers are useful in outdoor conditions.
Or, if you want an instant solution that is pre-packed with nature activities, you can download and print this free nature journal for kids.
Writing or Coloring Utensil
The only other “essential” for a nature journal is a writing utensil. Whether it’s a pencil, pen, marker, or crayon, it’s your choice (or your kids). I suggest somehow attaching the writing utensil to the journal with a string or ribbon. Or, you can pack a small pencil case or bag with an assortment.
Sure, you can create a nature journal for kids with just a pencil and paper, but some fun accessories can make it even more fun.
Children’s binoculars are lightweight, durable, and come in fun colors. Whether exploring in your backyard or out on a hike, your kids won’t want to put them down. I personally recommend these high-quality kid binoculars that come with a bird identification sticker book.
Digital or Instant Camera
A camera can be a great tool to help children capture certain moments. If they see an animal outside, they might not be able to capture all of its features. A digital or instant camera can help kids add details later, after the animal has disappeared. Some kids also might like to practice their photography skills. What better way to do it?
Children’s Nature or Hiking Bag
Children love to feel like they have ownership over certain parts of their lives. This is no different! By giving your child a nature or hiking bag that they can fill with their journaling materials, they will feel a sense of ownership over their experience.
It also provides a simple way to corral their equipment and collections both on the hike and at home. Win, win!
Crayon rocks are ergonomically shaped crayons made from soybean wax, and produce artwork similar to oil pastels. They are easy for small hands to hold, and vibrant in color. They make shading a snap, and can help children take nature rubbings easily. They also resemble the natural world since they look like rocks!
Washi tape is a decorative and durable adhesive tape that allows children to tape pictures or natural items (like leaves) into their nature journals. Children also love to pick out patterns themselves, so let them go wild! It adds a fun pop of color to their book!
How to Get Your Kid Started on Nature Journaling
If you start with a blank journal, I recommend walking around your backyard with your child for the first entry. Grab a pad of paper and pencil for yourself and hand them their journal. Try leading by example.
For instance, as you pass a flower, look closely at its petals and say, “Wow, this flower has five petals and thorns on its stem.” Then, you can sketch what you see. “It sure smells nice, too!” Try to incorporate as many senses as you can, jotting notes or doodles depending on your child’s age.
Pick up a rock and discuss what you notice. Look up close at the jagged edges of a leaf. Watch the way a lizard climbs up a wall. Point out what you find interesting about these things.
Then ask your child, “What do you see that’s interesting?” Encourage them to draw or take notes, asking them questions about the thing they are interested in. If they don’t write or draw much, that’s okay! The goal for this first adventure is just to look closely and get their minds churning.
Tip: To encourage your child to draw or write, tell them how they can share it with someone close to them. Such as, “Oh, you should draw that so you can show Grammy later!” They are more likely to use the journal if they realize they get to show it off later.
Another Tip: If your child is too young or refuses to draw or write, you can encourage them to press leaves, twigs, and flowers between the pages. You can also show them how to do nature rubbings. Simply press leaves or other items between pages and then scribble back and forth on the top page to see the “imprint” of the item.
Other Nature Journal Ideas
Open-ended journaling works well for some kids, but other kids need a little more guidance (at least to get them started). You can add prompts to your child’s nature journal or give them challenges.
Nature Journal Ideas for Prompts:
- I see…, I hear…, I smell…
- Find and draw something… (i.e., with 6 legs, that’s pink, etc.)
- Close your eyes and then write what you smell
- Close your eyes and then draw what you heard
- Find something soft, hard, rough, and smooth
- Keep a tally of how many birds you see
- Draw an ant, bee, and butterfly and color them when you find one
- and so much more!
A great way to come up with these prompts is to first walk around your backyard or trail. Use whatever you notice as inspiration for the nature journaling prompts.
Free Nature Journal for Kids
The hero of my children’s book series, Elliot’s Adventures, loves to explore and connect with nature. So, I only thought it was fitting that I should create a nature journal for kids myself. I wanted to give parents an easy, ready-made option that, best of all, is free!
Elliot’s Nature Journal has:
- 10 pages of nature activities and journaling prompts
- Beautiful illustrations for your kiddo to color
- Printer-friendly designs to keep ink-use at a minimum
It’s a great way to introduce your child to nature journaling! And there’s no hassle on your part. I’ll send you a digital copy to download and print for free. Then you can send your kid out on an adventure to help them connect with nature!