As a parent or teacher, instilling a love of nature into a child begins with you. I won't lie and tell you that working with children is easy, but positive support will certainly help! The nature study resources below are some of my personal favorites. The goal is to enter into the child’s world, open our eyes to what they see, and to train them (and ourselves) to look deeper, explore further, ask more questions, and search for answers.
Young children rarely require a pep talk on nature study because exploring nature comes naturally to a child. However, nature study often requires the retraining of adults! Unfortunately, we adults have often pushed aside our ability to pause, reflect, and learn in the pursuit of more “productive” activities.
"There are two and only two occupations for Saturday afternoon or forenoon for a teacher. One is to be out-of-doors and the other is to lie in bed, and the first is best. Out in this, God's beautiful world, there is everything waiting to heal lacerated nerves, to strengthen tired muscles, to please and content the soul that is torn to shreds with duty and care." Anna Comstock
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of nature study resources but only a few of the many ones available that I’ve found valuable. As an added help, much of what I've listed is free to use. I'm pretty picky about sharing and using free resources. Through the years, I've found out that many freebies aren't worth the effort of the download. However, these are!
Most of these resources are geared toward the general subject of nature study through journaling. An online search for specific nature study subjects— identifying trees, Pacific coast seashells, sketching mammals, mycological keys, etc— will uncover more resources than a person can use in a lifetime.
"We want so much more. We do not want merely to see beauty, though God knows even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words— to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it." C.S. Lewis
If you’ve found additional nature study and journaling resources that have been helpful to you, please leave me a comment! I’m always on the lookout for more aids to add to my ever-growing library. For a list of supplies that I recommend for children of various ages, see this post.
[The resources below are listed in alphabetical order, and some contain affiliate links. Much thanks for your support!]
Nature Study Books
Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock
This book has pretty much become THE resource for nature educators and can keep one busy in the wilds for decades. The contents include plenty of discussion and identification tips along with questions and prompts to heighten observation and study. Now in the public domain, this massive volume is offered as a free PDF to download or read online. However, the work is so extensive and useful, I highly recommend splurging for a hard copy.
Journaling a Year in Nature
This is an interactive, yearlong nature study and journal published by Simply Charlotte Mason for grades 1-12. However, this book is currently on my to-buy list because I'm excited about using the yearlong study for myself! The book is divided into four seasons and includes weekly prompts of what to study each season with room for notes and drawings. Plus, it is full of inspiring quotes, helpful nature tips, and more. You can download a free sample at the link above.
Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles Roth
This was the first nature journaling book I ever purchased, and I still read it constantly. The main portion of this book is divided into seasons, and reading it feels as if one is taking a nature walk alongside a master naturalist who asks great questions along the way. Highly inspirational, I recommend it for parents, teachers, and children in middle grades and up.
The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing & Journaling by John Muir Laws
This is one of my favorite nature journaling resources, and I've posted a full review here. I highly recommend this book for kids in middle grades and up.
Take Along Guides
Each of these little books have fun identification tips, nature facts, and questions to spark imagination and interest along with several activities and experiments. There is no journaling space, but that could easily be provided separately. I recommend these for ages 4-8. If you are looking for something similar for older children, try A Country Diary for an Edwardian Lady or the series of books by Maryjo Koch.
Charlotte Mason's Original Series
Charlotte Mason was a British educator who included the art of nature study into all manner of teachings and studies. Her series on education can be read for free, or compilations of Mason's writings are often published and republished. Currently, there is an affordable volume of her teachings on nature study at Amazon.
Exploring Nature with Children by Lynn at Raising Little Shoots
This book is currently only available as a PDF download, but it offers a month-by-month, year-long guide to nature study full of prompts, questions, information, and activities. You can download a free sample at the link above.
Nature Study Blogs & Websites
Half-a-Hundred Acre Wood
Educator Brandy Ferrell hosts this site, and I love her enthusiasm regarding nature study and observation. Though her posts on science and nature study can require a bit of searching to find, Brandy shares some valuable resources.
Handbook of Nature Study
This website is not affiliated with the author or publisher of the book by the same name (see above) but was begun by a mother who wanted to share her family’s homeschooling nature adventures. As the site has grown, some of the resources are now only available with a paid subscription, but there is still much free here, especially for the 12-and-under crowd. The Outdoor Hour Challenges are inspirational, and I often use them myself!
I hesitate to recommend such an ad-heavy site, but if you have the fortitude to ignore all of the flashing click-throughs and popups and are willing to wade through the posts on nature study freebies, you’ll occasionally find some gems hidden here.
John Muir Laws
John Muir Laws (lovingly known as “Jack” to his friends and followers) is a nature sketcher and educator, and his website, YouTube channel, and printed books (see above) are full of nature study helps and tutorials. Jack primarily works with adults, but he has written curriculum for children also (see below). Kids of all ages can learn from his how-to-draw videos and posts.
Our Journey Westward
This blog is packed full of nature study and science resources and ideas, as well as a host of other fun things for parents and educators. Some of the author's resources are for sale, but she also shares a lot of nature study freebies and information. Regardless of the occasional sales pitch, her enthusiasm for nature is contagious.
Scratchmade Journal (Of course!)
Though my site is not kid-specific, we are very G-rated around here, so it is certainly kid-friendly! I constantly post new content on nature study and journaling, because I don't think I shall ever tire of exploring and studying this amazing world that we live in. I invite you to join me! Subscribe to future blog posts here.
Free Nature Study Curriculum
The Beetle’s Project
Field Journaling with Students is a downloadable 52-page leader’s guide written for teaching classes and groups, but it can easily be used with individual children. Other goodies available are Beetle's Project student activity sheets and additional resources for teachers and leaders.
California Native Plant Society
CNPS offers an absolutely free, downloadable nature journaling curriculum specifically for teaching children the subject of science through observation. This curriculum was written by some of the top naturalist in the field, including the aforementioned John Muir Laws. Though the curriculum requires an email to download, there is no subscription or sign-up list. (There is also a print copy available for order.) CNPS also has a resource list for educators.
National Wildlife Federation
NWF has a number of free, downloadable wildlife and nature education resources, and several lesson plans are advanced enough for high schoolers which, when it comes to free resources, are often hard to find.
Simply Charlotte Mason
Primarily a resource for parents, the information here can also be extremely useful for educators. Since this site doesn't overload visitors with information, it's a great place for beginners that are new to the art of nature study and nature notebooking or journaling (these terms are interchangeable). SCM also publishes the nature journal book mentioned above.
Smithsonian offers a nature study resource with lesson plans for older kids and students in their free, downloadable booklet, Introduction to Nature Journaling. While at the site, you may want to check out Smithsonian's hub of available resources for educators.
Free Nature Study Printables
There are about a million nature study printables online (seriously... just do a search for "nature walk printable" or "nature journal printable"), and many of the websites in this post offer free printables. Below, I've linked to only a few of the many available, plus two different nature journaling printables that I have put together.
Printables are great but should be used sparingly. They are perfect for very young children, for those just getting started in nature journaling, or for logging specific studies like moon phases, plant growth, or tidal patterns. However, if used too often, preplanned pages can actually stifle creativity in kids.
So feel free to use and enjoy these printables, but as soon as the child is ready to handle a blank journal, it's best to let the only guide be his or her imagination!
[Note: I try to only share printables that do not require a subscription sign-up or other nonsense, but blogs and websites change all of the time. If you have trouble with a link, please let me know so I can remove it or replace it. Thank you!]
Free Preschool Nature Printables via To the Moon and Back; 15 pages of fun nature study printables for very young preschoolers.
Nature Observation Printables via The Homeschool Scientist; 6 pages including the cover with each additional page dedicated to a different facet of nature study.
Nature Journaling for Kids Regardless of your proximity to the Puget Sound, this booklet by Megan Quint an amazing printable guide that can help kids get started journaling in nature.
Nature Journaling Printables Again, here are the two versions that I put together that are appropriate for a wide range of ages.
More Resources for Nature Study
I've not ordered from this company (yet!), but I sure do enjoy perusing their website. This store is a wonderful resource for educators and parents who have money to spend. For those of us who do not, it's a great place to gather ideas for future nature projects!