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Nature Journaling

By Billie Jo Reid @billiejooutdoors

Billie Jo Reid is a seasoned outdoor education professional and ORCKA Instructor with over 25 years of experience. She integrates her passion for nature journaling into her work, collaborates with the Wild Wonder Foundation, and co-leads a safari trip with author and educator John Muir Laws. Her extensive outdoor education background enriches her ability to connect people with nature through her teaching and workshops.

Nature journaling is a method of recording observations, curiosity, and wonder, and it holds significant value due to its potential to deepen our connection with the natural world, foster a sense of mindfulness, and contribute to scientific understanding. While there are no rules on how this is done, John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren co-wrote the book How to Teach Nature Journaling Curiosity, Wonder and Attention which highlights a foundational practice using guided statements like, “I notice, I wonder, and it reminds me of,” along with words, pictures, and numbers as a starting point. Educators find these steps particularly helpful when introducing these concepts to their students.  

As an outdoor educator of 25 years, working in public education with a focus on canoeing instruction, guiding, and nature journaling, I've noticed that educators lack an understanding of the true value of nature journaling. Nature journaling is a cross-curricular tool that can be used to build on the curriculum being taught in the classroom. For example, recording metadata in mathematics such as date, time, weather, and location, while simultaneously studying scientific concepts such as animal habitats, natural structures, and mapping movements can all easily incorporate nature journaling. Learners are guided utilizing the scaffolding template of, I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds me of, and are encouraged to use words, pictures, and numbers to organize their observations, questions, and thoughts. Nature journaling is the tool that connects all observation, wonder, and curiosity together.


The creative process of nature journaling is incredible. When given time and permission to sit in nature and explore one’s curiosity without fear of a right or wrong answer, a world of wonder and learning is unleashed.  I was teaching nature journaling to a Grade 10 class where a student was interested in markings on a leaf. I prompted them by asking what they thought was going on with the leaf. With a very common “I don’t know” answer, I once again asked what they thought but this time added, “I don’t know the answer and I am really curious what you think.” Again, with some hesitation, they began to share their thoughts. They believed the markings were a type of fungus entering the plant through the soil, based on their direct observations of the tree as a whole. The student and I were able to share ideas back and forth about other possibilities and ideas. I encouraged them to write it all down.  Upon my return the student had filled their page with questions and possible answers. 


Nature journaling does not start or stop with the written word, making it accessible for all learners. I have spent much time nature journaling with kindergarten students and students with learning differences, where we focus on oral observations, wonder, connection, and image.  As an educator, you can scribe for them, or have them record their thoughts, which they can then scribe from later. During an online class I had a student with learning differences who was stronger in oral communication than in written. Using the scaffolding method, we utilized their skillset when documenting their observations of a grape. They began noticing that there were seeds, which they counted while asking lots of questions. This student was completely engaged with this single grape for the entire forty-minute class.


Nature journaling is not only good for students, but educators as well. I strongly believe that the educator must also keep a nature journal, as it will give them a foundation and understanding in journaling, allowing them to guide their students with confidence. As with any skill, practice is needed to become proficient. Asking a student to sit for an hour in their very first sit spot would lead to much frustration.  As educators, we need to acknowledge this is a process where students need to be guided in becoming comfortable sitting in silence with their own thoughts. Without an educator's experience, it becomes increasingly difficult to assist a student. There is another common feeling that will arise from a beginner nature journaler: the feeling of: I’m done.  It is the educator’s job to let the students know that this feeling is natural, and ask them to push past it, as this is where the deeper thoughts and questions will arise.


Numerous scientific publications emphasize the significance of nature journals and the health advantages associated with outdoor activities. Through personal practice and education, I’ve heightened my awareness, constantly seeking answers in my surroundings. This heightened awareness has also been observed in staff and students I’ve worked with. Witnessing students’ expressions of wonder and engagement in profound conversations about the natural world has fostered remarkable connections. A student’s confidence and enthusiasm for exploration are evident when given the freedom to do so.  


A question that comes up often is, “how do I get started”. The answer is always: paper, pencil, a clipboard, and time outside. While there are many resources available, I encourage new nature journalers to check out the book How to Teach Nature Journaling Curiosity, Wonder, Attention by John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren, and the Wild Wonder Foundations website at for a plethora of free resources and videos.


Time spent outside with your thoughts and a nature journal is never a waste. It starts with one page.

In the amazing words from “The Summer Day”, a poem by Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”


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