Nature Study for Young People

“As soon as a child is old enough, he should keep his own nature notebook for his enjoyment. Every day’s walk will give something interesting to add–three squirrels playing in a tree, a bluejay flying across a field, a caterpillar crawling up a bush, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider suddenly dropping from a thread to the ground, where he found ivy and how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, and how ivy manages to climb.”
Charlotte Mason Volume 1 Home Education page 54.

Here are some other thoughts on nature study from Charlotte Mason.

  • The skill of drawing should not be addressed in the nature notebook. pg. 55
  • If the child is too young to write, the mother should do it. pg. 58
  • Encourage your children to sit quietly and patiently and to look closely. pg. 57
  • Some children are born naturalists but all have a natural curiousity that can be encouraged. pg. 58
  • Most children will think of a million things to put in his nature notebook. pg 55

Here are some of my own observations on nature study.

  • It takes my children a long time to explore outdoors and they can do it very well without my interfering. I try to follow their lead and not rush them.
  • I need to participate in the nature study myself. I try to model how to find a subject for my notebook and really observe the object.
  • Drawing the object in the notebook is the last step in really “seeing” the object.
  • There is no use in forcing a child to work in a nature journal. Regular exposure to the outdoor life will eventually lead to a desire to keep a record of what they see that interests them.
  • Every nature journal is unique to the owner. I tend to record scenes in my journal. My daughter usually finds something pretty to draw. My boys find “things” to record in their journals like sticks, bugs, leaves, and seeds.
  • Don’t limit your journals to sketches. Sometimes we include photos in our journals. We have taken rubbings of bark or leaves. We have even taped small objects into our journals. Variety in our journals make them more interesting.

We have been working diligently in our notebooks this summer, recording our adventures. It is comforting to look back on the sketches and remember what fun we have had exploring the outdoors.

How to Make a Nature Journal

I thought I would share a quick little nature journal idea that we like to make for an outing or a special roadtrip.



  • 4 sheets of paper…any kind will do
  • hole punch
  • rubberband
  • twig

Fold the paper in half.

Punch two holes near the edge of the folded side of the paper.

Put the rubberband around the twig and then down through one of the holes.

Stretch the rubberband on the backside of the paper and up through the other hole.

Put the rubberband around the other end of the twig.


There you have it.


Add decoration to the cover if you wish.

Nature Study the Gentle Way

My suggestion: Study one tree, one bird, and one insect per school year.

Take it slowly.
Find one tree in your yard that you can study for a whole term.

    • Find out what kind of tree it is.
    • Make rubbings of the leaves and bark.
    • Does it drop its leaves or does it stay green year round?
    • Does it have any birds in it? Any insect holes? Hollows for critters?
    • Can you climb up into it and see what the view is?
    • Can you lay under your tree and watch the branches move in the breeze?
    • Does it have blossoms, fruit, cones, seeds, or other objects to study?
    • Do you see a nest in the tree?
    • Is the trunk straight, crooked, twisted, rough, or smooth?
    • Do the leaves or needles smell good? How about the bark?
    • Watch and observe and narrate one thing at a time you will find that it is really not so hard. If you feel like recording the experience, put something on paper.

I don’t look at outdoor time and nature study as one more subject I need to plan and be ready for, I just let it unfold. If your children want to learn more about something they find while outdoors, gradually teach them to look things up for themselves in a good field guide or on your next trip to the library.If you observe and identify one tree per year, over the course of your child’s education, you will have learned about 12 different trees…I don’t know about you but I have a hard time just listing 12 trees by name so if your child has become acquainted with 12 trees, they are far better off than many of us.


Slowly, gradually, gently….it works.

So I decided to follow my own advice and I went out and found a tree in my yard that I was interested in learning about. Turns out that after examining the leaves and the trunk of the tree, I discovered my tree is an Interior Live Oak. I know there are several varieties of oaks in my yard but I have never taken the time to identify them as any particular oak. My oak has leaves with pointy edges and they are glossy on both sides. It also has pointy acorns. While I was examining the trunk I discovered that one side of it has *lots* of woodpecker holes drilled into it. I have walked by this particular tree hundreds of times but have failed to notice the holes. Amazing….now I will on the watch to see if I can see the woodpecker that makes the holes. :)

I used a tree identification guide and my new tree field guide to help me. This whole process, including taking the photos, only took a few minutes. I plan on watching my oak to see if there are any other things that I can learn about it.

The Getting Started ebook is available in every level of membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study.