Nature Journaling with Kids
September 9, 2012
From AMC Outdoors, September 2012

Journaling can be a wonderful part of a family outing. Writing and drawing foster a connection with the natural world around you, while creating a lasting memento. With a flexible interpretation of what journaling is, children of all ages can participate. A plain, unlined notebook works well, especially one with a blank cover that children can decorate themselves. Each piece of paper is a clean slate for rendering and doodling, and it liberates writers from the need to use perfect penmanship. Journaling is a personal experience and an expression of creativity, not an assignment that needs to have all i's dotted and t's crossed.

When traveling on day trips or overnights, bring the journals and a plastic bag with markers, pencils, and crayons. Older children may like using watercolors. Before or after mealtime, or whenever there's a lull in activity, pull out the materials and allow children to express themselves on paper however they want. Perhaps ask them if they can sketch a landscape or detail that they saw during the day, or draw a scene of what they loved or found challenging.

A family journal can take this process to the next level. Parents might write a description of an entire day's excursion, or everyone can participate, round-robin style. One person has the power of the pen, and everyone offers an impression or memory from the day. Each description is jotted down next to the person's name.

Maps also make terrific ad hoc journals. If your destination provides paper maps, record notes on what you see at various places, or scribble down who made a poignant observation at a particular point. Such personalized maps can become keepsakes that just might inspire a passion for cartography. Maps mounted on bulletin boards at home also allow you to mark destinations with different-colored pins for everyone who made a trip.

Flip through the journals weeks and months later, and the trips come alive. We can feel our son Riley's energy as he leads us up a mountain where "you get to see the highest waterfalls" (Kaaterskill Falls in New York's Catskills). And it is recorded for posterity that we stayed in cabin 5 at Brookside Campground (while traveling in the Catskills and Hudson Valley) because, as our daughter Halina noted, "that's my age." You may also scan journal pages into your computer and make them part of a digital book of your travels, perhaps combined with photos. Print copies for your own keepsakes or share with family and friends.

This article is adapted from an essay in Outdoors with Kids New York City: 100 Fun Places to Explore in and around the City.

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Make a leaf sailboat. A fallen leaf can be the sail, a stick the mast, and a pinecone or piece of bark the boat body. Head to a nearby pond, stream, or backyard kiddy pool to sail it.



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