Due to vast differences in the human species, it is possible that not all children will immediately take to nature journaling. Not all will have a passion for writing or drawing or for icky things and wild places.
In modern society, rare is the child who even has easy access to the natural world. I wish every child (and adult!) had backyard access to a hundred acres with a bubbling creek and a forest teaming with things to discover. But I'm also smart enough to recognize that it is possible that not every child (or adult) would enjoy this lifestyle on a permanent basis.
"We all need a certain amount of fallow time— watching the grass grow, sitting on a hillside, staring out the window daydreaming. When we don’t have it, there is a deeper intelligence that won’t come forth." Sue Bender
First, let's address the child who doesn't enjoy drawing. I've never met a preschooler who doesn’t like to doodle and color, though there could be one out there. More than likely a child doesn't enjoy drawing because, somewhere along the way, he has believed the thief of comparison and mistakenly come to the conclusion that he isn't very good.
Oh how I hate this, because the goal of journaling is not to draw well; it's to capture the world around us. Children develop hand/eye coordination at different rates, and the child who falsely believes himself untalented may just be a year or two behind his peers.
Some children are born with certain traits, characteristics, and developmental patterns that translate into what we call "artistic talent," but all people can still draw and draw well. Drawing is a skill like baking; the more you do it, the better you will be. The important thing is that the child doesn't quit.
However some children are naturally more active and quickly get bored with writing and drawing. Nature study is wonderful for children who like to learn in motion, because sitting at a desk for hours daily may destroy any joy your kinesthetic learner has with drawing and writing. If you have an active child who doesn't like to draw or write, some of the alternative nature study ideas below may reignite their interest.
Some children are naturally more neat, squeamish, or reserved and may not enjoy the "messiness" and uncontrollable nature of the outdoor world. With these children, it's best to take it slowly and allow them to explore at their own pace. I’ve witnessed in my own child’s life how being safely exposed to nature and given plenty of time to warm up can transform a timid child to into one that loves nature.
"Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I've ever gained from this. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing. Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away." Ann Voskamp
But what should you do with a child who has already labeled himself as someone who doesn't like to draw, or doesn't like to be outdoors, or maybe one who doesn't even have daily access to natural, outdoor spaces? Below, I've listed a few alternative ways that your child can get involved in nature study without drawing or even having a backyard.
If your child loves to draw and be outdoors, the alternative nature study ideas below are also extremely useful. The point is, nature study should never be limited to the country child, the child who likes science or likes to draw, or the child who is outdoorsy. Nature is for everyone!
Alternative Ideas for Nature Study
Regardless of the means of nature study, I would still encourage the documentation of information. Just call it a nature notebook or field book, and allow the child to bullet-list information or observations— no drawing required.
Another great way to document information is via the internet. There are tons of places online to get involved and share information. A few of the many examples are iNaturalist, eBird, eButterfly, WildlifeLog and Project Noah. Or have your child volunteer for a citizen scientist program (check with local conservancy and nature centers also) where he or she is required to complete simple studies and share research, or encourage older children to create their own blog or website like the ones at Crammed with Heaven or A Summer in Turtle Time.
Alternative Art Forms
There are so many ways to document nature besides sketching! Stampings and rubbings from natural objects make wonderful additions to nature journals and are great for kids of all ages, including adults. Even young children can sculpt forms from clay, make spore prints, sun prints, or even create molds of animal tracks. Older children may enjoy photography, wood or stone carving, or other unique ways to capture the art of nature.
Starting a collection— anything from rocks to pressed flowers to moths— is a great way to study nature. Parents and teachers can often spark a love of collecting by being collectors themselves. (We have bowls filled with all sorts of found objects scattered around our home.) Collecting also involves identification and organization, two valuable skills in nature study.
Live Animal Care
Domesticated animals or family pets provide ample opportunities for nature study. In the backyard, wildlife feeders or houses are wonderful for viewing nature. Your child may also enjoy raising live specimens like tadpoles, caterpillars/moths, or even sea monkeys (aka brine shrimp).
Books can't replace hands-on learning, but they can inspire kids to dig deeper into a subject. Keep a shelf stocked with field guides for your area. (Those with photos are best for children.) Encourage your child to read books about adventurers (Lewis & Clark, Daniel Boone, etc) who made being outdoors a large part of their lives. Great fiction books (Where the Red Fern Grows, White Fang, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, etc) can also spark a love of and interest in nature.
Keeping science tools out to be used whenever the child has a desire is an excellent way to encourage nature study. A table set with a microscope and slides, a telescope that has a permanent place on a balcony, binoculars hanging by a window, or even a backyard weather station tells a child that nature is always at their fingertips!
It’s pretty amazing how much fine art through the ages focuses on nature. Art history studies and museum visits that highlight works by Ansel Adams, John James Audubon, the Hudson River School and many others (do an internet search for “wildlife artists” and be prepared to sit for a while) are great ways to introduce your children to the wonders of nature. Of course, modern day nature artists may also inspire your child to explore this beautiful facet of nature study.
Hands-on nature work is perfect for both cerebral and active kids. Spend time or volunteer at local wildlife or conservation centers, natural history museums, aquariums, and zoos. Even the simple act of picking up trash can open your child’s eyes to the world around them and our impact upon it.
Many outdoor activities like fishing, hiking, gardening, foraging, spelunking, astronomy, and camping require learning a fair amount about nature— at least to be successful at it! If you child has any interest in an outdoor sport or hobby, give full support to his or her desire to learn.
Be Involved Yourself
Wonder is contagious, and the best way to teach your child is to join him!
If all else fails...
Regardless of your best intentions and efforts, there is no guarantee a child will embrace a lifelong love of nature journaling. Though I have always made nature exploration a huge part of our children’s studies, and though our children are very creative and artistic— constantly drawing, designing, and creating— their current hobbies do not include nature journaling.
They do enjoy being outdoors, and they have developed their own ways of continuing to learn about nature. However, I confess that the only way I can get them to do “nature journaling” is to make some form of it a requirement for their school studies. Which I often do.
Art in its simplest and yet its most profound ideal is nothing more than exploration of the world around us and expression of what is within us— creativity taking form. Because of this, all life should be viewed as art— not only singing, dancing and painting, but also healing, inventing, and so-called simple acts such as conversing, cooking, and swimming.
The point is not to raise kids who love nature journaling. The point is to raise kids who have a huge fascination and respect for the world around them. Exposing children to the things that nature can teach will give them knowledge, skills, and confidence for a variety of creative pursuits and interests. Kudos to the child who is confident enough to pursue his or her own personal interests... whatever those may be!