An Interview With Barbara McCoy from the Outdoor Hour Challenges

Barbara McCoy's profile photoToday, as part of the year-long nature journaling series I am running, here on Raising Little Shoots, I am very pleased to share an interview with Barb McCoy. Barb is very active within the home educating community, encouraging mums to get out of doors and study nature with their families with her Outdoor Hour Challenges. Without further ado, on to the interview!

~ Hello Barb, I am delighted to have you here on Raising Little Shoots! Please could you tell us a little about yourself.

Barb McCoy with family at Yosemite

I am a “retired” homeschooling mom of four children (one daughter and three sons) who found a passion for nature study as I introduced the outdoor world to my family. My husband and I raised our children to be active outside because we loved exploring the gorgeous setting we had living in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California.


There were some amazing places right at our doorstep like Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe. My desire as the children grew up was to introduce the idea of looking more closely at nature by keeping a nature journal. We were introduced to the idea of creating a record of our observations when we started adding a Charlotte Mason method to our homeschool. For me, this led to reading and creating a foundation for our nature study with the book by Anna Botsford Comstock, The Handbook of Nature Study. As I shared my thoughts and methods for using this book on my blog, my readers evolved into a worldwide community of nature loving families who learned along with my family with a weekly Outdoor Hour Challenge. Now that my children are grown, I still keep up this weekly habit along with my own personal nature journal.

~ When did you first begin to keep your nature journal ?

I have several completed nature journals on my shelf and the earliest dates are from 1999. That was back in the time period where I was often disappointed in my own nature journals so I didn’t create pages very regularly.

Ferns and Feathers nature journal

It wasn’t until 2008 that I was more regular in my nature journaling and I was more confident in my own style. What started out as a lesson in being a good role model for my children in keeping a nature journal, turned into a lifelong passion. I now find great pleasure in keeping my memories, thoughts, and observations in my journal.

~ Have your journals evolved from when you first began to keep them?

My journals have taken a tremendous evolution! I am no longer too concerned about making “pretty” pages or pages that look like an artist created them. I look at my sketches and writing now as a way to record my own impressions in my own style.

Birch leaf entry

Some days I take more care to sketch and some days all I really want to create is a list of items that I want to remember in the future. The freedom to make my journal whatever I want has freed me of being too critical. It’s like I used to tell my children, “There is no right or wrong way to make a nature journal page. Just get in the book!”

~ Please could you share with us your favourite journaling supplies?

I have tried a lot of different media over the years but I keep coming back to a few basic supplies.

Redwood page with prismacolor pencils

Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils: These are my “go to” journaling choice. I use the set of 24 in the metal tin, making sure to use rubber bands to hold the lid shut when I carry them in my bag or backpack. I also make sure to carry a metal pencil sharpener to keep my tips pointy.

Sketch Notebook: I have used several different sizes of journal but my favorite is the 5.5 in by 8.5 in Mix Media spiral bound journal from Canson. It is a great size for carrying and it holds up to watercolors and markers.

Pens: I use Zig calligraphy pens, Sharpie fine tip pens, and Prismacolor Premier pens. Sometimes I will slip in a Gelly Roll Metallic pen from Sakura just for fun.

~ Would you share some of your favourite pages with us, and let us know what you like about them?


I like the pages where I include a meaningful sketch and a story. These are the ones I like to flip back through and read over.


I also like to use photos in my journal which give the page a sort of scrapbook feel.


The other page formula that crops up in my journal quite often is the pages that use a colored box or background. These just make the page visually interesting and the colored boxes give me a place to put random thoughts and quotes.

~ What would you say you have been the greatest benefits to keeping your journals?

I have discovered that the key to creating a nature journal page that you are happy with is to have something interesting to document. If you are regularly getting outside and really looking at things in nature, you will have plenty to put on that blank page.

May 1st entry

There is a process to nature journaling: make observations, reason or think about a topic, and then express your experiences in a way that is meaningful. If you cut straight to the nature journal, without the observing and reasoning steps, that’s where you will get bogged down. You will be creating a personal relationship with nature and then a personalized record of that relationship.

~ What advice would you give to fellow nature journalers?

Take the pressure off yourself to create “perfect” nature journal pages. Don’t be intimidated! The point of a nature journal is to record things that inspire you and that you want to remember. If you want to be a better journaler, you must practice! Keep going until you find a style of your own. Experiment with different art media until you find something that makes you happy.

Where can we find you on the internet?

My home base is my blog, Handbook Of Nature Study. There you can find my weekly Outdoor Hour Challenges, my free newsletter, and many valuable tips and activities in the archives.

There are paid memberships, but there are plenty of free activities too. You can also find me on Instagram as @outdoorhourchallenge where I post weekly nature journal entries for inspiration and many images from my new home in Central Oregon. I am also active on Pinterest and a few of the boards you may be interested in following are my Nature Journal board and my Once a Month Nature Journal board.

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