How To Start A Nature Journal

Photograph of a journal & pen on a wide flat stone surrounded by plants.

Photo by Hannah Jacobson

What is a Nature Journal? 

“A nature journal is a place to grow your thoughts, feelings, ideas, activities, observations, and relationship with the natural world.  And, it is an opportunity to interpret your inner thoughts out into the natural world and a space where the natural world can flow into you and leave a permanent mark.”  ~Bonnie Johanna Gisel, Ph.D. from Sierra Club Blog, 2002

Why Keep a Nature Journal?

Being in nature for just 20 minutes can increase your vitality.  “People with a greater sense of vitality have more energy for the things they want to do and are more resilient to physical illnesses”, says Richard Ryan, Ph.D. professor of psychology at University of Rochester, New York.

Nature journaling engages the left side of the brain, which in turn frees the right brain to create, allowing you to better understand yourself and your world.  Journaling has also been proven to make people feel calmer and more able to enjoy the present moment.  Eureka Camping blog

Tips for Getting Started 

  1. Choose a dedicated nature journal.  This will help you to solidify your intentions to observe and understand what is happening outside.  It also keeps your recent observations at hand so you can spot trends, seasonal patterns, or behavioral relationships of animals.  

  2. Always bring your journal and a pencil so you will be ready to record your observations.

  3. Record the details.  Always note the date, time, place, and weather.

  4. Slow down.  Allow your senses time to fully observe what is going on around you.  

  5. Open all your senses.  Record what you see, hear, and smell.  

  6. Use prompts to focus your observations, emotions, thoughts, and ideas.

  7. Don’t let the weather stop you.  Nature happens whether it is raining, snowing, windy, or a beautiful day.  

  8. Keep curiosity alive.  Allow the journal to be the beginning of an investigation.  Research the things you observed when you get home.

  9. Watch for signs of wildlife.  Do you see scat and tracks?  How about woodpecker holes, beaver teeth marks, bird nests, or spider webs?

  10. Explore local nature sites.  Nature is right in your backyard, neighborhood, or local park.  

National Wildlife Federation

What to Include in a Nature Journal?

  • Leaf or tree rubbings

  • Measurements/charts – look for patterns

  • Poetry

  • Quotes

  • Nature stamps

  • List of birds, plants, animals, leaves, flowers you have observed

  • Seeds or berries from plants you have observed

  • Drawings of animal tracks, birds, plants, flowers, berries, nuts

     Each Friday in May, we will post a journaling prompt and challenge to pique your curiosity and creativity over the weekend.

    Read Prompt #2

Here's your first prompt: Journal about TREES!

Prompt:  Pick a tree in your yard, neighborhood or local park.  What do you notice about its scent, bark, leaves, roots, seeds, nuts, or fruit?  What kind of tree is it?  What animals are in the tree?  How big is the tree (height and width)?  What is the tree’s role in its environment?  

Challenge:  Imagine that one day you took a walk and the trees began to talk to you.  Tell a story about what the trees would say to you and how you would respond. Share your story with us on Facebook, or keep it for yourself.

This series is being brought to you by Mary Jo Sonntag and Rachael Savtchenko, two of Sierra Club's outings leaders in Western PA. We thank them for helping Sierrans get outside and appreciate nature even amid a global pandemic!