How to Make A Child’s Nature Journal

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Kids Nature Journal

I teach classes all around my community. Sometimes we hold them here on our farm, but I really love to take people to spaces they might not have explored yet. This past weekend I took a class to a local park in our Metro Park system and didn’t think anything of using the public space in this way. Imagine my surprise when it caused quite a stir among the administration of the park who were very worried about my being there.

In the end, their concern was that I might pick, dig or otherwise damage the plants that were growing in the park. I was raised up the street from a public park and our elementary classes routinely involved trips there. There was never a time when I didn’t know that there are rules within a public park. But, of course, it is entirely possible that we have a generation that does not know that you never pick anything in a public park. Our park officials must now police people who just think this or that flower is pretty so they “just wanted to pick a bouquet to take home.” (Sigh.)

In the end it was a non-issue as my class centered on lecture and then I took my students for a walk in the gardens to see living examples of what I was teaching. In fact, I tend to teach methods for non-invasive collection and study in parks.

How to Study Plants in a Public Park

In a public park there are different considerations than if you are walking in a wild area where you are free to collect samples. You must be a bit more creative when you want to remember what you’ve seen or “take something home” to study more in depth. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Leaf or bark rubbings
  2. Photographs and videos
  3. Drawings/Painting

For those who have never done a leaf or bark rubbing, have your child place a solid surface carefully below a leaf and a thin piece of paper on top. With a pencil or crayon lightly rub over the surface. This should transfer the shape and often many of the vein patterns onto the paper. Your child can then analyze the leaf with a good field guide at home at his/her leisure. Bark rubbings are similar, though they just require the application of the paper directly onto the side of the tree.

Making a Child’s Nature Journal

Are kids still going to parks on field trips? Some may not be. With the legality these days of carting kids around during school hours may be preventing all the opportunities I had in school. My kids will still learn everything I learned about parks. I decided this week is as good a time to start as any.

Children love to explore their environment. As you follow the right rules for plant “collection” in a park your drawings, paintings and photos will need to be kept together. I like to make a book each year to document what they are learning, so each year we make a new journal. They can take it with them to the park, but they can also collect in wild areas (or just the back yard) where they are able to take actual plant cuttings. Plant cuttings can be added to pages with tape.

The beauty of this design is the yarn tie binding. Start out the year with as many pages as you’d like. If your field trips or vacations require more pages, simply cut or untie the binding and add more!


For the Cover:

Select two 8.5 x 11” pieces of cardboard. Help your child, with glue and colored construction paper, to cover and decorate one side of each piece. These will be the front and back cover to your journal.

You might like to add a pouch on the front for holding crayons or pencils. This can be easily done by selecting a zippered pencil case from the store and stapling it on the cover. We like to keep a couple crayons, a pencil and a glue stick with each journal.

Punch holes with a three hole punch on one side of each cover.

For the Inner Pages:

Computer paper that comes in large boxes at a discount is my favorite. It’s medium weight, good for rubbings, and also holds up to glue and taping.

Punch holes through all pages with a three hole punch on one side of the pages.

Putting it Together:

Select colorful pieces of yarn and tie the pages together in all three holes.

I also like to label each one with the year. It is fun to see what each child is attracted to and how that changes year to year.

Are you out exploring nature with your children?

How do you remember what they’re learning and finding? Share in the comments below!


About Dawn Combs

Dawn is a wife, mother, farmer, author, ethnobotanist, professional speaker, and educator. She has over 20 years of ethnobotanical experience, is a certified herbalist, and has a B.A. in Botany and Humanities/Classics. Dawn is co-owner of Mockingbird Meadows Farm. Her books include Conceiving Healthy Babies and Heal Local.

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