Lessons in Nature Journals: What I might learn from children.
I do not view myself as a great artist, nor as well-versed in art history, but I enjoy very very much sharing information about artists and doing artwork with children. For this very reason I volunteered myself to run the art station on a field trip with the 2nd and 3rd graders at my daughters school, and was so glad I did. As part of this field trip is a focus on nature (with a nature trail and creekwalk) they asked for somebody to prep a nature based project or craft. Knowing my time limitations (40 minutes with each group) made me scratch my first idea to do a nature-based craft (gluing leaves on to a mask shape to make “owl eyes”) that I saw in a fun book I checked out this summer called Vacation. I realized it would have to be a bit more involved.
I then went to my copy of Discovering Great Artists, a book I bought last year when I was wanting to introduce some artists’ styles to my children through hands on learning. I had decided on this book after reading some favorable reviews but had not really explored it through use much since its arrival. Opening that book I found just what I was looking very quickly. They have a lesson on doing a Nature Notebook (based on the artwork of John James Audubon) that worked spledidly today.
I did a little websearch and found some interesting sites such as this one that has some sample journal pages, and this one that presents a nice way to introduce different skills used in nature journaling through different art lessons, and the National Audubon Society website where you can request a pdf guide to nature journaling with children that is really really awesome and goes over observation skills, sketching skills and has some great activities for longer lessons in nature journaling. (The Audubon site also has this awesome page on nature based activities divided by age that I will definitely be visiting again.) In addition to this wealth of information, I also quickly found that nature journaling is quite popular as a homeschooling activity or lesson and I can see why. You need only minimal materials (essentially you could do this with only pencil and paper, although we used watercolours as well), the children work on their observation skills (a great skill that can be carried over to many things), and they really really enjoy it.
The way my time with the groups of children was structured I could not lead them on a nature walk, so although we were under the redwoods, we were confined to two picnic tables. In order to provide them with a variety of items to study and draw beyond what they could see near us (which prior to arriving I had not sense of), another parent helped get images of native and/or local animals and plants printed as photos (and I thank her sis who works in a photo lab for helping her out on this because they were beautiful prints) to add to the table for them to use. For the children, the choosing of their photo was a part of the activity that they really enjoyed, as was using the magnifying glasses to get a closer look at their subject. Watching them do this activity was also interesting as a few of them had a tendency to want to trace the image, but it provided a good opportunity to talk about live animal observations and the likelihood of being able to trace a squirrel (especially since this sparked some lively discussion from the children and times when they had been really really close, and perhaps even touched, raccoons, squirrels, rats and all sorts of animals). Overall I was really gratified by how into this project many of the children were, taking the time to draw some amazing detail and get the colors just right.
Really the best part was seeing what amazing artwork they produced. I am constantly blown away by the artistry of young children–their unique eye for color is inspiring, but I especially love their way of doing artwork (really really engaging with the process) without ever questioning their ability or talent. Now that is something that I could really benefit from learning.