NOTEBOOKING IN THE SUMMER TIME
April 23, 2003
Have you ever wanted your children to be drawn into learning in summer but just didn’t know how?? Nature Notebooking is the most natural way for a child to learn while having fun. It all starts with a walk through the woods, or along a river, or a hike along some path through a park. Let them collect objects from nature that they find along the way in a small Ziploc bag. Then when they get home they can either put the object into their notebook (if flat) or draw it.
Setting up a Nature Notebook is easy for a young child. Just purchase a three ring binder and slip a pretty picture into the front sleeve. We like to use pictures from old calendars cut down to the correct size. If the child is older or interested in drawing, he can draw and design his own insert for the cover of the Notebook. For a younger child, all I do is slip his notebook page into the plastic sheet which saves the holes from ripping (no more ugly reinforcers dropping off!!) Eventually, if any one interest grows too large for the binder, it can be moved to its own binder. This is the beginning of writing a book!!
As moms, communicating our ideas on how to do something like Notebooking to our children can be quite a challenge. When I first started introducing this idea to my children they would look at me with blank stares like I was crazy!! They just didn’t get it!! That was because they were used to writing only what they HAD to write and their writing was stifled and boring like the words off the page of an elementary textbook. They wrote without depth or feeling and it was always a chore trying to help them decide how to write entries into a plastic sleeve for protection. I don’t worry about the order or organizing it into sections (plants, trees, birds) until the child is able to do it himself. Otherwise I have complicated the process and made it ‘‘mine’’ instead of the child’s. One of my children (at least) always liked to change around where his accomplishments were kept, so I was glad that I had not put them how ““I”” wanted them.
For an older child, his Notebook will take on an individual *look* all his own. He might like to have it divided into sections to reflect various interests such as birds, trees, and whatever other areas catch his eye. It really doesn’t matter how it is done, as it is something that reflects personal style of each child’s individuality. Plastic sleeves (purchased at Sam’s Club, Staples, or Wal-Mart) give a neat and professional appearance that is sure to impress grandparents and friends. The notebook is also a keepsake and the plastic sleeves help to make it attractive. I read portions of Wisdom’s Way of Learning that talked about Notebooking and read, Notebooking! Yes! You CAN Be a Binder Queen! By Cindy Rushton. With a Nature Notebook topics to write about come naturally when you are on a walk or hike. There is always something to sketch and then the child can write about it with feeling also describing how he sees the attributes of God through nature.
We have a river near our home which we frequently visit especially during the spring and summer. On a warm sunny day we will walk along the river and then pick a spot to sit and observe. The children bring a clipboard, or vinyl zippered notebook with their papers, pencils, crayons, and erasers inside of it. They leave their actual nature notebook at home or it would get ruined on the walks we take. Often they use a sketch pad (taken on the walk) and when they are home from the walk they cut that page to fit the plastic sheet. They might see a crawfish or turtle along the path and they will describe and draw it. Sketching is not accurate drawing which tends to discourage most children and adults alike. It is just a rough drawing that basically shows what they have seen.
We have learned to include many wonderful things in our Nature Notebooks by reading and studying a couple books by naturalists. The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden is a gorgeous book which demonstrates the beauty and potential which may be included in such a book. As Mrs. Holden journals her way through her adventures with nature she demonstrates what she has seen through beautiful painted drawings. For our children, they can do this with pencil crayons and have a lovely effect. Sometimes, she included poems. Sometimes she gave a long journal of her experience with nature. Other times there was just a bit of writing with more drawings. She decorated around the edges of the pages with leaves and flowers and what she had seen. Then, there are larger drawings of plants and just a caption under them identifying them. There is also a video of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady which is thoroughly enjoyable.
Another book that has helped us along the road to Notebooking is, Nature Journaling by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E. Roth. This book is different than the first in that it is not someone’s nature journal but instead illustrates how to do one yourself giving all sorts of ideas. It does have pages upon pages of examples showing beautifully what can be put within the pages of your own book. Throughout the book it gives all sorts of ideas on what can be included to make your journal interesting.
The first thing to do in getting started is to begin exploring. Get comfortable with the outdoors and begin to listen and look for things that you are not used to noticing in nature. You will find that being confined and cooped up inside has stifled your senses so that you do not hear and see the world around you. Take walks as often as you can so that you begin to hear the river, hear how one bird sounds different than another, listen to the frog croak, or the turtles splash into the swamp. Teach your children to listen and hear these things too. That might mean that they need to have some rules for the walk (or a portion of the walk) or they will not chatter and run noisily through the thicket, cracking branches and scaring any nature away that isn’t stuck in the ground by a trunk!! Have them sit quietly for five minutes and increase the amount of time as they become comfortable with nature so they notice the sounds and feel drawn to the peaceful surroundings. Help them to notice their surroundings. Is there limestone rock, dirt, clay, a river? What kind of trees are there, is there grass? When they become experienced nature journalists take them on a walk in inclimate weather. Have you ever taken a walk in the rain, snow, sleet? I know it is nicer to stay inside, but there are still very interesting things to see and hear. Everything can look quite different!!
We know so much about the travels of Christopher Columbus because records of his explorations were recorded in his Logbook (another name for a Nature Notebook or Journal). This is how he convinced Queen Isabella that he had reached the New World. His logbook is an extremely detailed book of his travels and adventures. Then there is President Thomas Jefferson who hired explorers Lewis and Clark to lead the expedition on the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. Yes, they were skilled explorers but each of them kept a meticulous journal of their travels. They included detailed drawings and writings. These are the best records we have today of their hazardous two-year journey. (1)
Other examples of those from the past who have been naturalists are numerous. They are the oldest scientific learners. Pliny, Aristotle, Linnaeus, Audubon, Pasteur, Thoreau, and Thomas Jefferson are just a few who can be studied to encourage an interest to develop in our children. It is also interesting to point out to our children the differences in how some of these men viewed God’s creation. Some honored Him and others just never *saw* God in nature.
In a journal, stories having to do with animals, or other adventurous journeys through nature may be added to the book to add variety. One child might want her journal to reflect a summer vegetable or flower garden. Another might want it to reflect a season like spring which brings so many changes in nature. The ideas are endless.
If you want your children to learn during the summer, then consider Nature Notebooking! It is such a natural way to involve your children in learning, taking the ‘‘classroom’’ outdoors. Children LOVE this!! In this one exercise there are so many components incorporated as they write, draw, spell, use grammar, research, and exercise. You will love this relaxed approach to learning for both you and your children. Get involved yourself and set the example for your children while learning about nature and keep a nature journal yourself!!
(1) Nature Journal p. 8