Featured Activity: Nature Journaling

Published on September 15, 2022 - Updated on September 15, 2022

The first time someone suggested I integrate nature journaling into our outdoor adventures I was intimidated. I'm not particularly artsy. I didn't want to haul more stuff with us. Plus, how was I supposed to engage the kids in an activity that I may not be good at or enjoy?

The friend was persistent. She organized an outing for our families to go nature journaling together. She packed a small bag with just a few things - all that fit into the kids' small backpacks. I quickly laid all of my preconceived notions to rest. My Littles, yes even the wild one that I frequently refer to as "feral" settled in to observe and draw what they were experiencing on our adventures.

The nature journaling supplies now live in our car. The kids ask for them at parks, but we always tuck them into our pack on longer outdoor outings. They have become records of our adventures, writing practice, and lovely keepsakes of our family's adventures.

Nature Journal Supplies

Nature Journaling Supplies

The supplies you need really depend on if you want to watercolor or use colored pencils. I like to keep a small set of both in my bag just to give myself some options on what I feel like. Watercolors are more fun for me but they are not great for a quick sketch.

  • Notebook - The notebook seems like the most personal choice. We use small spiral-bound watercolor paper journals. The kids used stickers to decorate the front. There are also fancy leatherbound options or hardback versions. The only consideration is that if you are going to watercolor, you need watercolor paper in your journal.
  • Watercolors - A small solid travel watercolor set is perfect. These come in all shapes and sizes, you can search your local art store or shop online for what looks good to you.
  • Water Paintbrush - Waterbrushes are the best for painting on the go. These handy little brushes have a water reserve so you don't need a cup. You can find them at any art supply store or online. When on the trail just fill them up and paint away.
  • Colored Pencils - I just use Crayola, but there are tons of options if you want to get into blending. I wanted something we wouldn't worry about if we lost a few here and there. A small pencil pouch also holds up much better than trying to keep them in a tin or a cardboard box.

Nature Journaling

How to Start Nature Journaling

Nature journaling is intended to be completely up to the creator. You can just paint. You can paint and journal. You can even just journal and doodle.

The variety of options was a bit intimidating so I checked out a few books from the library to help us get inspired.

Nature Journaling

Inspirational Reading List

  • The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muri Laws
  • Keeping a Nature Journal: Deepen Your Connection with the Natural World All Around You by Claire Walker Leslie
  • Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman
  • Drawn to Nature: Through the Journals of Claire Walker Leslie by Claire Walker Leslie

Basically, you just need to go out and get started. Draw, sketch, and paint what you see. Take turns sharing what you observed. Make little notes about things you liked the most.


Take A Nature Journaling Class

We become so inspired that we took a family nature journaling class. It met a few Saturday mornings at a local park with trails. Here we learned how to make our own bound journals and a few art techniques. We found this through our local Wild and Free homeschool group. (You don't have to be a homeschooler to participate in the group or the classes typically!) There are also online classes through places like Outschool.

Nature Journaling

Guided Journal

It's possible that at this point you are interested in nature journaling but still feeling overwhelmed. There are tons of options online for journals that are already set up and guide you through the process.

  • Nature Journal: A Kid's Nature Journal by Alice M. Cantrell
  • Nature Journal: A Guided Journal for Illustrating and Recording Your Observations of the Natural World by Claire Walker Leslie
  • The Nature Explorers' Sketchbook by Jean Mackay

Seashore Painting Nature Journaling

Nature journaling has been a great way for us to enjoy some quiet time outside. It has forced us all to look a little closer at everything from leaves to the way water behaves in a stream. It's a beautiful chronicle of our adventures that capture the feeling of the outing more than photographs ever could. We've built family confidence in nature observation and perhaps even grown our artistic skills. Mostly though, we all learned to do something new together.

Have you and your family tried Nature Journaling? If you do, tag us in it on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!

Interested in other fun activities that will get your family outside? Read up on our Building a Family Garden article or how to Build a Bug Hotel!

For even more local activities and attractions at your fingertips, be sure to download the happyly app, the country's only mobile-first family activity planning app, for fast access to all of our frequent blog content, favorite activities, and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.

Thoughtfully captured by:
Elizabeth Newcamp
Elizabeth Newcamp grew up in Atlanta, GA, went to school in South Bend, IN, and as a military spouse has called Washington D.C., California, Texas, Colorado, Alabama, Florida, and The Netherlands home. She has a JD from Emory University. She writes the Homeschool and Travel Blog, Dutch, Dutch, Goose! and co-hosts Slate's parenting podcast Mom and Dad are Fighting. Elizabeth is an avid traveler, having been to over 30 countries and all 50 US States, where she has laughed, cried and more than once thought about kicking the travel habit until her three kids are grown. She is actively engaged in her community, enjoys the outdoors, and has a passion for engaging her children within the world around them.
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