Backyardsafari's Blog

Environmental Inspiration in Your Own Backyard

Exploring Nature through Field Journals June 16, 2010

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Back in March, I wrote a post about the wonderful benefits of keeping a field journal. I really can’t recommend them enough as a way to bring yourself closer to nature, and help you experience it in a different way. I haven’t been writing in mine as much lately, and am currently trying to get back to it again. Just to give you some more examples beyond what was in the last post, here is a drawing from my last field journal/nature journal entry.

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I was sitting outside a coffee shop in a major east coast city, and I noticed some sparrows flitting about, searching the ground for crumbs and singing out from the edge of old brick window sills. I made a quick drawing of it, trying to especially capture the way the dark markings on the sparrow looked depending on the angle it was facing.

The benefit of this type of exercise, and of the field journal in general, is to stop a moment to look closer. Drawing something–no matter your skill level–forces you to look a little differently, and notice colors and patterns you didn’t see before.

Another exercise I have always liked is the idea of a “day map.” This is something I learned from this book, although it may be discussed elsewhere as well. Basically, you create a map of interesting things you saw through out your day. The idea isn’t to be able to find them again, necessarily, like you would in an actual map, but to record what you notice as you see it. For example, if I made a map of yesterday I would include seeing the holes the groundhogs have dug in the sides of the retention pond by my house, a large brown rabbit hiding in the grass near an office building, and the heavy, soaking rains and overcast skies later in the day. On the map, a dotted line might show my traveling through time and space between these points.

In addition to being a great way to connect to nature, field journals can also be a great resource to go back to later. For example, I often write questions down that I go back and try to answer once I have access to books or a computer. I also can look back on past journals and compare them to what I see now. Is that big twisted tree that fell over but was still growing still there? Am I seeing as many spotted turtles now as I did when I was a kid? What was the name of that funny looking plant again?

I will keep writing in my field journals and will continue to occasionally take pictures to show you some examples of what you can do. If you already have a nature journal/field journal and feel comfortable taking pictures or scanning some pages to send to me at askbackyardsafari@gmail.com, I would love to share them!

Don’t force yourself to be perfect or keep track of everything–just record whatever catches your eye or inspires you!  Field journals can be a wonderful lens to view the natural world through, and I recommend them for all ages. If you have very small children, encourage them to draw pictures of what they see while you record dictated sentences. If you are old enough to write yourself, consider keeping a small book in your backpack or back pocket. If smooth, creamy pages inspire you more, as they do for me, find a blank book you like and use it to record thoughts and sketches of what you see. The most exciting thing about keeping a book like this is finding what works for you!

So let’s all give it a try! I will try to get back to writing in my field journal more often, and if you have never kept one before consider making this week, this month, this summer the time you start!

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5 Responses to “Exploring Nature through Field Journals”

  1. Darwin Says:

    Good one.

  2. Debi Says:

    Just tonight my 5 1/2 year old son & I created our backyard field guide with a drawing and notes about our lemon tree! It was such a fun way to explore the parts of the tree, how it looks, feels and smells. We’ll continue to work on it throughout the summer. There’s so much out there to explore! 🙂

    • What a wonderful story! I love the idea of making a backyard field guide. I also LOVE your blog–you have suck great ideas and your kids are very lucky to have someone so excited and creative about getting them outside! Thanks so much for sharing–I hope you stop by again soon!

  3. […] because they were the messiest! I wanted to do this craft because, as you probably know by now, I am a big believer in nature journaling! For this craft I cut up old manilla folders for the covers and then 10 pieces of white paper for […]

  4. […] have written a few times about nature journals (here and here), and it is something I just can’t recommend enough for people of all ages. It can be […]


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