Nature journal clubs provide ways to explore outdoors, build community

April 21, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Krista McLaughlin learned of a new Shaver’s Creek program that would allow her daughter the chance to combine her loves of journaling and nature, she knew it would be a perfect fit for her.

“She loves nature, loves constantly being outside, and I thought nature journaling was a fun next step for her,” said McLaughlin of her 9-year-old daughter, Kate. “Right now, we need to find beauty and bright moments wherever we can. It's important for Kate to see and learn that you don't have to go far or on a big trip because beautiful things are right here in your own backyard.”

Kate participated in one of Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center’s After-School Nature Journal Clubs this year that brought together schoolchildren in grades three through five. Once a week for five weeks, students gathered for one-hour Zoom sessions to practice nature journaling through guided exercises while cultivating community with a small and consistent group of peers to provide an engaging experience.

Shaver’s Creek — a Penn State Outreach service ­— also offers Community Nature Journaling at the Penn State nature center in Huntingdon County for a free, in-person and socially distanced experience. All ages are welcome, and more information about upcoming sessions can be found at the Shaver’s Creek Nature Journal Club webpage.

Alexa Sarussi, school programs director for Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, said nature journaling is a way for children to get outdoors and connect with nature in safe and fun ways.

“We wanted to continue our mission of providing schoolchildren with hands-on outdoor science experiences during an unpredictable time,” she said. “Nature journaling is a great way to get students outdoors, paying attention, connecting to the world around them and exercising creativity while also practicing science, reading, writing and math skills.”

For the after-school program, participants would play an observation game, do a mindful drawing warmup and then journal together about an object the staff had asked students to collect from outdoors ahead of time. During the five weeks, students collected and journaled about leaves, observed the outside and inside of fruits, and made a collection of objects of their choosing that were the same color.

Kate said nature journaling has taught her to look more closely at things she might not have noticed in the past, like acorns in her backyard.

“I never noticed before how acorn caps have patterns on top. I just saw them as spots, but now I see a bunch of shapes,” she said. “I love nature. Everything is really bright and beautiful, and you can do it all the time.”

Brothers Evan and Vance McCracken also participated in the club. Evan, 10, said he loved learning about tarantulas and cockroaches the most.

Their mom, Carrie, said it’s been fun to watch them practice and reinforce their observation skills.

“Nature journaling reaches into so many academic areas, which is great for us to have integrated learning,” she said. “You get science, art, writing, spelling, vocabulary, geography. It really enhances learning in so many ways, and the kids don’t even realize it.”

The brothers said they’re excited for the warmer weather to start exploring and observing more, especially worms and bugs.

“It’s fun to look closer at nature and draw and write about it,” said Vance, 6.

Visit the Shaver’s Creek website for more information about Penn State’s outdoor education field lab and nature center.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 21, 2021