Years ago, whenever my family went travelling, my parents encouraged both my brother and me to keep a travel journal. We would write about our days—what we had seen, where we had gone, what was our favourite part of the day. We would cut up brochures and newspapers and collect postcards to glue in the pages. When we got home, we’d have our photos printed to add in. Now, I can take out those journals and remember our adventures and see what my younger self was thinking and feeling.
Today, I find myself thinking about how we have fewer opportunities to travel because we’re encouraged to stay local. Our daily lives have changed and adjusting to this “new normal” takes time and effort. Recording this time, these changing habits, could be a way to help us process and reflect on the world around us. This connection to what’s around us and the process of recording it, similar to my old travel journals, could take the form of nature journaling.
Nature journaling is a way of connecting to nature and the world around you through writing, storytelling, or drawing. It can be simple with a pencil and notebook, or elaborate with paints, brushes, and sketchbooks. It can be full of poems and short stories, or drawings and paintings, or plant rubbings and tracings. A nature journal helps you stop and focus on the world around you—whether it’s a tree rustling in the breeze, a squirrel chittering high in a tree, or a waterfall rushing over rocks.
A great way to start your own family nature journal is by visiting a nearby regional park, beach, or your backyard without a pencil or paper. Get started by simply observing nature without recording it. Have everyone get down low to the ground and try to spot some insects crawling around. Find leaves from different trees on the ground and compare them through touch, smell, and sight. Listen for songbirds hidden amongst the trees and see if anyone can mimic their call.
Really take your time in observing everything around you and when you return home, ask everyone what they enjoyed most from the day. Do they have a story about the day? Storytelling can be one technique to gather ideas for nature journaling. The art of storytelling has been done for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples across Canada. Indigenous peoples observe and learn from the environment in a variety of ways that could include observations of animal behaviour, changing seasons, or migratory paths of birds. The knowledge gained is then passed on through ceremonies and oral storytelling.
After sharing your stories, the next time you head out for an adventure, bring some pencils and paper with you. Let everyone choose what they want to write or draw about. For younger kids, tracing leaves on paper can be a great way to fine-tune motor skills. Or have them do some leaf rubbings and they can go wild with their pencil. Older kids can try their hand at sketching or writing down what they observe.
One of the most important things for nature journaling is for you, the adult, to join in! When you participate, it encourages the kids to engage, especially if you’re enthusiastic. And if/when you make a mistake—show the kids! It takes the pressure off the kids to be perfect and they won’t feel bad if they make a mistake. Laugh about it and keep it in the journal as just another experience to look back on.
Numerous studies have shown that spending time in nature helps not only physical health but emotional and mental health as well. This is especially key in these changing times when there’s so much uncertainty in the air. Nature journaling gives you the opportunity to slow down and observe your surroundings, recording, learning, and reflecting as you go.
Whether through species counts, weather observations, plant measurements, storytelling, drawings, paintings, or poems, your nature journal is purely a way for you to connect with nature and the world around you. There is no right or wrong way to keep a nature journal. It is for you and your family and any imperfections are what make the journal unique.
When out nature journaling, please help keep regional parks safe and open by practicing physical distancing from other visitors and staying home if you’re sick. For up to date information on CRD Regional Parks, visit www.crd.bc.ca/about/news/covid-19-information.