Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: Keeping a Nature Journal

by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth

If you are tempted by the idea of a nature journal but don't know where to start, this book is a great introduction and beautiful, too. Ms. Leslie and Mr. Roth have years of experience between them, journaling from nature and writing and teaching about nature journaling. The book is full of wonderful full-color illustrations taken from not only their own journals, but those of some of their students of all ages.

Most importantly, the book offers concrete suggestions for getting started with a nature journal. A series of questions is provided that can lead you through the first attempts, giving ideas on something (anything) that can be written or drawn. Once started, I would expect the journaling to become more personal and less scripted. (I'd like to say I've started a journal, but though I've been inspired to draw a few things while outside with the kids I've mostly been concentrating on growing a baby and doing the bare minimum to keep the household running. They recommend, and it makes perfect sense, that the children will do as the teacher or parent does, so the best way to encourage nature journaling is probably to engage in it myself.)

There are nature drawing exercises with suggestions on drawing specific kinds of plants or animals. They recommend drawing from guidebooks or other picture books as practice, as those animals aren't moving. They also recommend trips to the zoo, aquarium or nature centers where animals may be found either in cages or stuffed for drawing practice sessions. Also sprinkled throughout, the authors identify some of their favorite drawing implements, sometimes even with recommendations on brands or which types work best for different drawings. One double spread of pages offers suggestions for themes that could be used through a year (like birds, which we'll be doing next year!) and specific observations and thoughtful questions for each season.

The authors do not recommend teaching extensive techniques for drawing to children under seven. I liked this suggestion (partly because I have no inclination to teach specific techniques next year.) I appreciate the idea of letting First Son enjoy his time out in the yard or field with a journal and a pencil and would rather he be pleased with whatever drawing he makes, as long as he is applying himself and progressing. While some things are efficiently done together, I think learning techniques for nature journaling or concentrating on the plant or animal at hand while learning to draw is quite a lot to ask of a little one (or anyone). Better to focus on the nature and practice the specific drawing techniques later.

Not all of the comments from the journals appealed to me. Some of the selected quotes from environmentalists or other published essays seemed a little heavy at times. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if others would feel the same about things I might write in my nature journal. (Or perhaps I should say things I will write in my nature journal, one day.)

The last chapter provides a wide range of suggestions and recommendations for working with students. Though mainly written for a teacher of many students (sometimes of different abilities), most of the ideas can be easily modified for the homeschooling family.

There are also a number of lists in the back of the book of books on other topics (like those focusing even more on drawing techniques from nature) and a list of other resources.

I'm sure there are a lot of books out there on creating a nature journal, but this is the only one I've read and I don't really feel the need to find any others. It's given me everything I need to get started, and to help First Son next year. (Does anyone know if journaling is really a possibility with a baby? If I had to guess, I'd give myself a few months and then I'll have to set it aside while I, once again, try to keep a baby from imminent harm while wandering the yard. I know, it's probably not going to happen, but I'm always on the watch for mushrooms baby might eat or snakes baby might surprise into attacking.)


  1. I've always enjoyed your book reviews and have read many that you've recommended. I missed much of your blog over these last few busy months but I'm so glad I'm back... and you're pregnant! Congratulations :)


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