Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Open eyes, open mind

In today’s post, Discovery Leader Carlin Thompson from Sandbanks Provincial Park shares her best tips for nature journaling with kids.

We did it, parents! We spent another winter.

The struggle to layer toddlers with warm clothing and the scavenger hunt for matching gloves now seems like a distant memory. What sweet relief!

But before the unbridled joy of shedding outerwear gives way to sunscreen-induced carpal tunnel and the din of summer boredom, let’s harness our kids’ excitement about being outdoors.

Get up and go!

Spending time outdoors is essential for the development, health and well-being of every child.

children standing at the register

A large body of research supports the physical and mental benefits of nature and shows that children who spend regular time in nature are happier and healthier. Now is the perfect time to help feed your child’s adventurous nature and desire to be outdoors.

Exploration and discovery are exciting for little explorers, but developing strong observation skills will enhance future exploration and ensure lasting excitement.

Take a good look

Observation is the action or process of observing something carefully.

Observing involves all the senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In essence, it is about collecting information about the world around you; The more improved your child’s observation skills are, the more they will be able to explore the world around them.

boy looking at the lake

Children with strong observation skills gather information and ask questions. It is the basis of scientific research.

We want to prepare our children to notice the beauty of the everyday, as well as the unexpected things that can stimulate their curiosity and lead them to deeper discovery.

However, in our busy electronic world it is really difficult to pay sustained attention and it is important to engage children in activities designed to improve their observational competence.

Put pencil on paper

Nature journaling is a great activity to incorporate into your child’s routine and develop their observation skills.

Get outdoors with your kids several times a week, enjoy the health benefits of nature, and encourage kids to look a little closer at nature. By recording all the interesting things you see, smell, hear, feel and wonder about, you can gently develop a lifelong habit of observing nature.

See also  What it's like to work at the entrance gate of a provincial park

mistake in hand

Throughout history, scientists, explorers, naturalists, and curious adventurers have kept some type of written, and often illustrated, record of their observations, experiences, or discoveries.

There was a time when the pen, pencil or brush were the only way to communicate what you saw on your adventures. Why not be a modern explorer and continue the tradition?


As a mother in the age of social media, I admit that I feel swept up in the desire to create the perfect “Pinterest-worthy” costume, cake, party, or… the list goes on and on.

boy sitting in nature

While Pinterest is the source of many inspiring and aspirational nature journals for both kids and adults, a word of caution: when starting out, simple is best!

Like most of the best things in life, nature journaling isn’t complicated and it’s practically free. Just a small journal, a pencil and a spirit of adventure will help you get started.

Decide where you are going and once there, start observing. It’s as simple as answering the question, “What’s going on outside?”

While the heart of nature journaling is not drawing skills, the very act of drawing something encourages the viewer to engage in the kind of mindful looking that is necessary to forge meaningful connections. Therefore, your child’s nature journal should contain both words and pictures.

Advice from the trenches

Start simple and add supplies later:

    • colored pencils
    • water colors
    • magnifying glasses
    • measuring tape
    • reference guides

I have found that three key things have led to my children’s success with nature journaling:

1. Establish a routine

Whenever we teach our children a new skill or practice, routine is important to establish good habits. I have found that using our journals regularly (i.e. 2-3 times a week) has helped entrench good behaviors.

children's hiking

Simply beginning each journal entry the same way sets the tone for the observations that will follow. I’ve kept it really simple with my seven and five year olds by asking them to start each entry with the date and weather.

See also  Accessibility Features at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park

Subsequently, we accumulate energy to record our observations.

To begin, we established that each observation sketch should last between 2 and 4 minutes and should be labeled. As they gain more experience, they are encouraged to add more details. I found that my oldest son naturally tended to want to do more.

Other ideas:

  • what is the season
  • time of the day
  • climate
  • components of the habitat you are in

A routine can also be established by having children choose a special place to which they return regularly to record their observations.

2. Treasure hunt

It’s important that your first attempts at nature journaling are very specific.

Until your children get into the rhythm of drawing from their own discoveries, this will provide much-needed structure for their nature excursions. By making your first excursions task-oriented, they will feel like a scavenger hunt.

Soon all new discoveries will feel like treasures!


  • three different leaves
  • two different birds
  • how many things live in a tree
  • two different mushrooms
  • interesting cloud shapes
  • two colorful living beings
  • natural patterns
  • that is making noise

Remember: Searching for any species of plant or mushroom is prohibited in provincial parks.

3. Explore nature with your children

Never underestimate the impact of your example.

By exploring with your children and cultivating a spirit of adventure, you set the stage for success. She shares her own observation with his children, even consider journaling with them.

family watching the sunset

Instead, be receptive and aware of your child’s enthusiasm for his own observation. Let your kids feel like their finds are interesting (even if it’s the third shiny rock they show you that day). By sharing the excitement of discovery, you can encourage your child to continue exploring.

Nature is everywhere!

Ontario’s parks are home to some of the most beautiful and inspiring landscapes in the country, but nature is everywhere.

We may think that it is necessary to travel “into nature”, but in reality it is only necessary to get to your own backyard. In fact, you could live in a tall building in the middle of the city and still experience nature.

Look and listen, stop and observe, make it a habit!

There is a lot to study, even in the smallest spaces. Small eyes, focused on the little things, can often open up a wide world of adventures.