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The Joy of Nature Journaling


Bright red ohi’a lehua blossoms near Koke’e State Park, Kaua’i.

“Nature journaling is your path into the exploration of the natural world around you, and into your personal connection with it. How you use your journal is entirely up to you.”

-From Chapter 1 of Keeping a Nature Journal, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth

Nature journals are not only essential for scientific documentation, but they can reveal a great deal about the observer and their values and thinking. Combining scientific observation with sensory language and even artistic sketches makes nature journaling a great multi-disciplinary activity for students, families, and individuals who treasure their time spent outdoors.

Journals are a part of every Hawaiʻi Outdoors course, to not only record one’s impressions in the outdoors but to reflect on one’s growth because of rich experiences in nature. There are many ways to journal, and here are a few of our favorites:

Here are some journaling ideas:

1) Keep a small notebook and a pen or pencil with you on road trips, hikes, and other outings to record things you observe.

2) Sit and write notes while you’re out on an adventure; even if it’s just a list of what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. You can expand on it later if you have an outline of some sort.

3) Follow a critter; a bug or a toad, etc, and see how they behave and where they go. Write a journal entry from their perspective.

4) Write a poem to record your impressions. Free-verse poems with great imagery and figurative language can capture a moment in nature to be preserved for posterity.


Ode to a Wounded Turtle
Little turtle, oh so brave
With the mark of a battle scar
What a tale you must have
And what a feat to swim so far
With just one flipper
You still have reached
The safety of
This black sand beach. 

5) Write a riddle about a plant or animal you observe. See if your hiking companion can guess your riddle.

6) Bring plant and/ or animal identification guides and make lists of what you observe or identify along the way. It will sharpen your observation skills and help you learn the names of new species.

7) Sketch a scene or an individual animal or plant in its habitat.

8) Make a leaf-rubbing.

9) Look very closely at something small, like a tiny shell or flower. Try to sketch it in an enlarged picture so you can show others the details they may not have noticed before.

10) Sit still and in silence for a few minutes. What do you hear? Try to identify sounds of birds, insects, or other animals. (Write them phonetically, if you can, to remember what they sounded like.) Try to locate the source of water sounds. Record your observations and discoveries.

We will be making mini nature journals out of a piece of paper and sharing our journaling ideas this Saturday, September 14, at Wiliwili Fest 2013.  Come look for our booth at Waikoloa Elementary School, between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM.  Make a journal and grab a pencil to take with you on a tour of the Waikoloa Dry Forest. We hope to see you there!

Here is some advice from the pros, from the Smithsonian Institute’s booklet on Nature Journals:

“Include found objects in your journal. A feather or a leaf, for example, can be taped to a page. These can only make your journal more interesting.” -Bruce Beehler, Orinthologist


A Day in the Life of
a Hawaiian Hawk

From this fence post, I can see the vast green fields before me. The mice are still hiding in the shady brush, but I will bide my time. At dusk, they will get careless, and then, oh yes, I will be waiting for them. They will be mine! (July 10, 2010 4:05 P.M., Saddle Road)

“Writing a journal is an excellent way to practice good descriptive writing. It takes more practice than you’d think to put observations and activities into prose that is so clearly written that others who read it feel as though they’re seeing or doing exactly what you saw or did.” – Carole Baldwin, Marine Biologist

“Learn all you can about the species you are observing. You need to know many things to accurately interpret the behavior you are seeing.” -Marie Magnuson, Zookeeper


Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian in Your Classroom: Introduction to the Nature Journal.” 2006.

Leslie, Clare Walker and Charles E. Roth. Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You. 2000.


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